Hiqa identifies foster care concerns

Thu, Feb 21, 2013, 00:00

Some vulnerable children in State care are being cared for by foster parents who were previously found to be unsuitable for the task, the State’s health standards watchdog has found.

In a report into foster care services in the Dublin north-west area, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found that practices to ensure safe outcomes for more than 350 children in foster care were not adequate.

The authority found some sibling children were being split up and placed in different homes, even though it was recommended that they stay together.

Its inspection report also notes that one third of all children in foster care - 116 children - were only assigned a designated social work three weeks before the announced inspection. It is mandatory for all children in care to have an allocated social worker.

It is not the first time foster services in Dublin north-west - which covers an area that includes the city centre, Finglas, Blanchardstown and Cabra - have been on the receiving end of criticism.

The authority has previously found serious deficits in care or management on each of its major inspections over the past three years, such as child protection concerns being ignored or children being left without contact from a social worker for years at a time.

The latest inspection report - dated October 2012 - published today shows that the authority still has major concerns, although it noted improvements in some areas. Among its main concerns were:

* Many children had not had an allocated social worker for prolonged periods of time, compromising the ability of social workers to form a good and trusting relationship with some children

* Some care plans were of poor quality and undertaken by social workers who did not know the children.

* Limited evidence of attempts to locate the birth mother or father; this presented a risk for children in voluntary care if and when a medical emergency arose, as consent of the birth parent be required.

On a more positive note, it found that many children were happy in their placements. Social workers and managers presented as dedicated, motivated and committed professionals. Inspectors found that children were able to make choices in their daily lives, to maintain a positive sense of identity and to create new and meaningful relationships

They were integrated into family life and had opportunities to make new friends. Maintaining contact with family members was valued highly by the social work department and children had regular opportunities to do this.

However, 41 per cent of children in foster care were placed in foster homes outside of the area, which made this more difficult. The resources to provide good quality access were insufficient and some birth parents were not happy about access arrangements with their children.