Hiqa concern over ‘unsafe’ foster care

Some children living with unapproved carers and do not have access to a social worker

File image of a report of Inspection of Fostering Services published by the Health Information and Quality Authority in 2010. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

File image of a report of Inspection of Fostering Services published by the Health Information and Quality Authority in 2010. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Thu, Jul 25, 2013, 14:02

Social services inspectors have expressed concern that staff shortages are impacting on the Health Service Executive’s capacity to deliver a safe and high quality fostering service.

In a report published today, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) also said the HSE had shown a “lack of urgency” in examining allegations against foster carers, while some children were living with unapproved carers.

Latest figures show there are around 5,000 children in the State care system. The vast majority are in foster care.

Hiqa’s director or regulation Phelim Quinn said: “In some instances foster carers were offered very little training in dealing with vulnerable children with extremely challenging behaviour. Although recruiting more foster carers will mitigate threats to the stability of foster care placements, ongoing needs assessment of children and young people who are at risk of coming into care should inform any recruitment process.”

On a more positive note, he said inspectors had found examples of high quality social work practice which supported the safety of children and improved their lives.

Inspectors also found that health care provided to children and their attendance at school improved while in foster care. In their daily lives, children’s choices were considered and their dignity and privacy were respected.

“However, these improvements in their lives were dependent upon the quality of foster carers who were not always adequately supported or monitored,” Mr Quinn added.

Today’s report also provides an overview of residential services for children in care. A total of 33 centres are home to children - typically troubled teens - who have been admitted to the care system.

Hiqa found evidence of dedicated and committed staff whose interventions led to many improvements in the lives of children and young people who used the services.

But inspectors noted that many improvements in the service were still required. The system was found to be under “significant pressure” and in some instances these pressures were placing children at risk.

For example, not all staff had up-to-date Garda vetting, and some staff had difficulty responding to children’s behaviour

The relevant requirement on children being absent from the centre without permission was not met in almost 40 per cent of inspection reports.

Mr Quinn said the authority’s findings showed many areas of good practice, but also pointed to the need for improvement in some sectors.

He said a new national strategy was required by authorities to “support a responsive, flexible, localised service informed by the assessed needs of children and young people.”