All State child welfare services face inspection

 

All of the State’s child protection services will be subject to independent inspections for the first time to ensure they are providing adequate care and protection to vulnerable children.

Until recently, the Health Information and Quality Authority was only able to inspect residential and foster care services for children. But the authority’s remit has been expanded to include inspection and monitoring of the Health Service Executive’s child and family services.

The first inspection report of a regional child protection service – Kilkenny and Carlow – is due to be published over the coming weeks. Two other inspections are ongoing.

Fresh concern

The move comes at a time of fresh concern over the quality of some child protection services. A report by the authority last week revealed that some children in foster care were being left with foster parents, even after serious allegations had been made against them.

The authority now has the power to conduct unannounced monitoring assessment visits of the HSE’s services, and will advise the HSE and Minister for Children of any concerns. It may also seek assurances from the HSE that it is safeguarding children and young people by mitigating serious risks.

Phelim Quinn, the authority’s director of regulation, said the move was a significant milestone in putting safer and more reliable child protection and welfare systems in place.

“It is clear that the needs of vulnerable children have not always been responded to in an appropriate and timely way, and the scale and seriousness of documented child abuse and neglect in Ireland have highlighted this in several reports,” Mr Quinn said.

“Those providing services need to learn from the past and take steps to ensure that all services work effectively and safely to deliver better care and support for vulnerable children.”

He said the inspections will initially involve announced visits to HSE local health areas. Each area will be be inspected at least once every three years.

The authority said announced inspections will allow inspectors to meet children, their families and carers and hear first-hand their experiences.

Unannounced visits

Unannounced inspections will also be introduced and will involve the authority’s inspectors arriving into HSE local health areas to assess how the service is coping with the needs of vulnerable children.

Social workers have raised concerns for years that they are forced to cope with heavy caseloads and do not have enough time or resources to invest in perventative work such as family support. Mr Quinn said these issues will be considered by inspectors.

Hiqa powers: What it can do

In inspecting the HSE’s child and family services, Hiqa will have the power to:

Assess if services have all the elements in place to safeguard children and young people.

Establish if failure to have these elements in place poses a serious risk to the children receiving these services.

Identify and report on areas of good practice which protect children and promote their welfare, while respecting and upholding their rights.

Seek assurances from the HSE that they are safeguarding children through the mitigation of serious risks.

Inform the public and promote confidence through the publication of findings.