Children in Midlands foster care had to share beds, report finds

Hiqa says children placed with carers who were refused permission in past

The report cited an example of children who had to rely on black plastic bags to move their belongings or carers who refused to give children their belongings on leaving placement.

The report cited an example of children who had to rely on black plastic bags to move their belongings or carers who refused to give children their belongings on leaving placement.

 

Children in State care in the Midlands are being placed with foster carers who are unapproved or who were refused permission to care for children in the past, according to a damning report from the health watchdog.

They are also being placed in overcrowded homes and being forced to share bedrooms and even beds with other non-related children, and with carers categorised as “relatives” who in fact have no relationship with the children.

The Hiqa (the Health Information and Quality Authority) report finds almost half the children in the region did not have an up-to-date care plan, with a lot of children’s placements being “crisis-led”.

The announced inspection of the foster service in the region run by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, over six days in May found it did not meet any of the 26 national standards examined.

The workforce was found to be “skilled and competent” but there were neither enough staff nor foster-carers to provide a safe service for vulnerable children.

Inspectors identified a number of “serious risks” during the review and had to escalate a number of cases of for urgent attention.

“At the time of the inspection, 27 children did not have a social worker. Some of these children had been without an allocated social worker for long periods in the past and this had impacted in the quality of care they had received.”

Some 45 per cent, or 162 out of the 367 children in care in the region at the time, did not have up-to-date care plans. Some children had not had a care plan meeting in over two years, including young people aged over 16 who should be preparing to leave care.

There were insufficient foster families, which meant children were not always matched with carers who could meet their needs.

Placed far from friends

It led to children being placed far from friends, family and schools, meaning some had to change schools while others had difficulty maintaining relationships.

Some were placed in overcrowded foster homes, which “resulted in unrelated children sharing bedrooms and sometimes beds”.

Inspectors found some cases where poor matching with families resulted in placement breakdowns and “inadequate” supervision of and support for foster carers.

In some instances, “children were treated in a disrespectful way [by foster carers], particularly around unplanned endings. For example, where children had to rely on black plastic bags to move their belongings or carers who refused to give children their belongings on leaving placement.

“The area did not ensure all carers were appropriate and able to meet the needs of children in their care. Inspectors found that a small number of foster carers who had been refused by the foster care committee continued to care for children in care.”

At the time of the inspection, 12 foster carers had not been assessed but had children placed with them - some for as long as nine years.

“There was a risk for these children that their carers would be found unsuitable to be approved as foster carers retrospectively, which would cause a big disruption in their lives [if they had to move].”

Children in care should receive a social-worker visit at least every three months for their first two years in placement, and every six months thereafter. While the majority had, a number had not been seen for more than six months.

Jim Gibson, chief operations officer with Tusla said: “It is with regret that we acknowledge the shortcomings of the fostering service in the Midlands area. We have been aware of and working to address key areas for the last 18 months through increased resources and improved practices.

“There have been many challenges for the service during a difficult period and staff have remained committed to providing a service for children and families.

“Tusla has identified a range of measures including clear guidance and management oversight, which will improve the care experiences for children and foster carers.”

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has expressed “grave concern” at the findings.

“It is placing children in danger if they are not placed in the care of an adequate social worker - it leaves them vulnerable and it affects their development,” said ISPCC chief executive Grainia Long.

She also hit out at Government funding of Tusla, pointing out a €60 million shortfall in the last budget compared to what the agency had asked for.

“This Hiqa report declares on several occasions that limited resources had a direct impact on Tusla’s ability to provide a safe and adequate service for these vulnerable children. We need to fund these services appropriately and standards must be met to provide safe and appropriate services.”