Foster carers not always told of child’s history, conference hears

Judge highlights concerns over lack of communication about issues such as self-harm

 President of the District Court Rosemary Horgan: ‘Foster carers must be confident they can meet [the child’s] needs – but – they have to know about the needs before they can meet the needs.’ File photograph: Alan Betson

President of the District Court Rosemary Horgan: ‘Foster carers must be confident they can meet [the child’s] needs – but – they have to know about the needs before they can meet the needs.’ File photograph: Alan Betson

 

Concerns raised by foster carers, that they are having to care for children without being informed by Tusla social workers about the children’s backgrounds, have been highlighted by a senior judge.

Some examples of the concerns about juvenile sexual behaviour or juvenile self-harming, were highlighted by the President of the District Court Rosemary Horgan, who delivered a keynote presentation speech at the Irish Foster Care Association national conference, held in Limerick at the weekend.

“The task of caring for a child with adverse childhood experiences is a really difficult one, and, foster carers must be confident they can meet these needs – but – they have to know about the needs before they can meet the needs,” Ms Horgan said.

“Foster care disruption can arise where there hasn’t been a modicum of vital information provided, unless it’s in the best interests of the child. Even in short-term emergency placements, you have to know what the background is, in broad terms – for example – if the child is exhibiting sexualised behaviour, you need to know that in order to protect the other people in the household.

“The impact on the child and foster carers can be very serious,” she added.

Catherine Bond, the association’s chief executive, told The Irish Times that, when a child is placed in emergency foster care, “you won’t know a huge amount about their history; you won’t know if they’ve had mental health issues”

“There can be a lot of confusion for that child, but if you’re bringing that child into a home where you’ve got your own children, you need to know what issues you’re dealing with. Are they self-harming, for instance?”

She acknowledged that social workers may not always be in a position to disclose the child’s background information, particularly during emergency placements.

A foster carer, who attended the conference, said: “We are the people who have a right to know the information because [the children] are living in our houses and they are in our care.”

Another carer highlighted the problem of getting access to services for children with special needs, saying this was impossible “unless someone makes a diagnosis or puts a label on them”.

‘Traumatising’

In her address, Ms Horgan praised social workers and foster carers whose work was “emotionally draining and traumatising”.

She said “poor communication” between agencies and professionals remained a problem, adding it was “essential” for all stakeholders to listen to children’s “feedback and perception” of being in State care.

Responding to carers’ concerns, Tusla chief executive Bernard Gloster said: “There is no one withholding information about a child that a foster carer would need to care for that child, unless that information is not well-informed at the time, or unless there are really very specific and limited reasons for that to occur.”

He said the concerns were “understandable” and acknowledged that it was “frustrating” for foster carers, but this was also frustrating for Tusla staff.

“Sometimes children come into our care in very chaotic and emergency circumstances, so it takes time to develop and build up the profile of the information.”

Tusla’s chairman Pat Rabbitte said he was in “absolutely agreement” with the judge highlighting the need for all agencies to communicate better.

“Unfortunately boundaries grow up, turf wars happen, individual institutions and agencies defend their own patch for the best reasons as they see it, but sometimes it does impede the effectiveness of the service,” Mr Rabbitte said.