Review finds 18-month delay in foster care allegation probe

Health watchdog highlights ‘significant concerns’ regarding foster care services in Carlow/Kilkenny

 

Foster children in the Carlow/Kilkenny area continued to be placed with carers against whom an allegation had been made for 18 months before an investigation was finally launched.

The finding is included in a Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) review of foster care services in the region released on Wednesday which highlights “significant concerns” with the handling of allegations by Tusla.

Inspectors noted that the service “did not always take appropriate and timely action to protect children in the care of foster carers where child protection concerns or allegations had been made against foster carers”.

A review of 10 specific case files found delays in completing assessments or taking appropriate action in seven.

In one particular case an investigation was not carried out until six months after concerns were reported about foster carers, and another investigation into allegations against carers was delayed for a year-and-a-half while children continued to be placed in the household.

The nature of the allegations was not specified in the Hiqa report, and it was ultimately concluded that the children involved were not exposed to risk.

Over 70 per cent of foster carers across Carlow and Kilkenny were not subjected to reviews for more than three years, and a plan was subsequently put in place to update all reviews by July 2018.

Of 10 files where serious complaints or allegations had been made against carers, eight had not been reviewed by the time of the announced inspection by Hiqa. The principal social worker for the area subsequently promised inspectors the reviews would be prioritised.

Concerns around the delays was escalated to the Tusla area manager during the inspection, and Hiqa officials said a “satisfactory response” was subsequently received.

It was added that action plans had been drawn up to address the deficits and that work was ongoing to improve the situation.

Hiqa officials also found the oversight committee for the area had “inadequate arrangements” in place to track allegations against foster carers, and reports of serious concerns were not always referred to the committee.

The committee failed to track the progress of investigations, and did not have a system to monitor if multiple allegations had been made against a particular carer, as is required under current regulations.

In response, the committee chair said it was “routinely and consistently informed of the outcome of serious concerns and allegations”.

Overall, the service was found to be majorly non-compliant in three of the eight standards tested against, and was fully compliant in just one area.

In a statement, Tusla acknowledged there were areas for improvement in its Carlow/Kilkenny service but said children were not found to be at risk at the time of the inspection.