Foster care and accountability

 

Sir, – The most recent harrowing and tragic story of the experience of three children in foster care should come as totally shocking but sadly that is not my response (“Woman raped as foster child urges commission of investigation”, News, April 25th). Having spent my career in children’s social services, and retiring two years ago after 11 years in the foster care sector at a senior management level, working alongside the HSE and more latterly Tusla, I’m appalled but not at all surprised that this did and can happen.

The State relies on foster care in meeting its responsibility as “corporate parent”, in other words looking after the more than 6,000 children that it deems to be best looked after outside of their own families.

Foster carers are the bedrock of our care system. They provide selfless and oftentimes demanding 24/7 care for vulnerable children. Both the children in care and those that provide foster care deserve the best but sadly this is seldom achieved. Foster carers need resources to support and manage the children in their care but what is absolutely vital to avoiding a repeat of what happened is regular contact with the foster carer’s “link” social worker, someone who visits their home regularly to support, yes, but also to monitor the placement. The relationship between this social worker and the foster family is the cornerstone of a robust, safe and effective foster care system. Regular visits provide the social worker (Tusla) with an understanding of the “inner workings” of the placement, to know the family, provide support and guidance to the foster carer but vitally to remain aware at all times of the dynamics in any foster placement. Sadly this does not happen. Months or even years can go by without such a visit, without these contact visits there can be no real relationship or understanding between Tusla and the foster care family, and without that relationship we are in potentially risky and unknown territory.

One has only to look at the repeat HIQA reports on inspections of Tusla’s foster care services throughout the country where inspection after inspection sees little movement in putting to rights the recommendations from preceding inspections in the same area. This apparent contempt for the “watchdog” is utterly shocking and puts children in foster care at risk of a repeat of the same awful, life-changing and tragic events perpetrated by the son of this particular foster carer.

While the focus is justifiably on the perpetrator, it should also be on a system that allowed this to happen, a system that is flawed and where an absence of accountability is a cultural norm. While I was not shocked by this awful story, I would indeed be shocked if any one person within the system was held accountable. Such an outcome would indeed herald change for the better within Tusla.

When we as a State take children into care, we judge that they can be best looked after, remain safe and thrive away from their own families. Shame on us for any shortfall. Foster care is a good option available to Tusla to manage this precious and life-enhancing task for these children. These three women are indeed courageous and brave but would it not be better if they were now moving on in their lives after foster care rather than being forced to pursue their “corporate parent” for change and improvements to ensure that no other children experience what they did at the hands of this flawed system. – Yours, etc,

MIRIAM UHLEMANN,

Ardara, Co Donegal.