A Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) inspection into foster care in the Mid-West has revealed a number of major concerns with the management of the Tusla-run service.
The investigation was carried on last March over three days. The Child Protection Agency covers services in North Tipperary, Limerick and Clare.
The Mid-West has a total of 427 foster care family broken down into 287 general foster care families and 140 family foster care families.
The Tipperary Star recently reported that North Tipperary has some of the highest numbers of people in foster care throughout the country who will need accommodation of their own in the next few years. According to figures released to Tipperary County Council by Focus Ireland from Tusla, 16 people in foster care will be coming back into the community to live in 2018, with 27 expected to need their own place in 2019.
The Hiqa report, which was issued on August 13, showed that of the areas investigated, three were substantially compliant; five were non-compliant, of which two were moderate non-compliances and three major non-compliances.
Chief among the report's concerns was that, despite a system being in place, not all families had Garda vetting, and this posed a risk to children in foster care. An area manager confirmed that there were 30 foster carers who did not have evidence of Garda vetting on files and 116 members of the household aged 16 and over who did not have Garda vetting.
Some members of the foster care committee had no updated Garda vetting and there was no effective system in place to ensure that updated Garda vetting was sought when required.
The area manager provided assurances that Garda Vetting was being processed as a matter of priority.
The report also found that abuse allegations were not managed in line with Children First (2011). While allegations were investigated, there were gaps in how the social work team managed them in that not all allegations were comprehensively assessed and some were not assessed in a timely manner.
There was a system for formally notifying the foster care committee of an allegation of abuse, but not all allegations were reported to the committee and those which were notified, were not notified in a timely way.
While there was a system in order for the foster care committee to track the progress of an investigation, this system was not in operation at the time of the inspection. Therefore there was a lack of oversight of how these allegations were managed to ensure they were not unduly delayed.
There were 35 child protection concerns or allegations made against foster carers in the 12 months prior to the inspection. Inspectors reviewed 22 of these and found that they were correctly classified. However, they were not always managed in line with Children First (2011), and allegations of abuse were not managed and investigated in a timely way.
Allegations of physical or sexual abuse or wilful neglect should be notified to the Gardai. In two allegations of physical abuse reviewed, inspectors found that these had not been notified to An Garda Síochána at the time of referral. In another case, inspectors found that there were long delays in responding to concerns of emotional abuse which had been reported to Tusla by the Gardai.
The Hiqa inspectors also found that, while assessments of prospective foster carers were comprehensive and reports were of good quality, due to shortages in staffing, assessments were not carried out within required timelines in line with regulations and standards. There were long delays in the completion of assessments of relative foster carers. There were 17 relative foster carers waiting assessment and 11 relative foster carers undergoing assessments at the time of the inspection.
Relative carers who had not yet been assessed were allocated a link worker in the interim, but 30 general foster carers and six relative foster carers did not have an allocated social worker. There were seven foster care households without a link worker who also had children placed without an allocated social worker, which posed a significant risk. The frequency of home visits to these foster carers was insufficient.
Tusla has submitted an action plan to deal with the concerns and this has been accepted by Hiqa.