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'Serious' Foster Care Deficiencies Revealed

Irish Times, Sat, July 02, 2011 by Jamie Smyth, Social Affairs Correspondent

A CHRONIC shortage of foster carers is forcing some children in care to be placed in residential care homes rather than with foster families, the State’s health watchdog has warned.

A new inspection by the Health Information and Quality Authority published yesterday identifies a litany of “serious deficiencies” in the foster care system in one of the biggest health areas in Dublin.

More than half of children in foster care in the Health Service Executive’s Dublin North West area are placed with unassessed carers. A third of children do not have an allocated social worker, and Garda vetting has not been carried out on all foster carers, the inspection report shows.

The inspection was carried out between November 2010 and January last as a follow-up to a previous inspection in September 2009, which had identified serious child protection issues in the foster care system in the area.

The new report showed in some cases the child protection system had gotten worse. For example, the number of foster carers without a link social worker to support them had doubled to 109, and a moratorium on recruiting new foster carers had caused a chronic shortage of foster families.

The report said this had resulted in some children being placed in residential care rather than in foster families, a policy criticised by children’s rights groups.

In one case, a group of siblings were placed in a residential home for several days while social workers searched for a foster home. No public foster home could be found and the children were eventually placed with private foster carers in a remote part of the country.

In another case, a young child was placed in residential care when social workers failed to find a foster home following a nationwide search, says the report.

The shortage of carers in the Dublin area had increased the number of multiple placements of children in foster homes, which is often in contravention of the national foster care guidelines.

The Irish Foster Care Association said foster families were clearly a better option than residential care, as they provided a family environment for children. It said the executive should begin recruiting foster families immediately to meet the shortfall.

The executive said last night the moratorium had now been lifted and it was actively working to approve 10 potential new foster carers in the area. It said it was committed to addressing and implementing all of the recommendations of the authority.

The authority’s report said just five of the 67 recommendations made in its first report, which was based on its 2009 inspection, had been met in full. Some 35 recommendations were partly met, and 27 were not met.

The report said the national child protection guidelines have still not been implemented by the Dublin North West area. Social workers have developed their own policy document on how to deal with allegations and complaints.

The report said this was “unacceptable”, and noted 40 complaints and allegations had been made by foster children in the period between the inspection in September 2009 and the follow-up last January.

The report said there was an “unacceptable backlog in the assessment and approval of foster carers”, with 202 children (54 per cent) in Dublin North West placed with unassessed carers.

There was a small but significant increase in the number of relative carers – foster carers who were related to the children concerned. In 2009 the number was 118. In this inspection that had risen to 124, the authority said.

The report said inspectors also identified some fosters carers who had not been vetted by the Garda – a key requirement under the foster care standards.

It said 179 fathers and 90 mothers were unknown to their children in the area. It is best practice for children in foster care, wherever possible, to know the identities of their parents.