CHILDREN in foster care in Limerick have been left at massive risk with 146 people either fostering or living with them who have not been approved by Gardaí.
A report from HIQUA, the health services watchdog, highlighted significant shortfalls in the service, with 30 foster parents and 116 people over the age of 16 in foster homes that were not Garda vetted.
Inspections also revealed that allegations of abuse or neglect were not being managed correctly and in a timely fashion, there was a shortfall in recruitment and therefore in the number of foster carers and no social workers allocated to support foster parents in many cases.
The report states that “not all allegations were comprehensively assessed. 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”.
A team of eight inspectors visited foster homes in the Mid West last March and their findings showed three areas of major non-compliance. These were in relation to safeguarding and child protection; supervision and support and reviews of foster carers”.
The report states that inspectors also found major problems with supervision and support. 30 general and six relative foster carers had no social worker assigned to them, while the majority had not received the recommended formal supervision.
“There were seven foster care households without a link worker who also had children who were without an allocated social worker, which posed a significant risk. The frequency of home visits to these foster carers was insufficient.
“Where foster carers were allocated a social worker, there was not a sufficient level of home visits to ensure supervision and support to foster carers. Records of discussions between foster carers and social workers following home visits were of mixed quality. There was no out-of-hours service available to meet the needs of foster carers.”
Crucially, the report discovered that the majority of reviews “did not contain evidence that the views of the child were sought”.
In response to a query from the Limerick Post as to whether Gardaí vetting was completed in the six months since the report was published, a spokesperson for TUSLA said: “Garda vetting is actively being progressed for foster carers and those over 16, where necessary. Additionally, there is a system in place to alert staff when updated Garda vetting is due”.
Tusla chief operations officer Jim Gibson said that HIQA inspection reports were an important measurement tool and allowed them ensure that their services were continuously improving and were of a high standard.
“The report highlighted excellent practice in areas such as training and the quality of assessments of foster carers. There were also a number of areas that require improvement such as supervision and the timeliness of reviews. These areas are being actively addressed through a comprehensive action plan which has been submitted to HIQA.
“The actions in the action plan will be closely linked to Tusla’s major transformation programme which will enhance many aspects of the agency, including organisational culture, HR strategy, governance systems, and further corporate functions.” When the Limerick Post contacted HIQUA, a spokesperson could not say whether Garda vetting had taken place in the six months since the inspections.
Limerick Labour Party TD Jan O’Sullivan said the report raised serious concerns.
“I am particularly concerned that there was no Garda vetting of family members in many cases. It is just not acceptable that vulnerable children are living in homes where no Garda vetting has been carried out on people living in that household.
She said the report confirmed the acute shortage of social workers which was an issue she has been campaigning on.
“There is an urgent need to recruit more social workers and to put measures in place to retain those already in the service. As well as a shortage of social workers, there is also a shortage of foster carers in the Mid-West.”
Deputy O’Sullivan added that “while it is encouraging that an action plan has been put in place and we are fortunate to have so many dedicated and caring foster families, it is essential that the issues of vetting and shortage of social workers are given urgent attention”.
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