Foster care in crisis in the Mid West with too many children left in individual foster homes

A NEW report of foster care in Limerick and the Mid West issued a stark warning that the lack of foster carers has reached a crisis  point and that too many foster parents are trying to cater for more children than they have been approved for.

And the national health watchdog, HIQA, found the service did not comply with minimum standards in both those areas.

The report, carried out in July and published this past Friday (October 6), found that in August 2022 the service area had 14 foster carer households caring for children above the numbers they were approved for.

This had increased to 22 at the time of this inspection. Of these, five households were each caring for four children. This was largely due to not having sufficient emergency placements or lack of options for children whose previous placement had broken down, the report said.

The service also failed to reach the minimum required in terms of having enough places for children to go and families to care for them.

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Inspectors said in the report that “shortfalls in the availability of foster carers had reached crisis point despite the area organising two recruitment campaigns in the past 12 months, with relatively high numbers of foster carers continuing to exit the service”.

“There were ongoing gaps in the range, diversity, and responsiveness of the area’s existing foster care panel. Despite significant efforts made by the fostering team including national searches, bespoke campaigns, and approaches to private foster care agencies, delays in finding suitable permanent homes for children were increasing.”

There is presently a total of 476 children from the Mid West in foster care. 402 children were placed locally in the Mid West region and 74 were placed outside the area.

Of these, 343 children were placed with general foster carers and 133 children were placed with relative foster carers. 10 children were placed with foster carers through nonstatutory (private) foster care agencies.

Nine children were awaiting a suitable longterm foster care placement, three of whom had been waiting for longer than three months. A total of 11 children had been placed in foster care in an emergency since 1 July 2022.

At the time of the inspection, 65 children in foster care did not have a social worker allocated to them. This number had increased from 19 children at the time of the August 2022 inspection.

Service managers reported that staff vacancies and turnover are leading to further increases in the number of children without an allocated social worker.

In a statement on the findings, Tusla said that “overall, the inspection report found the service had a child-centred approach with good systems in place to support and monitor foster placements”.

“The report acknowledges efforts to keep children in their locality and keep siblings together and, where this is not possible, to keep them connected with each other.

“Children who spoke with inspectors said that they were happy that social workers and their foster carers helped them to keep in touch with their parents, brothers, and sisters. The report also notes efforts made by frontline practitioners to engage parents and encourage their involvement in their child’s care plan.”

Commenting on the publication, Aisling O’Neill, Area Manager for Tusla Mid West, said: “We welcome today’s report and are pleased to see our commitment to continually improve and provide a consistent and quality foster care service has been acknowledged in this report.”

“We are particularly pleased that children and young people spoke positively about the service they received. The report also demonstrates the high standard of care provided by our foster carers across the Mid-L West and highlights the dedication by our team to deliver safe and effective services, ensuring vulnerable children and young people in care are safe and well cared for.

“We note that there are areas in need of improvement and we are working on implementing learnings from this inspection.

“The recruitment and retention of foster carers is a key priority for the agency, and we are actively working to bridge this gap. Foster carers are instrumental to the work that we do and help us work towards providing a brighter future for the children in our services.”