Children fostered to unapproved families

By Jamie Smyth, Social Affairs Correspondent

May 15, 2010 / irishtimes.com

ALMOST 800 children in care have been placed in foster families that have not been fully assessed by the authorities, a national audit of foster care services has found.

The audit, which was completed by the HSE in January, also found 815 children in foster care had not been allocated a social worker and 864 foster parents had not been allocated a link social worker to support them and review the care they provided.

The HSE undertook the audit following concerns expressed last year by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) about “large numbers of children in care, living with unapproved carers, who have not seen or been seen by an HSE-authorised person for a considerable period”.

The audit, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act, shows most of the 787 children who were placed in foster care prior to a full assessment taking place were sent to “relative carers” within their own family.

Some 651 children were placed with relative foster carers, which the audit says supports anecdotal evidence they were placed in an emergency and assessments were not subsequently undertaken.

The failure to conduct assessments of relative carers is most acute in the Dublin northeast and Dublin mid-Leinster regions, which account for 528 children living in non-assessed placements.

The audit said there was a very large backlog of relative carers with children placed who were awaiting assessment in parts of Dublin. It said a national protocol was required that gave parity to relatives in relation to the allocation and prioritisation of foster care applications and assessments.

However, some 136 children were also placed in the homes of non-relative carers, who were not assessed by the authorities. The HSE west region was the only region not to follow this practice.

Deirdre McTeigue, director of the Irish Foster Care Association, said she was surprised children were being placed with strangers without a full assessment.

“I think this places vulnerable children in even more vulnerable situations,” she said.

The national standards for foster care stipulate that all foster care applicants participate in a “comprehensive assessment of their ability to carry out the fostering task” and be “formally approved by the health board prior to any child or young person being placed with them”. Regular reviews of their capacity to provide care are required. The standards also apply to relative carers.

The audit showed 864 foster families had not been allocated a link social worker. The situation was most acute in Dublin mid-Leinster, where 302 foster families did not have link workers, and HSE west, where 185 foster families had no link workers to support them.

“Staffing deficiencies were cited as the primary reason for this,” concludes the HSE audit.

The Irish Foster Care Association criticised the failure to provide link workers, who are critical to reviewing foster parents.

“Without a link social worker foster parents are left on their own. There is no one to make sure the parents understand and operate within the guidance and standards,” said Ms McTeigue.

The audit also highlighted that 815 children in foster care did not have an allocated social worker. The situation was most acute in Dublin northeast (374 children) and Dublin mid-Leinster (256 children) but was also occurring in the west and south.

The audit concluded that a “national initiative” was required to address the issue of children in care who did not have an allocated social worker. It said the only areas where every child was provided with a social worker were Mayo, Sligo/Leitrim and Clare in the HSE west region.

The Government is reviewing national standards for foster care.

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