Allegations of child abuse in foster care

JAMIE SMYTH / Irish Times

FORTY ALLEGATIONS of child abuse have been made against foster carers living in two local health office areas in Dublin.

In three of the cases the carers had not undergone Garda vetting, which is mandatory under national guidelines.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) told Minister for Children Barry Andrews about the abuse cases in March following an audit of its foster care services, which revealed serious deficiencies in a system catering for 90 per cent of the 5,500 children in State care.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 25 allegations of child abuse against foster carers have been made in the Dublin North West area. Two of the foster carers in these cases were still awaiting Garda vetting and the HSE had not assessed and approved 10 of the carers, as it is required to do.

A breakdown of the allegations includes: three cases of emotional and physical abuse; four cases of emotional abuse; five cases of physical abuse; six cases of neglect; three cases of sexual abuse; one case of emotional abuse and neglect; and a single case that combines physical, emotional abuse and neglect.

There were 15 recorded allegations of child abuse in the Dublin North Central area. One of these cases relates to a grandmother or “relative carer”, whose Garda clearance was sought in October 2009 and whose status was “still being ascertained” by the HSE.

The HSE had assessed and approved 11 of the 15 foster carers prior to the allegations taking place. Four were relative carers and initial assessments had taken place, according to an e-mail sent to the Department of Health by the HSE on March 15th, 2010.

The National Standards For Foster Carers say Garda clearances must be obtained on “adults living in, or with significant unsupervised access to foster homes, before the carers are approved or a first placement is made.”

They also 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 records obtained by The Irish Times do not disclose the result of any investigation carried out in 39 of the 40 allegations. But in one of the 15 cases in Dublin North Central the HSE says an investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse led to an “unconfirmed outcome”.

The foster carers were suspended and deregistered by the placement committee, according to the e-mail.

The 40 allegations of child abuse made in two of the 32 local health office areas are not contained in the HSE’s audit of foster care services, which was recently published on its website.

However, this audit revealed serious deficiencies in foster care services and a failure to comply with the national guidelines. For example 481 children in foster care have no social worker and 334 children in “relative care” do not have a social worker. There are 606 children in foster care and 572 children in relative care without a “care plan”, which is contrary to the national standards.

These deficiencies in the foster care system come as the HSE prepares to publish a list of the number of children “known to” its child protection services who have died in the past decade. On Friday it revealed 37 children in its direct care had died, significantly more than the 23 children it initially told the Government last year.

In a statement last night the HSE said it was very much aware of the need to standardise practice across the State and it is taking steps to do this following its audit of foster care services. A comprehensive process of reorganisation, restructuring and standardisation of childcare services is under way.

“Where a child makes an allegation of abuse [emotional, physical or sexual], a full risk assessment is completed by a social worker and this, depending on the outcome of the assessment, includes notifications to An Garda Síochána where appropriate,” it said.

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The HSE do not investigate

The HSE do not investigate the allegations of abuse by children in foster care. There are a number of current cases where family members of children in care have raised concerns about the placement and the HSE do not investigate such as a rape of a girl in care. The social worker involved told the garda not to investigate.

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