Children’s services publication statement 03 October 2019
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published an inspection report on the foster care services operated by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in the Carlow/Kilkenny/South Tipperary service area.
HIQA is authorised by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs under Section 69 of the Child Care Act, 1991, as amended by Section 26 of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2011, to inspect foster care services provided by Tusla, to report on its findings to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and to inspect services taking care of a child on behalf of Tusla, including non-statutory providers of foster care. HIQA monitors foster care services against the 2003 National Standards for Foster Care.
As part of its 2019 and 2020 monitoring programme, HIQA is conducting inspections across all 17 Tusla service areas, focusing on six standards. Following the receipt of information from members of the public, some of which referred to a lack of response from the area to complaints, this inspection also examined a standard in relation to complaints.
HIQA conducted this inspection of the Carlow/Kilkenny/South Tipperary foster care service, located in Tusla’s South region, from 21 to 24 May 2019. Of the seven standards assessed, one standard was substantially compliant and five standards were found to be non-compliant, three of which were identified as moderate non-compliances and three were identified as major non-compliances.
The Carlow/Kilkenny/South Tipperary service area experienced significant challenges in retaining social workers within the service, which resulted in children not being allocated a social worker to oversee their placement and ensure their needs were met. In September 2018, HIQA met with the Chief Operating Officer of Tusla and service director of the area to escalate the concerns in relation to the lack of professional oversight for children in care in the area.
This inspection found that there remained a high number of social work vacancies and retention of staff remained very poor. Measures were put in place to address the risks associated with high levels of unallocated children in care; however, these measures did not effectively improve the service for children in care in the area. Allocation of social workers to children in care was chaotic and not child centred. Children experienced frequent changes to their allocated social workers and long periods without an allocated social worker. Children were visited by multiple different Tusla professionals, significant events were not always responded to, actions agreed at care planning reviews were not followed up on and, as a result, support services were not always provided.
Some children’s placements ended in an unplanned manner due to failure by the area to provide appropriate services in a timely manner. The data provided to inspectors at the time of inspection indicated that 72 out of 312 children (22%) did not have an allocated social worker. However, a review of files showed that, following an increase in staffing, some children were only allocated a social worker in the weeks prior to the inspection. Many of these children had experienced long periods without an allocated social worker. Children who were visited were not visited in line with statutory requirements, and the quality and oversight of the visits were poor.
Systems in place to manage care planning and child in care reviews were disorganised and poorly managed, resulting in children’s needs not being met. Care planning was significantly delayed and of poor quality.
Aftercare services in the area were significantly under-resourced and not well established. Where social workers completed assessments of need and aftercare plans, they were good quality; however, there was insufficient capacity within the aftercare service and a significant number of eligible children had not been referred to the aftercare service.
The area had appointed a dedicated person to provide oversight of the complaints process in November 2018; however, at the time of this inspection, this system had not yet fully brought about an improvement in the area’s management of complaints. Complaints, either verbal or in writing, to the area management office were not always recorded, and responsiveness to complaints was poor.
Managerial oversight throughout the service area was not effective at ensuring good quality service delivery. A new principal social worker was assigned to the children in care teams just prior to this inspection, and she outlined the measures which she intended to put in place to positively impact the service delivery.
Children without an allocated social worker or who experienced multiple changes in social workers clearly highlighted their poor experience as a result. Children told inspectors they were ‘tired of sharing my story over and over’; ‘there are so many social workers coming to me and then going’; and ‘I was without a social worker for over 2 years, and one was appointed three weeks before I was due to turn 18’. Some children who were allocated a social worker spoke positively about them, and children spoke positively about their foster carers.
There was improvements found in relation to how allegations and serious concerns were managed, and these were assessed and investigated in a timely manner. The management of allegations against foster carers was of good quality, and safety plans put in place following allegations were of good quality.
There was a formal matching process in place, and, while the area did not have sufficient numbers of foster carers, it did its best to place children within the area or with relatives if deemed appropriate.
The service area has provided an action plan response to address the non-compliances identified on inspection. The report and action plan can be found on www.hiqa.ie.