Children’s services publication statement 07 August 2019

Date of publication:

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has published two inspection reports on the foster care services operated by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in the Cavan/Monaghan and the Midwest service areas.

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: the child and family social worker, assessment of children and young people, care planning and review, matching carers with children and young people, safeguarding and child protection and preparation for leaving care and adult life. 

HIQA conducted an inspection of the Cavan/Monaghan foster care service, located in Tusla’s Dublin North East region from 15 to 19 April 2019. Of the six standards assessed one standard was compliant, one standard was substantially compliant, and four standards were found to be non-compliant, of which one was identified as major non-compliant and three as moderate non-compliances.

HIQA conducted an inspection of the Midwest foster care service, located in Tusla’s West region from 29 April to 2 May 2019. Of the six standards assessed two standards were compliant, one standard was substantially compliant, and three standards were found to be non-compliant, of which one was identified as major non-compliant and two as moderate non-compliances.

In both areas, children who met or spoke with inspectors reported being happy and well cared for in their placements. The majority of children said that they had a good relationship with their social worker and felt listened to. Social workers maintained good links with families and encouraged and facilitated contact between the children and their families when appropriate. 

There were well-established aftercare services in both areas. Inspectors identified examples of good practice in aftercare services, such as offering a free phone service to young people in the Cavan/Monaghan area, and young people who were not eligible for an aftercare service were still provided with an aftercare worker in the Midwest area. 

All children in care were allocated a social worker in Cavan/Monaghan at the time of the inspection. However, there were periods over the previous 12 months when children did not have a social worker, and there was no robust mechanism in place to ensure unallocated children were visited in line with regulations.

At the time of inspection in the Midwest, 96 out of the 529 children in care did not have an allocated social worker. In addition six children were dual unallocated, which meant that neither the child nor foster carer had a social worker or link social worker. The area attributed this to the high level of staff vacancies in the area. While the area had developed a policy to manage unallocated children in care and had implemented a system to track unallocated cases and provide oversight of these cases, these were at an early stage of implementation. Inspectors escalated three dual unallocated cases to the area manager which were high priority and required further action. 

There were good systems in place to manage child in care reviews when children had a social worker; however, this system was not in place for children who were unallocated. Both service areas had a number of overdue care reviews and out-of-date care plans, and improvements were required to ensure good care plans were consistently developed for all children. Placement plans were not consistently developed in respect of each child’s placement in line with the child’s care plan.

Good-quality comprehensive assessments were completed for children in care in both service areas; however, they were not always completed in a timely way in Cavan/Monaghan.

Voluntary consent given by parents at the time children were admitted to care was not subject to review at child in care reviews in regard to the continued appropriateness of the child’s ongoing placement in care. 
Both areas sought to ensure that children were matched with carers who had the appropriate skills to meet their needs; however, formal records of matching were not available on all children’s files. The quality of matching was impacted by the limited number of foster carers in the Cavan/Monaghan service area, which meant that a small number of children were placed in placements which were not appropriate or suitable to meet their long-term needs. In both areas there was a significant backlog of long-term matches. 

Both areas were found to be in major non-compliance with safeguarding and child protection. While complaints, concerns and allegations against foster carers were categorised correctly in both areas, allegations made by children in care were not always assessed in a timely manner or in line with Children First: National Guidance on the Protection and Welfare of Children (2017). As a result, formal protective measures were not implemented in a timely manner and the social work team could not be assured that timely actions were taken to protect these children from abuse. Safety planning processes also required further improvement.