Children’s services publication statement 09 October 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). The inspection reports are for the Donegal and the North Dublin 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 Donegal foster care service, located in Tusla’s West region, from 24 to 28 June 2019. Of the six standards assessed, three standards were compliant, one standard was substantially compliant, and two standards were found to be non-compliant, both of which were identified as moderate non-compliances. 

HIQA conducted an inspection of the North Dublin foster care service, located in Tusla’s Dublin North East region, from 10 to 13 June 2019. Of the six standards assessed, two standards were substantially compliant and four standards were found to be non-compliant, all of which were identified as moderate non-compliances.

In both areas, children who met or spoke with inspectors spoke positively about their experience of foster care. Children were primarily positive about their social workers and described them as kind, helpful and nice. However, a small number of children in the Donegal area told inspectors about the difficulties of getting to know social workers when they change a lot. 

There were well-established aftercare services in both areas. Children and young people in receipt of aftercare received a good quality service and spoke very highly of it. In Donegal, children were referred to the aftercare service at 15.5 years of age and assessments of need and related plans were developed well in advance of reaching 17.5 years, which was an example of good practice. However, there were delays in referring some young people in the North Dublin area, and two thirds of those eligible within the area had not yet been referred to aftercare, despite some having already turned 17 years old.

All children and foster carers were allocated to a social worker in the Donegal area, and 90% of children in care in the North Dublin area were allocated to a social worker, with a small number, 24 (10%), unallocated at the time of the inspection. Safeguarding measures had been put in place to ensure that where children were not allocated to a social worker they were visited by a member of the team. While safeguarding visits for all children had been completed in the months prior to inspection, there had been significant gaps in visits to some of these children over the previous two years.

In Donegal, there were systems in place to monitor the timeliness of child in care reviews but only half of the care plans reviewed comprehensively addressed the identified needs of children. In North Dublin not all children had an up-to-date care plan and child in care reviews were not taking place within statutory timeframes for all children. The quality of care plans varied in the North Dublin area; however, plans to address this had been developed prior to inspection and improving quality was a key priority for the management team. In both areas, placement plans were not consistently developed in respect of each child’s placement in line with the child’s care plan.

In Donegal, there were systems in place to ensure that children were protected from all forms of abuse. There was good practice in relation to the categorisation of complaints, concerns and allegations against foster carers. Inspectors found improved oversight of this since the last inspection. However, improvement was required in relation to children in care who made allegations that did not relate to foster carers to ensure consistency as it was not evident in these cases that the needs of children had been assessed in line with Children First (2017).

In North Dublin, management of complaints, allegations and serious concerns against foster carers was good while not always timely. Assessments of serious concerns were comprehensive, correctly categorised and managed and investigated in line with Tusla policy. 
In both areas, social workers conducted good quality, timely assessments of children’s needs. In North Dublin, improvement was required to ensure that all children who required one had a medical assessment upon admission to care. 

In both areas, voluntary consent given by parents at the time children were admitted to care was not subject to review at child in care reviews regarding the continued appropriateness of the child’s ongoing placement in care. 

In Donegal, there was evidence that children were matched to foster carers on the basis of the capacity of carers to meet the identified needs of children, with supports as needed. In North Dublin, there was insufficient foster carers within the catchment area, which meant that several children were placed outside the immediate catchment area; however, these children continued to receive supports as required.  

The service areas have provided action plan responses to address the non-compliances identified on inspection. Reports and action plans can be found on