Children’s services publication statement 20 June 2019
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published an inspection report on the foster care service operated by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in the Dublin South East/Wicklow 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 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. These focused inspections are announced and cover six standards.
HIQA conducted an inspection of the Dublin South East/Wicklow foster care service, located in Tusla’s Dublin Mid Leinster region, from 12 to 14 February 2019. Of the six standards assessed, two standards were substantially compliant and four standards were found to be non-compliant, of which two identified as moderate non-compliant and two as major non-compliant.
At the time of inspection, there were 247 children in foster care in the Dublin South East/Wicklow area. Of these, 70 children were placed with relatives and 177 were placed with general foster carers, of whom 28 were placed with foster carers from a private provider.
The majority of children who participated in the inspection described foster families who were kind, caring, respectful and fun. Of the 35 children who were consulted as part of the inspection, 32 had an allocated social worker. Of these 32 children, 31 described their social workers as “easy to talk to” and good at listening. Young people who were preparing to leave care said they felt supported at this important time and they valued the assistance they were getting.
This inspection found examples of good practice in the area. For example, social workers went to great lengths to support children and their families to remain in contact and to ensure parents continued to be part of their child’s life when this was appropriate. The area had formed good links with external agencies and professionals, and children had benefited from this, particularly when they had complex needs and required specialist supports.
Social workers coordinated the care of children, ensured their care was delivered in a planned way and visited them in their placements. Social workers maintained a record for each child; however, these records were not easily accessed due to administrative arrangements. Not all children had an allocated social worker and as a result, some were not visited by a social worker. Inspectors escalated this issue to the area manager and received a satisfactory response in return.
There was a good system in place to manage child in care reviews, and decisions reached during reviewed were recorded and informed children’s care plans. However, there was a low rate of children who attended their review and it was not always evident that foster carers and birth parents were provided with the decisions of reviews they had attended.
The quality of care plans varied for children. Good quality care plans reviewed by inspectors were clear about the needs of the child, family contact arrangements and supports for children in their placement. However, 12% (31) of children in care did not have a care plan and one third of the care plans reviewed by inspectors lacked essential detail, such as the actions required to ensure the child’s needs would be met. Managerial oversight of care plans was not always evident, and social work records did not always include whether children and their parents and or carers received a copy of the final document.
Assessments of needs were completed for children, although these assessments for children placed in an emergency were not always carried out within the required time frame.
Although the area endeavoured to place children with carers who could meet their needs, there was no formal matching process in place. This was in the context of limited available foster care placements, which meant that not all children could be placed in their local community or with carers who shared the same ethnic background, or who had experience of providing care which was in line with the child’s individual needs.
There were safeguarding practices in place to ensure that children were protected from all forms of abuse, and social workers were committed to protecting children in care. All allegations and serious concerns were managed in line with Children First: National Guidance on the Protection and Welfare of Children (Children First) (2017). Safeguarding practices that needed improvement included safeguarding visits to children in their placements and training for foster carers in Children First.
Aftercare supports were in place in the area but there was a lack of governance oversight of the Tusla aftercare service as the position of aftercare manager was vacant at the time of the inspection. This was being addressed at the time of the inspection. In addition, the quality of assessments of need and aftercare plans required improvement.
The Dublin South East/Wicklow service area has provided an action plan response to address the non-compliances identified on inspection. The inspection report and action plan can be found on www.hiqa.ie.