A Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) inspection report on the foster care service operated by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) in the Cork service area has identified significant shortfalls in visits to children, backlogs in child in care reviews and a lack of capacity within the area to provide placements to children in a timely manner.
As part of its 2019 and 2020 monitoring programme, HIQA conducted 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 Cork service area, located in Tusla’s South region, from 28 September to 1 October 2020.
Of the six standards assessed, one standard was compliant, two standards were substantially compliant and three standards were major non-compliant.
In a statement, HIQA detailed how a total of 285 children gave feedback via questionnaires, and inspectors spoke to an additional 16 children about their experience of foster care.
HIQA said children spoke very highly of their foster carers.
Many children reported they were happy and thriving in their foster placements.
Children said they had people they could talk to if they did not feel safe.
Feedback from young people about their experience of the aftercare service was very positive.
Most children spoke highly of their social worker and felt they were listened to.
However, some children commented that their social worker should visit more often as they rarely saw them, or had experienced changes of social worker.
The report showed that the national policy on aftercare was implemented in full in the area; with good tracking of the outcomes of young people as they moved into adulthood.
The quality of aftercare plans coupled with the engagement of young people was good.
It also found the service area had given high priority to expanding the range of housing provision and was alert to any risks of homelessness to young people.
The quality of assessments of children’s needs carried out by social workers was adequate; although not all assessments had been completed in line with the required timescales following an emergency placement.
However, HIQA said improvements were required in relation to the governance of the service and management oversight and scrutiny of practice.
Significant shortfalls in visits to children, backlogs in child in care reviews and the lack of capacity within the area to provide placements to children in a timely manner were all areas of significant risk identified during this inspection.
There were also delays and gaps in the information about children being uploaded onto the electronic case management system and supervision of social workers did not meet the standards of practice set out in Tusla guidance.
HIQA said that while all children placed in foster care at the time of inspection had an allocated social worker, social workers did not regularly visit some children; with some significant gaps and delays in children being seen or spoken to.
Some social workers experienced ongoing challenges in workload management.
Prior to this inspection, the service area had identified these significant shortfalls in its statutory visiting arrangements; but evidence of improvement was limited.
It said there were long delays in child-in-care reviews taking place, with a significant backlog in one social work department.
The levels of management oversight and scrutiny of the child-in-care review process varied.
When reviews did take place they provided an important check of the needs and direction of care for the child, their foster carers, wider family members and partner agencies.
Gaps in child-in-care review practices meant that managers could not be assured that children’s needs were effectively met over time, and led to a drift in care planning for some children whose care plans were not kept up to date, it said.
The care plans that were in place were comprehensive and provided a clear picture of children’s needs; but some actions did not provide clear direction and timescales for delivery.
The report also found there were not enough foster carers to respond to children who needed to be admitted to care in an emergency.
Inspectors found that the service area’s capacity to match children to foster carers best placed to meet their individual needs was severely compromised, with indications of high and increasing pressures on the service in recent years.
Following the inspection, HIQA escalated these risks to Tusla senior managers and met with relevant regional and national directors to highlight the need for a concrete plan to address these areas of risks to children.
It said that a satisfactory compliance plan was subsequently received which outlined plans to address the risks in relation to the Cork foster care service, including provision of additional resources, development of an area-wide child-in-care review team, implementing enhanced quality assurance mechanisms, and the strengthening of national and regional structures for the governance of risk and incident management. The compliance plan will continue to be monitored as part of HIQA’s ongoing regulatory activity.
The report and compliance plan can be found at www.hiqa.ie.