WITH children being sent outside the region to foster families and other care settings, the HSE is to embark on a recruitment drive to meet a shortfall in foster carers in Limerick.
A focus of its efforts will be to find suitable foster families from the Eastern European, African and Traveller communities in Limerick, after a report by HIQA found foster children were not always being placed with families that could relate to them culturally.
While HIQA praises the quality of care in Limerick in general - provided by both the families and social workers - a number of “deficits” were uncovered in last year’s inspection, including in the area of Garda vetting and in training for both families and social workers.
The inspection of foster services took place in Limerick over 12 days last July and August and involved interviews with children, foster families and birth parents; meetings with social workers and HSE managers and a review of documentation.
Most recent data showed that in 2008, the Limerick local health area - which includes the city and all but the northeastern part of County Limerick - had 225 children in care, the fourth highest number in the country at that time. This had climbed to 285 by the time of the inspection last year, all but nine of whom had been placed with 207 foster care households. Just over 120 were general foster care families while 81 families were related to the children concerned.
HIQA in general found that the standard of foster care in Limerick was good.
“Overall, inspectors found that the outcomes for children in foster care in Limerick were positive as they received quality, safe care from their carers and were supported by their social workers. Children’s rights were upheld, their dignity and privacy respected and their health and educational needs were met. There was evidence that foster carers were committed to the children in their care and were affectionate and warm in their interactions with the children,” the reports.
Limerick’s social workers had come across as “experienced, enthusiastic and committed social care professionals” who exceeded what was expected of them in meeting foster children out of hours and at weekends.
The Limerick report also compares favourably to one carried out by HIQA of foster care services in Dublin North-West, where HIQA found that a number of children had not been removed from homes where allegations around child protection had been made in respect of carers - and that in some cases those allegations had been confirmed.
HIQA had found evidence in Limerick of children having been moved out of care settings where serious concerns of this nature existed.
But HIQA has identified significant room for improvement in safeguarding arrangements for children in foster care in Limerick.
While they got preliminary training, not all foster carers had been updated on current best practice and legislation in child protection. A number of children had been placed with relatives despite the fact that not everybody in these households had been vetted by gardai and approved by the HSE’s local foster care committee.
And, HIQA found, of the 71 staff working in social care teams across Limerick, they could find no evidence that 15 of them had been vetted by gardai.
In response to this finding, the HSE assured HIQA that paperwork relating to the vetting of all staff by the gardai was now in order.
Overall, demand for foster care places outstripped supply in the Limerick area. Twelve children from Limerick had had to be placed outside the region while the shortage of appropriate places was especially acute among teenagers and those with the most challenging behaviour. There was a shortage of spaces in Limerick city, HIQA said, while there were also problems with matching children to families from their own cultural, religious or ethnic backgrounds.
The HSE has undertaken to launch a new foster family recruitment campaign in the second quarter of this year.