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File photo. Dominic Lipinski

Child in foster care not visited by social workers for more than three years

Seven cases were escalated to managers during an inspection.

A CHILD IN the north Dublin foster care service area was not visited by a social worker for more than three years, a report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has found.

Information provided to Hiqa inspectors during an inspection showed that there were at least 63 children overdue a statutory visit, and there were four further cases where it was unclear if they had had an up-to-date visit.

Almost all of these cases were held by one office, the report said.

Seven cases were escalated to managers during the inspection, as visits were significantly overdue at the time.

The report, published today, also found that governance and management systems in place at the time of inspection had not ensured that children were visited in line with the legal requirements set out in the Child Care Regulations.

The report said that the lack of visits to children led to concerns regarding the safeguarding practices for children in foster care at the time of inspection.

It said that regular statutory visits to children in care are a basic measure in place to ensure good safeguarding.

Hiqa also said it provides a “critical opportunity” for children to talk about any issues they are having in their placement or otherwise, as well as an opportunity for social workers to identify and deal with any concerns.

Data provided by the service in advance of the inspection showed there were 422 children in foster care, with 277 placed in general foster care and 145 placed in relative foster care.

According to this data there were 287 foster care households managed by the service area.

Hiqa also said that it became apparent through a review of files that there were significant periods where children in care were not visited in line with statutory requirements.

As a result, inspectors looked at the files of 20 children to review the frequency and quality of statutory visits.

The frequency of statutory visits to children in their foster homes is prescribed in the regulations and varies according to the length of time a child has been in their placement.

Visits to children in their homes had been restricted during Covid-19 and social workers relied on phone and video calls to contact children.

However, Covid-19 restrictions did not account for the gaps in statutory visits found by inspectors on the files reviewed.

Inspectors were assured these children would be visited as a matter of priority, Hiqa said.

While the majority of supervision and support visits to foster carers were good quality, systems to oversee visits to foster carers required improvement to ensure more frequent visits.

Inspectors also reviewed a sample of 16 foster carer files for supervision and support visits. Regular visits were evident in nine of 16 files.

In the remaining seven cases there were insufficient supervision and support visits.

Inspectors reviewed 13 files for the quality of supervision and support visits and found that 11 files showed evidence of good quality visits.

While efforts to oversee visits to children and foster carers were evident in most staff supervision records, this had not resulted in consistent statutory visits to children in care or supervision and support visits to foster carers.

In addition, given the risks identified during the inspection, an urgent compliance plan was issued to the area manager.

The area manager assured Hiqa that audits would be conducted to ensure that all children in need of a visit would be identified by the service and that the 63 children overdue visits at the time of inspection would be visited by 22 April.

The manager also told Hiqa that a system would be implemented to ensure better oversight of visits to children, that a traffic light system was in place to highlight visits due, and that all outstanding supervision and support visits to foster carers would be completed by 15 April.

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