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Foster carers looking after children in the State care feel let down. Shutterstock/KonstantinChristian
Exposed

Foster carers finally given insurance cover by the State following three-year long battle

Some of the 4,500 foster carers in Ireland said the lack of cover had left them exposed

FOSTER CARERS ARE now being provided with insurance cover by the State after years of concern they had been left exposed to potential legal risks. 

Some 4,500 people are registered as foster carers in Ireland, supporting the more than 6,000 children currently in State care. The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, recently launched a campaign to increase the number of foster carers throughout the country.

But when the agency was established in 2014, taking over the responsibility for foster carers from the HSE, it meant the carers were removed from the HSE’s public liability insurance cover. 

The issue came to the fore in 2016 as foster parents and agencies feared they were exposed to potential legal challenges without a legally-sound insurance policy behind them. 

Tusla could not subsequently secure public liability insurance for foster carers and Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said she would bring the carers in under the State Indemnity Scheme, which covers state bodies and authorities. 

In a letter to the Irish Foster Care Association, which represents foster carers in Ireland,  Zappone yesterday confirmed that foster carers would now be covered under the General Insurance Scheme operated by the State Claims Agency. 

The letter, seen by TheJournal.ie, states “work has now concluded to bring foster carers within the definition of a delegated state authority and, therefore, be covered under the General Insurance Scheme”. 

It comes following several requests for information from TheJournal.ie on what measures the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was taking to expedite the process. 

‘Lack of value’

Foster carers voiced their concerns to the minister and her department on a number of occasions. 

Documents released under Freedom of Information show some felt there was “a lack of value by the State” shown towards them during the three-year wait to secure cover.

In a letter to the minister from the Irish Foster Carers Association (IFCA) on 31 May, CEO Catherine Bond said foster carers were told “this issue would be looked at as a priority” by the department. 

“We are currently meeting with our members throughout the country, and the issue is expressed to us as of being great concern amongst the fostering community,” she said. 

It continues: “Many foster carers have articulated their sense of lack of value by the State given the prolonged period that it is taking to reinstate the insurance scheme.”

Another foster carer wrote to the secretary general of the department, Michael Lynch, in April seeking “unequivocal clarification regarding this matter.”

“Our best interests are paramount, so that we can continue to be best supported in caring for, and loving our foster children,” they said. 

‘Exposed’

TDs from across the political spectrum also raised the issue in the Dáil Chamber asking Zappone to explain why there had been a delay in resolving the issue. 

In response to a question from Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness in February this year, Zappone said that in the absence of insurance cover, foster carers would be dealt with on an ‘ex-gratia’ case-by-case basis.

She said it was a “temporary measure” that would be “resolved shortly”. 

McGuinness said he spoke with foster carers last week, who had expressed a growing sense of “agitation” over the issue, with some long-term carers reporting they feel “exposed”. 

“Ever since this was brought to light, the minister has been saying we’ll cover you on a one-to-one basis. That’s no comfort to families concerned, that say they’re now left exposed without insurance and without the knowledge of what the insurance policy covers them for,” he said. 

Tusla, which employs a large majority of foster carers, was involved in discussions with the department.

Patricia Finlay, service director and national lead for fostering at Tusla previously told TheJournal.ie that the instatement of insurance cover needed to be concluded “sooner rather than later”. 

“We’re committed to advocating to see foster carers covered by the general insurance scheme of the state and we’re very much committed to working with the Government department and the minister to see that happens sooner rather than later.”

TheJournal.ie contacted the Department of Children and Youth Affairs for a comment on the delay in resolving the matter but did not receive a response.

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