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Foster kids without homes made vulnerable by HSE inspection issues

A new investigation by the Ombudsman for Children has shed light on the situation.

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GAPS HAVE BEEN found in the inspection and monitoring of some of children’s residential centres in Ireland.

The problems have been highlighted by the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, who said there were concerns about how vulnerable this left some children.

The process of inspecting, registering and monitoring these residential centres is an important safeguard for children who are living there.  Failure to carry out these functions effectively can potentially have an adverse effect on those children.

He has sought for HIQA to take over this process, saying this is because he is “looking to create confidence in the independence and consistency of the process for overseeing the homes of some of our most vulnerable children”.

Hundreds of children

His office carried out an investigation into the HSE’s (now Tusla – the Child and Family Agency) registration, inspection and monitoring of the above residential centres.

There are around 100 private and voluntary children’s residential centres across four HSE/Tusla regions in Ireland – altogether, they cater for around 341 children. Their annual budget was around €49 million in 2013.

The investigation found:

  • Delays in inspections due to a shortage of inspectors
  • Typically inspections were announced in advance
  • Little evidence of unannounced visits and no evidence of visits undertaken at night or weekends
  • No standardised process and procedures across the four regions of the country
  • Lack of consistency across regions in relation to the production of registration reports
  • No agreed policy on access to inspections reports
  • No national protocol on frequency of monitoring visits
  • The lack of standardisation in relation to monitoring means that accountability is difficult
  • Monitoring appears to be viewed as a discretionary activity

The Ombudsman recommends that:

  • Registration of all centres should be processed in line with the Health Act 2007
  • Newly registered centres should be given priority for monitoring
  • That the Child and Family Agency takes overall national level responsibility for this activity and develops clear policies and procedures for its implementation

It also recommends that the Child and Family Agency provides guidance on the monitoring reports and conducts regular audits of the quality of the reports.

In addition, it wants the agency to provide a national training programme for monitors to ensure consistency, and to ensure that there are enough inspectors available.

The Ombudsman said it is hoped that this investigation “will positively influence the ongoing reforms of Ireland’s child and family support services”.

Given the importance of independent inspection and of ensuring that all children in the care of the State receive the same standard of care, it is important that the transfer of these functions to HIQA is progressed without delay.

Speaking to Morning Ireland, Niall Muldoon said that the homes usually cater for children over 12, when a foster home can’t be found. Rather than being big homes, the residential centres typically cater for around two to three youths.

“We expect them to be coming from difficult circumstances,” he said.

They were concerned that some delays in inspections left children “in a vulnerable situation”.

He said there is a chance that things have changed since the 2013 reports were carried out.

Publishing the reports publicly will increase transparency, he added.

In a statement, Brian Lee, Tusla’s Director of Quality Assurance, said he is satisfied that since the establishment of Tusla “we have increased levels of  inspection which have led to an improvement in standards and a pattern of increased compliance”.

Where Tusla identifies non-compliance with regulations, we prescribe actions to be taken by the centre and closely monitor the implementation of those actions. Tusla intends to publish these inspections reports in September.

The director of EPIC, an independent association that works with and for young people in care, said:

The need to implement independent inspections in all children’s residential care homes was identified in the Ryan Report in 2009. Subsequent to the publication of the final Ryan Progress Implementation Plan-this action has still not occurred. All residential care homes must be subject to the same process of monitoring and evaluation of standards in order to ensure that all young people are safeguarded and protected at the highest level. It is inappropriate that the contracting Agency is responsible for the monitoring of these privately run centres.

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Read: Ignored, abandoned, deprived of food: Abuse suffered by Irish kids before they go into care>

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