Foster care review ordered as audit highlights safety lapses
CHILDREN'S Minister Barry Andrews last night vowed to reform the country's child protection systems in the wake of a storm of outrage over foster care.
Mr Andrews admitted the system had never been developed to a standard that delivered for children at risk and at need.
But he cautioned there was still a "distance to travel" and such improvements would not be achieved in weeks or months.
The comments come in the wake of concern at an internal HSE audit, completed a year ago, which found that more than one-third of foster carers in the South region had not undergone background checks.
In one instance, the audit discovered that a child was placed with a foster carer who had a number of criminal convictions.
A review has now been ordered into foster care in the wake of the audit, which sampled 17pc of the 112 children in foster care in the region.
"I have consistently stated over the last 18 months that our child protection systems have never been developed to a standard that delivered for children at risk and in need in this country," Mr Andrews said.
"Though things have improved in recent years, we still have some distance to travel to ensure that these improvements deliver the highest possible standard of care. This will not be achieved in weeks or months.
"My priority today is to reform that system and I believe that the Ryan report implementation plan is the path to right the wrongs of the past."
He pointed out that €15m had been provided to enable the HSE to recruit 200 social workers this year.
Defending itself, the HSE insisted yesterday that a number of "significant developments" had occurred in relation to foster placements since the internal audit was conducted.
A national audit of all fostering services had been completed across the country and the Health and Information Quality Authority (HIQA) was now allowed to inspect fostering services.
A spokeswoman said the HSE was also planning to bring current practices up to standard and to ensure they complied with HIQA standards through a "pre-assessment" before new HIQA inspections.
"The HSE is now planning a pre-inspection of all fostering services to ensure that any issues highlighted by either the HIQA or the HSE national audit are translated into service improvements in foster services," she said.
"The design of the pre-inspection system is almost completed and implementation is expected to commence in a matter of weeks."
However, Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter argued that the revelations in the audit were "alarming" and insisted they had shone a spotlight on "the dysfunctional and chaotic nature of child care services".
He insisted the Government needed to provide up-to-date information on the number of fostered children in the HSE South region whose carers had not been subject to mandatory garda and HSE vetting, and also to provide the same information for the rest of the country.
"If this is happening in the South then it is probably being replicated in other areas," he said.
"The HSE seems to have abdicated responsibility and the minister is washing his hands of responsibility for the situation."
Phil Garland, the HSE's assistant national director for children and families, insisted about one-third of fostered children were routinely placed with relatives, who, in the past, might not have been vetted by gardai.
But he said every family where a child was placed was now vetted by both gardai and the HSE's Fostering Resource Unit.
Alice Parkinson, chairperson of the the Irish Foster Care Association said vetting was "the first thing that should be done" -- along with training -- and said "there should be nobody out there who is fostering who has not been assessed".