independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Fostered teen found sleeping rough, 48 hours after going into HSE care

The case has sparked concern after it emerged that the vulnerable teen had gone missing before

Gardai and the HSE are investigating how a troubled European teen was placed by a private agency with an Irish foster family which had not undergone any child safety vetting.

The controversy came to light when the teenage boy went missing for almost 48 hours last week from his foster home. He was eventually found sleeping rough on the street by gardai.

While he was uninjured but hungry, officials believe he was very fortunate to escape hypothermia.

Health officials were immediately concerned for his welfare after they learned it was not the first time he had gone missing.

A number of European agencies have been placing troubled teens in Irish foster care since 1995, the Irish Independent has learned.

Gardai and the HSE are now investigating the placement of all European teens in Ireland.

The boy, who cannot be identified, is being cared for by the HSE and his case is being handled in consultation with a European embassy.

Relatives of the teen have flown to Ireland and it remains unclear whether the boy will remain here or return to his home country.

The case has sparked concern after it emerged that the youngster had gone missing before -- although gardai had been unaware of this.

The foster family involved have claimed they were instructed only to report the youngster missing if he was out of contact for 48 hours.

The couple, who have a teenage child themselves, had not been vetted by the gardai for fostering.

Such garda and HSE vetting is required for all families taking part in Irish fostering programmes.

At any one time, up to 50 foreign youngsters can be on placement in Ireland. One agency primarily places youngsters with their own native-speaking families who are resident here.

However, the private firm at the centre of the probe, based in another European country, often uses Irish families.

The programme aims is to get troubled teens away from the source of their problems and offer them a fresh start in a new environment.

DRUGS

In many cases the teens come from major European cities where they have encountered problems with youth gangs, drugs, bullying and even violent homes.

The European health agencies involved provide generous grant aid in support of these emergency foster placements of up to €3,500 per month.

The Irish Independent understands that, in many cases, the Irish foster families who accept these children are paid around €2,000 per month.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher expressed concern at the revelations and said urgent clarification is required as to precisely who was responsible for supervising such placements of vulnerable children.

"I find it incredible in this day and age to hear that any one child could be placed with a foster family who have no garda vetting clearance," Mr Kelleher said.

"You can't even carry a water bottle for youngsters on a juvenile GAA team without having garda vetting clearance."

The HSE said that it does not comment on individual child care cases. But it confirmed that the placement of children in foster care in another EU member state is governed by Article 55/56 of the International Instrument (2003).

"All placements of children in foster care in Ireland are subject to Irish legislation, in particular the Child Care Act (1991) and the Children's Act (2001), and related regulations," a spokesman said.

The HSE also stressed that the act provides that authorities in countries where childcare placements are being made must first be consulted.

Irish Independent

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