SERIOUS failings remain in the way children are looked after in state care – despite a series of government initiatives to clean up the area.
Basic lapses – such as failures to vet and adequately train staff – have been uncovered in private agencies contracted by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to provide fostering or residential facilities for children in state care.
And the HSE has also been criticised by its own inspectors for failing to meet the educational needs of some high-risk children in care.
Unpublished internal HSE reports, obtained by the Irish Independent, reveal major shortcomings at some private firms working in the sector, which receive around €1m a week in funding from the public purse.
The agencies are commissioned by the HSE to care for often very vulnerable and troubled children in homes across the country, providing specialist care to supplement its own childcare homes.
Details of the failings come just six months after the damning Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group revealed how the HSE had failed to record the deaths of some children in its care and closed files on vulnerable minors without assigning social workers.
That review group focused on 196 children known to child protection services who had died between January 2000 and April 2010. These included tragic teenagers Devlin Kavanagh and Daniel McAnaspie.
The inspection reports obtained by the Irish Independent do not record any deaths. However, they highlight how failings have continued in the care of children during 2011 and 2012.
One report highlighted significant absences by an extremely vulnerable young person from The Cottage residential service in Kildare.
Records examined by inspectors did not demonstrate substantive efforts to find out the cause for the disappearance or where the child was going when missing.
A not-for-profit service, Alberg House in Kildare – funded specifically to prepare older teenagers for when they leave care – was found to have no transitional programmes or independent living skills packages in place.
The centre failed to meet a recommendation following a previous inspection to develop this kind of programme.
The inspectors found one of the youngsters had a dog who was not house-trained and faeces and urine were visible in the main corridor.
In another centre, the inspectors found children were "consistently involved in criminal behaviour" throughout their placement and both were also "occasional drug users".
The failure to control bullying was consistently highlighted by inspectors and they found one young person was sent to another centre on their own in a taxi, without any social worker present.
An inspection of the Tir na nOg Lark cottage residential services in Dublin last year found the system for recording and maintaining young people's care records was completely inadequate and confusing.
It also found a lack of evidence that proper efforts were being made to ensure that young people in care attended school.
The centre provided an action plan to the inspectors setting out how the issues would be addressed.
Inspectors were particularly critical of one of the last hostels catering for young asylum seekers – Brehon House in south Dublin, which closed in 2010.
The inspectors found records in the centre relating to young people were minimal.
The report pointed out that while the cost of an Irish child in care came to €500,000 a year it was just €88,000 for these separated asylum-seeking children.