A LARGE group of children placed in foster care were left at potential risk because of a delay in vetting their carers, an inspector's report revealed yesterday.
The investigation looked at practices in the HSE South areas of north Lee, south Lee, north Cork and west Cork, where 690 children are in foster care.
It found that 452 of the foster parents had been assessed as to their suitability, but 48 had not -- the majority of whom were related to the child. The investigations were carried out by inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) between September 2009 and May of this year.
The report expressed concern at the delays in vetting the relative foster carers, but said the sample of children who were interviewed felt safe and were happy with their families.
It found that, in general, there was evidence of good practices, and although many standards were met, child protection guidelines were not.
There were also deficiencies in relation to the social worker's role, care planning for the children and retention of foster carers.
The report found that 183 children did not have care plans and some children did not have their care reviewed for five years.
It said this should be reviewed on a yearly basis to determine whether objectives in relation to their welfare needed to be changed.
Fourteen of the children had not been visited in their home by social workers for several years, although there had been contact with the foster parents over the phone. There were five reports relating to allegations of physical abuse and two children were moved to another placement.
Although the inspectors were initially told by the HSE that all children had been assigned a social worker, it was discovered, during fieldwork, that this was not so in all cases.
The non-allocation of social workers related to vacant posts. This was evident in the north and south Lee health areas.
Team leaders continued to take on a supervisory role to social workers whose caseload may have included 20 to 25 children who were without an allocated social worker. Inspectors found there was a poor take-up of training to improve parenting skills by social workers.
However, for the most part they had access to information, training, counselling and support services.
And although they had good access to social workers, there was no out-of-hours service to deal with queries in the evenings and weekends.
Significant operational differences were identified across the four local health areas.
The inspectors set out a series of recommendations and will do follow-up visits after receiving an HSE action plan, the findings of which will be published.
Fine Gael spokesman on children Charles Flanagan said he believed there was a clear need for HIQA to arrange a national audit of foster care services.