A SENIOR social worker has appeared before a fitness to practise inquiry over his alleged failure to notify Tusla about child protection issues relating to children placed in foster care, including claims that one girl was having sexual relationships with the sons of her foster parents.
The former director of fostering services at Fresh Start, John Martin, is facing a series of allegations of professional misconduct and poor professional performance at an inquiry by CORU – the regulatory body of health and social care professionals.
Fresh Start, a private company, had placed 17 children in care in homes in the mid-Leinster area but many placements ended abruptly and in an unplanned manner.
CORU’s fitness to practise committee heard that Mr Martin had not filed a report about a child protection issue in a timely matter after he was made aware of allegations in March 2015 that a girl was engaging in sex with the two biological sons of her foster parents.
In another case, Mr Martin is accused of failing to notify Tusla about an incident where two girls in care had arrived home very drunk, after which one girl cut her left arm with a razor blade.
The inquiry heard that a child notification report had been filed by Fresh Start two months after a foster parent reported that a child, placed in her care, informed her that she had been raped and physically abused by her uncle and cousin.
However, it claimed no physical copy of the report could be found during an inspection by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa).
On another occasion, he allegedly failed to report a claim by a girl that she felt unsafe after her foster father had acted “creepy” by coming into her bedroom at 3am on the first night of her placement in December 2015.
The foster mother claimed her husband had only gone into the bedroom to turn off a light.
The girl also threatened to run away as she said she did not like staying with eastern Europeans.
Counsel for CORU, Remy Farrell SC, said Tusla had not been notified in a timely manner about another boy placed in foster care with challenging behaviour who was found trying to set fire to his hair and talking about not wanting to live.
The boy had also sent explicit material to two female students in his school via Facebook.
A social worker who replaced Mr Martin as head of Fresh Start’s fostering services, Sinead Browne, said she had notified Tusla of the various child protection issues in 2017 as a result of a review of cases following Hiqa inspections.
Mr Martin made a number of admissions of facts in relation to several charges, including that he failed to establish a system for notifying the authorities of critical incidents.
However, his counsel, Timothy Harley SC, said they were not admissions of offences.
Mr Martin admitted placing five children in the care of a foster family at various times during 2015 when he knew it was inappropriate as it was in excess of the maximum number approved.
Similarly, he placed children in another foster home at a time when he had failed to conduct any adequate risk assessment of an older child who was already in the home.
The social worker also arranged the placement of a child in a foster home for two overnight stays in 2016 when it was inappropriate because of her age.
The fitness to practise committee rejected an application by Mr Harley for another allegation that Mr Martin had inappropriately placed seven children in a particular foster home to be struck out, notwithstanding that CORU did not have evidence that it breached an agreement with Tusla about such placements.
The CORU inquiry arises from the findings of highly critical reports by Hiqa following inspections of Fresh Start by the watchdog.
Prior to publication of a report in July 2017, Fresh Start informed Hiqa that it had ceased providing foster care services due to ongoing difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff at the time.
Hiqa found a high number of the placements had not been successful, while formal supervision of carers was sporadic, first-time foster parents did not receive sufficient support and foster carers were not adequately trained.
The owner of Fresh Start, David Durney, told the inquiry that the company’s fostering service had been losing money and it needed to arrange more placements.
However, Mr Durney disagreed that it had put pressure on staff.
While Mr Martin would have been very aware of targets, Mr Durney rejected any suggestion that his former colleague would have jeopardised a child by placing it in foster care “just to get more money”.
“He was never motivated by money,” said Mr Durney.
An administrator with Fresh Start, Suzanne Hannon, admitted there had been a lack of policies in place in the company’s fostering care division.
Ms Hannon said she was “quite surprised” to discover how little information was contained in the files on children placed in foster care.
She recalled Mr Martin as “a very nice man who worked very hard”.
“I do believe he didn’t work very smart,” she added.