Children were left without social worker due to shortage of staff
A LACK of cover for staff on maternity left 79 foster children in the mid-west region without allocated social workers, a HIQA report has found.
An inspection carried out in February this year revealed that North Tipperary had particular difficulty with a lack of key personnel, "as a result of a staff vacancy for over two and a half years".
"[The] North Tipperary area had only one full-time fostering social worker and operated at a 40pc capacity, which increased to 60pc in September 2013," the report stated.
At the time of inspection, the Limerick area was short staffed, whereas Clare was working with a "full staff complement".
"Staff resources were impacted with the inability to cover maternity leave," according to the inspectors.
The report found the area, which covers Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary, and accounted for 584 children was "non-compliant" with several areas of the regulations.
According to its findings: "The area was not sufficiently resourced to meet the needs of all children requiring a service."
Despite the majority of foster care families receiving the support they needed "77 (15pc) of 483 foster carers did not have an allocated link worker due to staff shortages".
A breakdown of areas inspected showed the mental health requirements for children in foster care was severely lacking.
"There were 68 children awaiting access to psychology services and eight children awaiting access to child and adolescent mental health services at the time of the inspection," the report stated.
In some cases, children were on waiting lists for these services for a period in excess of two years.
HIQA found "not all children had timely access to services based on their assessed needs".
Serious gaps in reviews of foster carers were also noted in the HIQA report.
Only 40 (8pc) carers in the area had undergone a review in the 12 months previous to the inspection and 197 (40pc) had not been reviewed in the three years prior to the inspection.
Just over one third (38pc) of carers were relatives, but the report found that many of these had been left unassessed for a period ranging from nine months to three years.
The majority of cases where children were moved from one home to another were said to be well-organised.
Inspectors found, however, that the number of children moved in the previous 12 months was very high, at 110.
A shortage of resources was also seen in the after-care services offered to children who left the foster care programme.
"Data provided to the authority reported that 161 young people over 18 years were in receipt of an after-care service.
"Leaving care assessments were undertaken for some children, but not for all and there was little evidence of after-care plans on the children in care files," the report said.
Despite the criticisms, HIQA concluded that the area was doing the best it could, with the personnel it had, to provide adequate services for children in foster care in the region.
"Children's well-being and welfare was maintained by a good standard of care and support which included a comprehensive assessment of need, good quality care planning and review processes," the report stated.