State could be sued over foster care abuses

Special rapporteur on child protection, Geoffrey Shannon, made the prediction after a major investigation found hundreds of foster children in one of Ireland’s most deprived areas are being needlessly put at risk.

This includes some cases where children are being left with carers already facing serious allegations due to sub-standard file-keeping, staff shortages, and delays in checking complaints.

The situation was revealed by a Health Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) [url=] probe of the Dublin North West foster care service, which warned the State “cannot guarantee” the safety of 368 children.

The probe was launched after two audits of the same service in 2010 and 2011 raised “serious concerns regarding the safety of children”. These audits noted that, statistically, Dublin North West — which covers Finglas and Cabra — has the highest number of children in care and the most people living in deprivation in the country.

However, despite promises that wide-scale improvements would be made, the latest investigation found:

*The State “cannot guarantee good outcomes for children in foster care”;

*Some care plans were of poor quality and “undertaken by social workers who did not know the children”;

*Some children remained in placements which had not been approved, “although allegations had been made against their foster carers. It was not clear from the files how the level of risk was being managed”;

*38 unspecified complaints were made in the year before the Oct 2012 audit, of which 34 were confirmed;

*There are “significant delays in investigating allegations,” while complaints were dealt with “in an ad-hoc and inconsistent manner”;

*Children’s names, locations and dates of birth were incorrectly filed and “confidential documents were misfiled” and easily accessible;

*One in three children were only assigned a designated social worker “three weeks prior” to the announced inspection, while another third did not have one at all;

*Education of foster children was “not recorded”.

Mr Shannon said reforms took time to implement but stressed the State could face lawsuits.

Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald last night said she will be meeting urgently with HSE officials to “address the critical issues identified” in the investigation. .

The findings come a week after two other Hiqa audits reported by the Irish Examiner raised similar fears over other foster care areas.

ISPCC director of services, Caroline O Sullivan, said at the time that “lessons have not been learned”. The Irish Association of Social Workers also noted the impact inadequate staffing has on safety — a year after an official report found 198 children died while in State care over the past decade.