Thirty-six percent of children in foster care in the Dublin South Central area did not have an up-to-date care plan in place in November, according to figures from Tusla.
Dublin South Central covers parts of south and west Dublin including the Liberties, Rialto, Inchicore and Ballyfermot, Clondalkin, Palmerstown, and Lucan.
But that figure might not be right. A report from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) for the same month says the figure was only 13 percent.
Either figure would be bad. Nationally, only 6 percent of 3,857 children in foster care did not have care plans that month. But it’s concerning that it’s unclear what the real figure is.
These plans are important, according to Terry Dignan, director of Empowering People in Care (EPIC), which advocates on behalf of children in care.
“A written care plan is a legal requirement,” he says. To ensure that each child’s needs are met, every decision made about the child should be documented in the care plan, says Dignan
“The care plan also establishes adequate assessments and reviews, which protects the child from staying in an unsuitable placement,” he says.
Who Is Right?
Tusla records say that in November 2016, 64 percent of children in foster care in Dublin South Central had an up-to-date care plan in place – so that means that 36 percent did not.
HIQA did an inspection that month, which was critical of the quality of some care plans. But it also found that 87 percent of the children had up-to-date care plans – so 13 percent did not.
Dignan would like an explanation.
“EPIC would appreciate Tusla providing additional information regarding the disparity in between the data published on their website and the data recorded in the HIQA Dublin South Central Fostering Service report,” he said.
HIQA explained where its 13-percent figure had come from. “The figures in our report were received from Tusla as part of this inspection,” said a spokesperson for HIQA, Donal Bergin.
HIQA didn’t find any information to contradict these figures when care plans were reviewed as part of the inspection, he said.
Quality was more of an issue for HIQA than quantity, it seems. “The quality of care plans was inconsistent and in some cases poor,” said Bergin.
Tusla also had an opportunity to correct the record, he said, but failed to do so.
“Providers can comment on matters of fact in draft reports prior to publication. No changes to these figures were requested or made,” he said.
But Tusla seemed to stand over its lower number, and suggest that the more positive HIQA figure was incorrect.
“Overall in the Dublin South Central area 65% of children in care have an up to date written Care Plan,” said Eleanor Reidy, a spokesperson for Tusla, on Tuesday 2 May.
We sought further clarification as to which figure was wrong.
“In relation to the 87%, at the time of inspection it was noted that the reporting of data in the area required an improved process,” Reidy said.”This is actively being addressed.”
HIQA counts 351 children in foster care in Dublin South Central.
Out of 26 standards assessed, Dublin South Central foster care service only met minimum standards for one.
They looked at how foster families were recruited and reviewed, training, children’s rights, valuing diversity and matching children to the right families.
HIQA assessed that there was a “significant risk to children” in five areas, including safeguarding and child-protection.
A significant risk is defined as “children have been harmed or there is a high possibility that they will experience harm due to poor practice or weak systems.”
“Recruitment practices were not robust, as there was no system in place to ensure, in line with Children First (2011) and Tusla’s recruitment policy, that all staff were vetted by An Garda Síochána,” says the HIQA report.
Says EPIC’s Dignan: “If the statutory safeguarding measures aren’t enforced, such as systematic Garda vetting of staff and carers, then the State isn’t adequately protecting children from neglect.”
We asked Tusla what is being done to address the ongoing lack of care plans in the area, but they didn’t answer that question.
Tusla issued a press release after the HIQA inspection, outlining the action they will take to address quality-of-care issues raised. And Reidy said that there were plans to look at improving data-collection, too.
“During 2017, there will be liaison with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, to consider if further refinement is required of the definitions and metrics that are currently used to gather this data,” said Reidy.
“It is important to note that the figure of 65 percent relates to an up to date Care Plan at the time of reporting,” said Reidy. “On occasion a Care Plan review may not take place in time to be included in the reporting figures,” she said.
This can be for a range of practical reasons. For example, a young person might be focusing on her or his exams, she said. “Care Plan review can be rescheduled and the young person’s care will continue to be provided in line with their current Care Plan,” she said.
This explanation does not address the consistently low percentage of children with care plans in Dublin South Central though.
Lack of Staff, Low Morale
HIQA says a lot of work was done by the team in Dublin South Central in 2016 to ensure that children there had up-to-date care plans.
At the start of the year, more than 50 percent of children did not have a care plan, according to its figures. By the end that had fallen – to either 36 percent or 13 percent, depending on which figure you believe.
They found the area was short-staffed, and that “some staff members carried high caseloads and morale on some teams was low”, says the report.