HIQA published review of local foster care services

Recruitment a challenge, service admits.

More needs to be done to increase the number of foster carers available in counties Cavan and Monaghan to meet demand, according to a newly published HIQA report which examined the service locally.

Recruitment and retention of carers was identified as a “priority” in the area and this was escalated on the risk register in 2022. It remained a factor on the risk register at the time of the inspection back in May of this year.

The inspection was focused on children’s experiences of care, their rights and sense of identity, their needs and how the service considered these needs, and the availability of suitable foster carers.

There were, at the time, just 104 foster carer households in the area, consisting of 81 general foster care placements and 13 relative foster care placements.

While there was a formal matching process in place, the implementation and recording of this process “required improvement”.

The report indicated that there were 12 recruitment campaigns in the last 12 months, the outcome of which secured eight foster care applications, from which only three carers were approved.

The review also identified “challenges” when matching foster carers and children and sought to ensure appropriate matching within the pool of foster carers available within the area.

Records of matching were “mixed”, and some demonstrated “careful consideration” of the child’s needs and foster carers capacity to meet those needs, said the report.

“As a result, the service could not always demonstrate whether children were placed with foster carers who were the most suitable to meet the child’s needs.”

The area did seek to place children with relatives and within their local own communities, with an “emphasis” on keeping siblings together. Out of 35 sibling groups, the “majority” found homes together.

However, due to the “limited availability” of foster carers within the two counties, 70 children were not placed with carers from the same “cultural, ethnic or religious background”, and 75 children others were not placed within their “own communities”. This included eight children placed outside the two counties.

Tusla – Child and Family Agency welcomed the findings of the report.

All seven standards inspected were found by HIQA to be either fully or substantially compliant.

“Assessments of children’s needs were found to be comprehensive and where children’s needs were complex, specialist services were requested to develop a better understanding and inform the assessment of the child. Assessments were found to be completed in a timely manner and children were provided with effective interventions,” said Tusla.

The organisation noted that the Cavan-Monaghan area has a therapeutic team which provides specialist supports, including psychological, play and art therapy to children. “Where external services are required, referrals are made to private agencies in circumstances where children cannot access services in a timely way through public services.”

Tusla acknowledged the areas where improvement is required, in particular a need for continued fostering recruitment efforts.

In January 2023 the area introduced two recruitment leads for both Cavan and Monaghan in a bid to turn things around. The area has also sought to develop links and engage with local ethnic minority groups to attract people to become foster carers, as well as with groups in line with the Regional National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 that would support culturally appropriate placements by Tulsa for Traveller and Roma children.

“Recruitment and retention of foster carers is a priority for the area and the area’s recruitment strategy has an emphasis on increasing the availability of foster carers from diverse backgrounds,” say Tusla. “Cases where a child did not have an allocated social worker were overseen by the social work team leaders and the principal social worker, and all of these children had up to date care plans.”

Speaking about the report, Eilidh MacNab, Tusla Regional Chief Officer, Dublin North East, stated: “Cavan Monaghan is one of the most diverse areas in the country, and it is clear from this report that the area has worked hard to provide a service that promotes ethnicity, identity and culture for all children.

“We recognise that we have further work to do, including in the recruitment and retention of foster carers, and this is something we continue to promote at both a local and national level. However, we are pleased with the positive findings within this report.”