Minister Lenihan launches report of Social Services Inspectorate
The Social Services Inspectorate’s Annual Report and the first Pilot Inspection of Foster Care Services were launched by Minister Brian Lenihan, TD today in Farmleigh, Phoenix Park, Dublin.
There were approximately 4,500 children in the care of health boards. The eastern region had the highest proportion of children in care, at 47 per 10,000 under 19, while the western region had just 25 per 10,000 under 19. Approximately 88% of children in care were in foster care.
The SSI, set up in 1999 and due to have been established on a statutory basis in 2003, is still functioning as part of the Department of Health and Children. The SSI inspects children’s residential centres run by health boards and has started inspecting foster care. Nationally, there were 154 children’s residential centres including 15 high support units and 2 special care units for children with specific needs. The majority of centres were run by health boards. Of the 65 run in the non-statutory sector, 15 were run by private companies. The average centre had 4 to 5 children but there were 22 centres that cared for only one child. The overall occupancy rate of children’s residential centres was 77%.
Findings for inspections carried out in 2003 showed that three quarters of young people in residential centres were between 13 and 19 years however, inspectors were concerned to find that one quarter were under 12 years of age.
Inspectors found, in keeping with previous years, that the day to day care of the children was generally good, with warm relationships, contact with families, hobbies and a growth of sensible policies to allow children have normal experiences, like sleepovers with friends. The standard on attendance at school was good and compares favourably with international findings. Health care was also generally good, but boards were urged to pay more attention to medical histories, the health of adolescents on admission and the mental health of the young people. Safeguarding and child protection practices were generally good. However, only two of the 32 centres inspected had full vetting of staff in place at the time of the inspection; gaps were usually that either Garda clearance was received after the person had started work or there were insufficient references taken up.
The report outlined areas where services need to improve. While over 70% of children had a care plan, for many it was an historical record rather than a map for the future. Inspectors found that the management of problematical behaviour posed difficulties for one third of the centres inspected. Most centres could access psychological and psychiatric services, but psychiatric services were generally not available for 16 and 17 year olds.
Over half the managers were in acting positions and just under half the staff were employed on temporary contracts. Inspectors stressed the need for capable leadership and stable staff team for all children, but in particular for centres that cater for children with challenging behaviour.
The Report of the Pilot Inspection of Foster Care Services gave an account of the first inspection against the National Standards for Foster Care (2003) and a national audit of key aspects of foster care across all health boards. Three health boards volunteered a community care area for the pilot, and the standard of their services were generally good. In these three areas while there were more foster carers than children needing foster care, there was a shortage of carers for sibling groups and adolescents.
The pilot also reports on a national self audit of all health boards on young people in care, foster carers and social workers. The audit found that one third of children in foster care were cared for in foster care provided by relatives. Twenty-nine per cent of general foster carers had been recruited in the past three years, showing that despite other societal changes, people are still willing to foster. The report was critical of the fact that all health boards had some children placed with relatives who had not been formally assessed. Overall, 44% of relative foster carers had not been assessed, and this varied between 5% and 84% in different areas, although health boards reported that half of these were undergoing assessment during 2004. Children in relative foster care were also less likely to have a care plan or an allocated social worker than those in general foster cares.
In the latest year that verified figures were available, 2001, there were approximately 1,000 separated children seeking asylum. Health boards report that this figure has reduced since then and have stated that unaccompanied asylum seeking children are now accommodated in hostels separate to adults. The SSI has advised that centres for under 16 year olds should now be inspected and registered against the National Standards for Children’s Residential Standards.