Calls for improved screening of foster carers after concerns raised about children

Health records showed a deterioration in the child after five months of foster care. Photo: Gabriele CharotteTwo foster carers who have been the subject of repeated complaints to the Department of Family and Community Services dating back several years still have two teenage girls in their care, prompting calls for tighter screening and monitoring of carers.

Medical professionals, the NSW Ombudsman and members of the local community have raised serious concerns about the couple, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

Health records of one child formerly in their care show a marked deterioration in the state of the child while she lived with the couple.

The records, obtained by Fairfax Media, report the child showed no signs of trauma or malnourishment before going into their care. A follow-up medical report written five months later describes the same child suffering from malnourishment and emitting a foul odour.

The child’s biological mother, who cannot be identified, said she was concerned by her daughter’s dishevelled appearance at contact visits.

“When I read the medical reports, my first thought was that she had been abused,” the mother said. “How else does a healthy child go downhill in such a short period of time?”

The child was removed from their care, but a later investigation by the NSW Ombudsman noted concerns about three other children living with the couple.

The report found the couple had misled health professionals about the children, had exposed them to adult products and videos and locked at least one of the children in his room overnight. A risk assessment featured in the report recommended the removal of the children and the cancellation of their carers’ authorisation.

Shadow minister for Family and Community Services Tania Mihailuk​ questioned why foster children were still in the couple’s care.

“The NSW Opposition expects a full investigation into how it appears that the Ombudsman’s concerns in this case have been ignored and further an inquiry into how this government is failing to properly oversee foster care placements,” she said.

“Questions need to be asked, such as: What are the levels of oversight here? How are potential carers being screened? How often are carers being screened? How many people are on the ground making these checks? What processes are in place to action information gathered during these risk assessments?”

Jacqui Reed, chief executive of the peak advocacy group for children in care, the Create Foundation, said screening and monitoring standards should be improved.

“Create’s research indicates that children want carers and workers who care for them, are consistent and reliable,” she said.

“Yet it isn’t what is happening in practice because there are instances where children are not safe and are slipping through the cracks. What is needed is direct attention being given to this issue and a renewed commitment to providing excellent care through robust processes.”

A spokeswoman for Family and Community Services minister, Brad Hazzard​ said the safety of children in care was “our highest priority”.

A spokesman for the FACS department said probity checks on carers were regularly reviewed and carers were subject to ongoing monitoring. “FACS takes any allegations of harm to children seriously, including those in foster care, so whenever any such allegations arise we investigate,” he said.

“The safety of children is paramount in all FACS decisions. The department has an overriding responsibility to ensure that children entrusted to its care are safe and protected.”