Under Section 3 of the Child Care Act, 1991, the Health Service Executive has a duty to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care or protection. Where a child is taken into the care of the state, the policy of the HSE is to place him/her in care settings, preferably in foster care, as close as possible to their home and community. The age for all young people to leave the care of the state is 18 years, unless they a leave care prior to turning 18 years of age.
As regards separated children seeking asylum (SCSA), their immediate and ongoing needs, as well as their application for refugee status are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE) in accordance with the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) and the Child Care Act, 1991. Where children are identified by An Garda Síochána, at the point of entry as unaccompanied minors, the circumstances are investigated and if there are any concerns about the welfare of the child, they are placed into the care of the HSE. Young children are always placed with foster carers, and older young people are either placed with a private foster company or, by their own preference, in dedicated children's residential accommodation. On reaching 18 years of age, or on completing their second level education during their 18th or 19th year, they are then referred by the HSE to the Reception and Integration Agency (RIA). The Reception and Integration Agency arranges for their transfer to adult accommodation and service provision in the direct provision system.
The HSE and the RIA have an agreed policy in relation to the accommodation of separated children seeking asylum who reach the age of 18 years and there is regular liaison between the two agencies. I am advised by the Department of Justice that detailed discussions take place between the Separated Children's Team in the HSE and RIA, to ensure the best RIA centre match for the young adult concerned. RIA provides these young adults with full board and accommodation in a direct provision centre. In practice and with the agreement of the Department of Justice, the HSE has retained young adults in after care for various durations and in very exceptional circumstances, for example where there is severe disability or serious mental or physical health issues. In addition, the HSE is committed to ensuring continuity of care for all young people who are undertaking their leaving certificate and therefore interprets "18th birthday" as the end of a school year/leaving certificate year following their 18th birthday. Any change of placement would only be in exceptional circumstances and in the young person's best interests.