Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Questions (54)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

54. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the average length of time of a care order placing children in care; and her views on whether care orders can be too long in duration. [25609/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Children)

Under the Child Care Act 1991, where it appears to Tusla that a child is in need of care or protection that they may not otherwise receive, Tusla may apply to the Courts for a care order. The care order, including the length of time the order is to be in effect, is a decision for the Courts.  

Tusla does not publish data on the duration of individual care orders, and it is worth noting that, in certain circumstances, multiple care orders may have been made in relation to a single child.  Tusla does collate and publishes data on the length of time children are in care.  This annual figures for 2012 to 2016 are provided in the following table.

Table: Children in care by length of time in care

Year

 less than 1 year on

1 to 5 years on

More than 5 years on

TOTAL

 % of Total less than 1 year

 % of Total 1 to 5 years

 % of Total More than 5 years

2012

1151

2842

2339

6332

18%

45%

37%

2013

1197

2798

2474

6469

19%

43%

38%

2014

934

3078

2442

6454

15%

48%

39%

2015

929

2715

2740

6384

15%

43%

43%

2016*

704

2716

2847

6267

11%

43%

45%

*Pre-publication data provided by Tusla, subject to change

For children who are received into care for longer periods or until they are 18 years old, there will be clear reasons why this provides the stability and security for the child and that it is in their best interests. 

In recent years, about 40% of admissions during the year are the result of a court order.  The remaining cases are received under voluntary care agreements, which are preferred where it is likely that the period in care is to be short.  It is also beneficial where there is a good relationship between parents and social workers.  For example a voluntary care agreement may be used where a parent is not able to care for their child while participating in a treatment programme or is in hospital for an extended period.

The time periods available for the consideration of the Courts are set out under each care order in sections 13 (Emergency care order), 17 (Interim care order) and 18 (care order) of the Child Care Act 1991, as amended.  Where it is in the child's best interests. the Court may make an order for a shorter period than the maximum provided for in the Act.  

To make a care order under section 18 of the Act, the Court must be satisfied that the child has been assaulted, ill treated, neglected or sexually abused; or that their development, health or welfare is or is likely to avoidably impaired if the order is not made.  The Courts may, for example, consider that the evidence of abuse is such that it is entirely inappropriate that the child would ever be returned to their parents. Another example is, sadly, where a child comes into care because they have been orphaned.

One of the key principles of best practice in child protection and welfare is that children should only be received into care as a last resort, where other means of protecting them have been exhausted. The child's written care plan would address the possibility of reunification with their family, where appropriate. The priority in all cases should be the best interests of the child, and consideration of the child's express wishes where it is possible to do so.

It is important to recall that the Courts can review a care orders at any point, and can then make a determination made as to whether the continuation of the order is in the child's best interests.  

A court decision is not required in order for a child to be reunited with family, if it is deemed to be appropriate. In some circumstances, a decision may be made by social workers that in their professional opinion, it is in the best interests of the child to remain in the care of Tusla in line with the Court's decision.