Under the Child Care Act 1991, the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is the statutory body with responsibility to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. Tusla assesses all child welfare and protection concerns that are reported to it.
The Children First Act 2015, which was fully commenced in December 2017, provides for a number of key child protection measures. These include awareness raising, providing for mandatory reporting of child protection concerns by certain categories of persons and improving safeguarding arrangements in organisations providing services to children. The Act operates alongside the non-statutory obligations provided for in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017, which sets out how all reasonable concerns about a child should be reported to Tusla. The Act recognises that a child’s welfare includes their emotional welfare while the Guidance sets out definitions of abuse, including emotional abuse, and signs for its recognition.
Referrals to Tusla regarding the possible harm to a child from a parent are assessed in line with Tusla’s policies, procedures and best practice. Tusla has advised that its child protection and welfare assessment considers any past harm and any future danger to a child as a result of complicating factors in a child's environment. These factors include any parental behaviour that is deemed to have a negative impact on a child resulting in them being seriously harmed, including the behaviours that would indicate emotional abuse. Tusla also considers any strengths and existing safety present for the child in the context of the harm and then works collaboratively with parents, professionals and others to create effective safety for the child into the future.
However, parental alienation is a very challenging and complex issue. It generally arises in situations of extreme inter-parental conflict, which can result in children withdrawing from one parent without the other parent deliberately directing them to do so, but as a response to the conflict. Mediation can sometimes offer parents an opportunity to work through issues arising.
Tusla social work staff are supported in their professional and evidence informed assessments by access to an online evidence informed toolkit that provides detailed up-to-date research and recommended interventions on key areas such as attachment, critical analysis and thinking, child development, the impact of abuse, separation and loss and parenting capacity. Tusla also provides all staff with access to an entire research centre https://www.tusla.ie/research/ with relevant current research and publications relevant to child protection and welfare practice. In addition to regular professional supervision, this ensures staff are supported in maintaining their expertise in an ongoing and supportive learning environment.
Tusla works collaboratively with child and adult mental health services, the Courts and other therapeutic services in respect of any relevant matters referred to it, including in relation to necessary interventions to support the safety and wellbeing of a child.
The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a Family Court Bill. The Family Court Bill will be a key element in the development of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts families at the centre of its activities, provides access to specialist supports and encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution in family law proceedings. The Department of Justice has recently established the Family Justice Oversight Group. This Group will agree a high-level vision and key medium and longer-term objectives for the development of a national family justice system, in parallel with the establishment of a dedicated Family Court structure, as envisaged by the forthcoming Family Court Bill. My Department is represented on the Oversight Group.