Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has a statutory duty under the Child Care Act 1991 to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection, and if necessary, to receive a child into the care of the State.
The placement of children in care is governed by Regulations and National Standards. These provide for the welfare of the child, including their health, education, assessment of need, care planning, supervision of placement, contact with family, general care practices, care records, and safety precautions. Children, depending on their identified needs, may be placed by in foster care either with relatives or general foster carers, in residential care, high support or special care or other placement types. The majority of children are placed in long term stable placements and currently over 92% of children are placed in foster care. A key part of the social worker role is to ensure the quality and safety of the child's placement, and to meet with the child on a one to one basis on all visits. There are safeguards surrounding each child care placement, whether foster or residential care and all placements are supervised by a professionally qualified social worker.
All foster care services and statutory residential centres are subject to inspection by the Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA). Private and voluntary residential centres are inspected by Tusla against National Standards. These inspection reports of children's residential centres, fostering services and child protection services are also reviewed and analysed by my officials. The overview of these reports provides me with a level of assurance on the overall capacity of Tusla to identify and provide services to families and children who are at risk.
Tusla has a dedicated Quality Assurance Team. This team produces monthly, quarterly and annual reports in respect of Tusla's functions, including detailed reporting on child safety and protection services. Tusla provides me with information on children in care, their placement type, care status and allocation of social workers. Within my Department there is a Unit which scrutinises these reports and briefs me and senior officials on issues of note. The reports also provide statistical evidence of improvements to child welfare and protection services and highlights challenges and areas where further improvement is required, such as the recruitment of additional social workers.
Officials from my Department meet Tusla management on a regular basis to review the level of service provision, including areas in need of improvement.
The Deputy should also be aware that children in care have access to independent advocacy supports, such as the organisation Empowering People in Care (EPIC). Children in care also have access to the complaints mechanism in Tulsa, and may make complaints, or be assisted to make complaints, about their care to the Office of the Ombudsman for Children.
In the context of the Child Care Act 1991, my Department has policy responsibility for children under 18 years of age who present as “out of home” without their parent or guardian. Children under the age of 16 who present as homeless without their parent or guardian are taken into care. Children aged 16 and 17 may be taken into care or provided with a service under section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991 which deals with accommodation for homeless children. Children who are homeless and in emergency accommodation are in the care of their parent or guardian. Where there are no welfare or protection concerns, Tusla’s role is to provide family support, where this is required.