When Tusla takes a child into care it may do so either by way of a court order under the Child Care Act 1991, or by way of a voluntary care arrangement whereby there is consent from the child's parent or guardian. Every case is unique. There will be some cases where voluntary care is the most appropriate response and others where it will be necessary to have a more formal arrangement using a court order under the Child Care Act 1991.
Voluntary care is an important option open to Tusla and may be used to help struggling parents and protect vulnerable children. Voluntary care is also utilised where parents require some form of short-term respite, or where a parent may be ill or seeking treatment for a particular condition. Its application in these circumstances is particularly useful. Approximately one third of children in care at any one time are cared for under a voluntary arrangement.
It is important to emphasise that voluntary care is based on parental consent. The child's parent or guardian is entitled to have an input into the care that their child receives and they have the power to withdraw their consent if they are not satisfied with the care their child is receiving. Important, it also makes it easier for struggling parents to entrust the care of their children to Tusla when they need help. Voluntary care can facilitate a co-operative relationship between parents, Tusla, and caregivers, and this can be positive for the child and their family.
Tusla introduced new practice guidance last year on the use of voluntary consent for admission to care. This provides social workers with clear definitions of voluntary consent and the process for determining capacity to give consent. Timely and understandable informed consent sets the stage for social work services and assists with providing all involved with an understanding of the process and associated realistic expectations. The guidance also stresses that consent to a voluntary arrangement should only be sought if it is fair and proportionate in all circumstances, which is important.