Tusla's policy is that social workers seek to keep children at home with their parents when it is deemed to be in their best interest, and when any risk can be managed safely. Tusla has introduced 'Signs of Safety', a child protection practice model which supports families working with social workers to develop safety plans for their children.
I am informed by Tusla that, when the need to place a child in care is being considered, the decision making supports for parents vary, depending on each family’s circumstances. A parent may seek to have their child placed in care in some circumstance. This might arise, for instance, if a single parent, with little community support, needed to undergo treatment for a health issue.
In all cases, the first step is to keep children safely at home with supports from the State and/or from their own networks. If voluntary care is required, the possibility of this being available safely with family and friends is always considered in the first instance, and supported as appropriate.
Parents who seek voluntary care are brought through a supportive process to ensure they understand what they are requesting, including the possible impact on the child, and possible consequences that may arise if their home situation remains unsafe. Parents whose children need care for safety reasons, but who are reluctant to proceed with voluntary care, will be supported to understand their children’s needs, the reasons that voluntary care is in their best interest and their right to consult with their solicitor.
The process for voluntary care requires parental consent. However, a parent can withdraw their consent at any time. If consent is withdrawn, a decision is made about the necessity to seek a court order. This will depend on whether it can be deemed safe to return a child to his or her parents' care.
In some areas there is a parent advocacy service. An advocate employed by Tusla or one of its funded organisations, is available to support the parents, either individually or in groups, to deal with issues arising and also to advocate on their behalf.