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.
A range of accommodation is available to meet the needs of children at risk. Children and young people, depending on their identified needs, may be placed 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's 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. Inspection reports of children's residential centres, fostering services and child protection services are also reviewed and analysed by Department officials. The overview of these reports provides the Department with a level of assurance on the overall capacity of Tusla to identify and provide services to families and children who are at risk.
Foster care is the main form of alternative care for children in need of care and protection, and is the preferred option for children who cannot live with their parents or guardians. As of the 30 September 2018, of the children in care, 92% were in foster care nationally; there were 4,005 children in general foster care, 1,595 in relative care and 374 children were in a residential care placement, with the remaining children in other care placements appropriate to their assessed needs.
There are regular area recruitment campaigns to meet foster care demands. Fostering teams are responsible for the recruitment and assessment of foster carers. When an assessment is complete, a report is presented to the Foster Care Committee who decide whether or not to approve the applicant.
The recruitment and retention of an appropriate range of foster carers is part of Tusla's business plan. Tusla are particularly interested in recruiting foster carers with the skills required to look after children with complex needs, or from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
For children who cannot live either at home or in an alternative family environment such as foster care, there are a number of types of residential care settings that may be appropriate, of which secure care is one type.
A very small number of children (1.6%) are in other care placements. Such placements can include supported lodgings, at home under a care order, detention centre/prison, youth homeless facilities, other residential centres e.g. therapeutic, disability, residential assessment, designated mother and baby units.
It is a fact that sometimes children are detained for their safety in order to provide the care they need. It is used only where a young person's behaviour poses a real and substantial risk of harm to their life, health, safety, development or welfare.
New regulations were put in place earlier this year. These place special care on a full statutory footing for the first time. The legislation sets a clear time limited and short term period for the use of special care.