Child Benefit is a monthly payment made to families with children in respect of all qualified children up to the age of 16 years. The payment continues to be paid in respect of children up to their 18th birthday who are in full-time education, or who have a disability. Child Benefit is currently paid to almost 622,900 families in respect of almost 1.2 million children, with expenditure of more than €2 billion in 2018.
The rules for determining the person with whom a child resides for the purposes of the payment of child benefit are set out in Article 159 of the Social Welfare (Consolidated Claims, Payments and Control) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 142 of 2007). These rules were amended in 2007 by the Social Welfare (Consolidated Claims, Payments and Control) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 859 of 2007).
These amending regulations contain an additional rule, which provides that where a child is placed in foster care, or with a relative by the HSE, payment of child benefit will transfer to the foster parent after a period of six months of foster care. The rationale behind this change is that the purpose of child benefit is to assist toward the ongoing cost of child rearing. However, when introducing the change, it was considered inappropriate to withdraw payment from a parent in respect of short periods of foster care. Furthermore, it was recognised that the immediate withdrawal of child benefit may have an adverse financial effect on the mother who may, regardless of the duration of the foster care, maintain some level of contact with the child.
It should be noted that discussions with the Health Service Executive and the Irish Foster Care Association at the time of the making of these Regulations, established that the HSE considers the vast majority of foster care arrangements to be short-term placements. I understand from my Department that in view of this and in light of the fact that legislating for all possible scenarios would be impractical, it was decided that six months represents a reasonable ‘lead-in’ time before the transfer of child benefit.
While these arrangements are kept under constant review, any changes to the payment of child benefit to foster parents would have to be considered in the overall budgetary context.