Coming Into Care/What to Expect
Why Do Children Come into Care?
Children come into care when they can no longer live healthy and happy lives under the care of their parents. The decision about a child being received into care is based on the child’s needs, following an assessment, regardless of the reason for the parents being unable to provide proper care and protection to the child.
There are different reasons a child may be placed in care. The child’s family may be unable to provide a suitable level of care and protection for the child. This may be due to long term illness, an ongoing mental health issue or addiction problem. Other reasons for admission to care include abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) or neglect.
However, although a family might experience these problems it does not always mean that a child will be taken into care. Many children and families can work through these issues without a child entering care, once appropriate supports are provided. This could include support from family support workers, social workers, youth workers, family resource centres, support and groups and counselling services.
At the end of September 2018, there were 6,072 children in care in Ireland.
Most children in care (92%) are placed in a family setting known as foster care. Foster care is provided by approved foster families or relatives of the child who act as a foster family. Where a child is not placed in foster care they may be placed in a residential centre.
The most recent verified data showed that almost one third of all children (32%) admitted into care in 2017 were admitted on a voluntary basis, with the support of their parents or carers. The remainder were admitted by an order of the Court. Further details on the pathways into care can be found here.
Tusla’s most recent verified figures showed that in 2017, 62% of all referrals related to Child Welfare concerns, and 38% related to Child Abuse. Child abuse is categorised into physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or neglect. Neglect is a significant cause for admission to care.
What Can you Expect When in Care?
When a child comes into care, a number of decisions will be made in relation to where they will live, their ongoing education, the supports that they will receive, and the contact that they will have with their families. These decisions are documented in the child’s care plan, which is tailored for the identified needs of the child.
A care plan is a written document that contains the important information about a child, such as their family’s details, who they live with, where they go to school, access arrangements with family and how their health, well-being and education are to be promoted.
The care plan must be put in writing and agreed with everybody involved in the care of the child. Some of the required information in a care plan includes:
- The child’s wishes and views;
- The immediate, medium and long-term goals and arrangements for the care of the child;
- The details of who is responsible for all aspects of the care plan and an agreed timeframe of actions.
The care plan is reviewed every six months for the child’s first two years in a placement, with the first review after two months. After the initial two year period has passed, the care plan is reviewed once a year.
At the end of September 2018, 90% of the 6,072 children in care had an up to date written care plan. Tusla is working to improve this figure and to ensure all children in care have a care plan. Progress in this area is monitored by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
The type of care placement will depend on the identified needs of the child as set out in their care plan. The types of care placement available are:
Further information on the individual types of care placement can be found by clicking on the individual type of placement.
Placement stability is an indication of the quality of care services and in predicting successful long term outcomes. Ireland has a high stability of placement for children in care and compares well with neighbouring countries.
Some children may experience a number of placement moves when they first enter care. They may be initially admitted to an emergency placement and following assessment, move to a stable placement. Placements may have to be terminated by foster carers due to personal or family reasons, or because they find themselves unable to cope with a child.
The latest verified figures available on placement stability showed by the end of December 2016, 169 children in care were in their third placement or greater during the previous 12 months. This represented approximately 3% of the overall number of children in care. In the same period, England reported 10% of their children in care were in a third or greater placement, demonstrating that child placement in Ireland is substantially more stable than in England.
Length of Stay
The latest verified figures showed that by the end of December 2016, approximately 11% of the 6,267 children in care at that time had been in care for less than one year, 44% had been in care for one to five years, and 45% for more than five years.
Contact with Families
When a child is in care it is important that they are able to maintain access and contact with family, friends and community, unless it is considered not to be in their best interest.
Access and contact with family is supported by legislation, including the regulations governing care placements, and the National Standards developed by the Department of Health and the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). The Regulations and Standards set out the rights and responsibilities of Tusla, and the parents in all matters related to contact. If there is a disagreement about contact the matter can be brought to the Court for a decision. Sometimes it is helpful and necessary for a social worker to provide supervision or support during access visits. The child is consulted and their views taken into account.
Education While in Care
School attendance for children in care is greatly important in ensuring positive long-term educational outcomes. A high proportion of children in care in Ireland are in education. At the end of September 2018, 81% of children in care were of school going age (6 to 17 years). At this time, 98% of children in care aged 6 to 15 years and 94% of children in care aged 16 and 17 years were in full time education.
Education facilities are generally provided in schools under the authority of the Department of Education. Efforts are made to minimise the disruption of the education of a child coming into care, including residential care. Where possible, the child is supported in continuing to attend the local school in their community.
Voice of the Child in Care
There are a number of organisations that work with Children in Care. In particular, Empowering People in Care (EPIC) is an independent association that works throughout Ireland, with and for children and young people who are currently in care or who have had an experience of living in care. This includes those in foster care, residential care, high support and special care. EPIC also works with young people preparing to leave care and in aftercare.
Children who are in care may return to the care of their parents based on a social work assessment and/or a court decision, and this may form part of the child’s care plan. The family and child may still receive ongoing support services from the social worker and/or other organisations. Other young people may require continued assistance and support in their transition to independent living. This support is called aftercare and is provided to eligible young people leaving care until the age of 23. Tusla currently funds a number of services providing aftercare services and aftercare workers, e.g. Focus Ireland.
At the end of September 2018, Tusla was providing aftercare services to 1,979 young adults aged 18–22 years, with 64% of this cohort in full time education or accredited training.