Foster care is the care of children outside their own home by people other than their parents (biological or adoptive) or legal guardians.
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. There are two main forms of foster care available to children who require care: general and relative.
At the end of Q4 2017, there were 6,189 children in care. 92% of these children were cared for in foster placements, either by relative foster parents or by approved foster families. The majority of children are in the care of general foster carers, compared to foster care with relatives.
Children can be placed in foster care in two ways: voluntarily (when a parent or family member asks Tusla for assistance) or by a court order (when a judge deems it in the best interest of the child to be placed in the care of Tusla).
Foster care can be provided by the Tusla or by non-statutory, voluntary or private fostering agencies.
At the end of Q4 2017, Tusla reported that there were 4,384 foster carers approved and on the Panel of Approved Foster Carers in Ireland.
Relative Foster Care
When a child cannot live with his or her parents, either on a short or long-term basis, Tusla will seek a suitable relative or person known to the child to provide relative care. Wherever possible, Tusla would consider relative care in the first instance to lessen disruption caused to the child’s life. Relative foster carers go through an assessment and approval process in a similar way to general foster carers. A small number of children in care are placed abroad with relatives who live outside the country if the case or situation requires it.
At the end of Q4 2017, 27% (1,661) of children in care were living with relative foster carers. 89% of these children had an allocated Social Worker and 93% had a written care plan.
General Foster Care
When Tusla cannot find a suitable relative, or person known to the child, to provide relative care, they will place a child in general foster care. A general foster carer is a person approved by Tusla, who completes a process of assessment and is placed on the panel of approved foster carers, to care for children in care.
Many of the children living in foster care have been with their foster families for most of their lives. Others have shorter placements, for example, if placed in care in an emergency while a care plan is being developed with long term plans.
At the end of Q4 2017, 65% (4,041) of children in care were in general foster care. 96% of these children had an allocated Social Worker and 93% had a written care plan.
Types of Foster Care Placements
There are several types of foster care that can be provided by both general and relative foster carers. Some examples include:
• Day Foster care
• Short Term placements
• Long Term placements
• Emergency care placement
• Respite care
Interested in Becoming a Foster Carer
Any person or family can apply to Tusla to be assessed as a foster parent or family. Information on becoming a foster carer can be found on the Tusla website.
Foster Care Allowance
The foster care allowance is currently €325 per week per child under 12 and €352 per week per child of twelve and over. When a young person between the ages of 18 and 21 is still in training or education, an Aftercare Allowance may be paid. More information is available on the Tusla website regarding the Standardised Aftercare Allowance.
The foster care allowance is exempt from taxation under the Finance Act 2005 and is not taken into account in the means test for social welfare payments.
More information can be obtained in the Foster Care Regulations 1995.
Inspection of Foster Care Services
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) carries out inspections of foster care services against national standards. Inspection reports are available on the HIQA website.
The National Standards for Foster Care Services, were produced by the Department of Health and Children in 2003 and apply to foster care services provided under the Child Care (Placement of Children in Foster Care) Regulations, 1995 and the Child Care (Placement of Children with Relatives) Regulations, 1995.
A children's version of the standards has also been produced, called the Children's Book about Foster Care.
Irish Foster Care Association
The Irish Foster Care Association (IFCA) works in partnership with Tusla to promote foster care as the best alternative for children who cannot live with their own families. It offers support and information to its members and keeps them up to date with regard to changes in practice in relation to foster care.
IFCA has developed training programmes for the training of prospective foster carers and training modules for the in-service training of active fostering families, social workers, child care workers and other Tusla personnel.
More information can be found in the IFCA information booklet on Foster Care.