Fostering in Ireland means taking care of someone else's child in your own home. Often a child cannot live with his or her family either on a short-term or long-term basis. This could be because of illness in the family, the death of a parent, neglect, abuse or violence in the home. Sometimes it can be because the parent or family is not coping. In an ideal situation, the child placed in foster care will return to his or her own family as soon as this is possible. Foster care in Ireland is governed by the Child Care Act 1991 and the Child Care (Placement of Children in Foster Care) Regulations 1995, as amended. In addition, the National Standards for Foster Care, 2003 (pdf) have a major role to play in ensuring that the foster care placements are adequately supported and that children in foster care are receiving the best possible care. There are currently about 6,000 children in foster care in Ireland.
Tusla - the Child and Family Agency - assesses, recruits and trains foster families according to the needs of the area. Tusla also places children with foster families who have been recruited and trained by non-statutory agencies. Tusla is responsible for each child in care but support to the foster family may be provided by the non-statutory agency. Each foster child has his or her own social worker who monitors the growth and development of the child and ensures that the best interests of the child are always kept in mind. Each foster family also has its own social worker, who may have helped assess the family as suitable to foster children and who will support the family throughout the foster term. An important part of the social worker's role is to develop the relationship between the foster child and the foster family and between the foster child and his or her own family.
It is important to note that fostering a child differs from adoption because a foster child always remains a permanent part of his or her own family. Tusla is responsible for the child and the foster parents do not have guardianship.
Children can be placed in foster care in two ways:
- Voluntarily: This happens when a parent or family asks Tusla for help and/or
- Court order: This happens when a judge decides that it is in the best interests of the child to be placed in the care of Tusla.
When a child is placed in foster care, Tusla assigns responsibility for the child to a social worker. Based on the child's needs and circumstances, Tusla makes a decision on the type of fostering that is most suitable for the child. There are three different types of fostering:
Day foster care
This involves specially trained foster parents/carers providing foster care for a child on a daily basis. Day foster care takes place in the home of the foster parent and the child returns to his or her own home each night. This type of care gives the child's own family an opportunity to deal with difficulties each day as they arise. The goal of day foster care is that the child can return home on a full-time basis.
Short-term foster care
This involves a child being cared for by a foster family for a short period (ranging from 1 week to some months). The aim is for the child to return to his or her family full-time at the end of the short-term period. Sometimes, however, the child may remain in foster care on a longer-term basis.
Long-term foster care
This involves a child being cared for by a foster family for a number of years and may continue until the child reaches adulthood.
Under Section 4 of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007, the foster parents or relatives who have been caring for a child for a continuous period of at least five years may apply to the court for an order. The consent of Tusla is required and the consent of the parents or guardians may be required. The order may, subject to conditions, give the foster parents or relatives broadly the same rights as parents have to make decisions about their children. In particular, they will be able to give consent for medical and psychiatric examinations, treatment and assessments and sign the forms for the issue of a passport.
After a period of time, if it becomes clear that it will not be possible for the child to be returned to his/her birth parents or family, it may be decided that the child’s best interests would be served by being adopted by the foster parents.
Relative foster care
Relative foster care happens when another family member becomes foster parent of the child, for example, a grandparent, aunt, uncle or adult sibling.
In this situation, the relative of the child is assessed by Tusla in exactly the same way as all other foster parents.
Children in Ireland are not taken into foster care in the first place, unless Tusla assesses that the child is at risk. In making their decision about the relative being foster parent to the child, Tusla will decide what is in the best interest of the child. Assessment will also take into account the needs of the child and the abilities and suitability of the relative to be a foster parent.
The child's family
When a child is placed in foster care on a daily, short-term or longer-term basis, maintaining links with his or her own family is very important. The child's own parents are involved as much as possible and are always kept fully informed of how the child is getting on. The child will see his or her own family as much as possible and even though he or she may live (even for a longer-term period) with another family, the child's identity and name is his or her own.
Who can become a foster carer?
Any person or family can apply to Tusla to be assessed as a foster parent or foster family. You do not have to be married in Ireland to be a foster parent. In fact, you could be a single person, civil partners or a cohabiting couple. You must be able to provide adequate and appropriate accommodation for the foster child. Tusla assigns a social worker to carry out an assessment of suitability. These assessments include meeting all members of the family (particularly the foster parents) over a number of months. References, Garda clearance and medical examinations will also be required as part of this process. Every effort is made to ensure that those selected as foster carers and foster families are suitable.
Young people up to the age of 18 can be fostered.
Any person or family can apply to Tusla to be assessed as a foster parent or foster family. References, Garda clearance and medical examinations will also be required as part of this process.
In making a decision about suitability as a foster carer, every effort is made to ensure that those selected are suitable. In other words, the decision to place a child with a particular foster carer is on the basis of the individual child and their needs and each cases is judged on it's own merits.
You can find more information on the Tusla website.
Tusla pays a basic maintenance allowance to foster parents and families and offers strong support structures to assist the child, carer and family during the fostering term. Tusla also provides training for the carer or family, on-going liaison with social workers, insurance and a medical card for the child in care. Allowances payable for children in foster care placements are as follows:
|Age of child||Weekly rate|
|Under 12 years||€325 per child|
|Over 12 years||€352 per child|
An allowance may be paid between the ages of 18 and 21 to young people leaving care who are still in training or education. This allowance is known as an Aftercare Allowance. A range of other suports is available to all young people leaving care, whether they are in education or not. You can find more information on the Standardised Aftercare Allowance (pdf) on the Tusla website.
When a child has been placed in foster care by Tusla, Child Benefit may continue to be paid to the child's mother or father for a period of 6 months from the date of the child's placement. Payment may then transfer to the foster parent(s) provided that the child has been in their continuous care for a period of 6 months.
How to apply
If you are interested in fostering and would like to offer a child a home, you should contact the Tusla fostering service.
The Irish Foster Care Association is a voluntary organisation working with Tusla throughout Ireland to promote fostering as the best option for children who cannot live with their own family. The Association, through its network of 29 local branches nationwide, offers advice, information and support for foster carers. In addition, the Association has produced an information pack for those interested in fostering.
Where to apply