Fostering means taking care of someone else's child in your own home. Sometimes a child cannot live with their own 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. It is always the goal that a child placed in foster care will return to their own family as soon as they can, if possible. Young people up to the age of 18 can be fostered.
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) ensure that foster care placements are adequately supported and that children in foster care are receiving the best possible care.
In May 2020, 65% of children in care were in general foster care, 26% were in relative foster care, 7% were in residential care and 2% in other care placements.
The role of Tusla
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 a non-statutory agency responsible for each child in care. Tusla may also provide support to the foster family.
Each foster child has their own social worker who monitors the growth and development of the child, and ensures that the best interests of the child are always the priority. 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 their own family.
Fostering a child differs from adoption because a child in foster care always remains a permanent part of their own family. Tusla is responsible for the child and the foster parents do not have guardianship.
Placing a child in foster care
Children can be placed in foster care in 2 ways:
- Voluntarily: When a parent or family asks Tusla for help, and/or
- Court order: 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.
Types of foster care
There are several types of foster care that can be provided by general or relative foster carers, such as short-term and long-term care. Foster care can also include emergency, day, respite, private, high support or other forms of foster care.
Relative foster care
Relative foster care is when a person such as a family member, family friend or neighbour becomes the foster parent of the child. Normally, a relative foster carer is a person with whom the child or the child’s family has had a relationship prior to the child’s admission to care. A relative foster carer is assessed by Tusla in the same way as all other foster parents.
In making a decision about a relative becoming foster parent to the child, Tusla will consider 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 foster carer to be a foster parent.
At the end of May 2020, 26% of children in care were living with a relative foster carer.
General foster care
When Tusla cannot find a suitable relative, or person known to the child, to provide relative care, they place a child in general foster care. A general foster carer has:
- Been approved by Tusla
- Completed a process of assessment
- Been 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.
At the end of May 2020, 65% of children in care were in general foster care.
Day foster care
This involves specially trained foster parents providing foster care for a child on a daily basis. The child is not separated from their family, as they go home each evening, yet benefit from the additional care offered in the foster home. This type of care gives the child's own family an opportunity to deal with difficulties each day as they arise. The aim 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 their 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
Long-term foster care involves a child being cared for by a foster family for a number of years and may continue until the child reaches adulthood.
If foster parents, including relative foster parents, have been caring for a child for a continuous period of at least 5 years, they may apply to the court for an order. The order may, subject to conditions, give the foster parents broadly the same rights as parents to make decisions about their children. For example, they will be able to give consent for medical and psychiatric examinations, treatment and assessments, and apply for a passport. The foster parents must get consent from Tusla, and may also need the consent of the parents or guardians. This is set out under Section 4 of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007.
After a period of time, if it becomes clear that it will not be possible for the child to be returned to their birth parents or family, it may be decided that the child’s best interests would be served by being adopted by the foster parents.
The foster child and their own 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 their own family as much as possible and even though they may live (even for a longer-term period) with another family, the child's identity and name is their own.
Who can become a foster carer?
In March 2020, there were more than 4,000 foster carers on the panel of approved foster carers in Ireland. Any person or family can apply to Tusla to be assessed as a foster parent or foster family. Foster carers are a diverse group and may be single, married, in a same-sex relationship, employed, unemployed, renting, retired, or have a disability. They may also be from different cultures, ethnic or religious backgrounds.
Tusla pays a basic maintenance allowance to foster parents and families. The agency also offers support structures to assist the child, carer and family during the fostering term, including:
- Training for the foster carer or family
- Ongoing liaison with social workers
- A medical card for the child in care
The Foster Care Allowance payable for children in foster care placements is as follows:
|Age of child||Weekly rate|
|Under 12 years||€325 per child|
|12 years and over||€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. In certain circumstances, support may continue for a further 2 years if the person is on a clear education or training pathway.
This allowance is known as a Standardised Aftercare Allowance. A range of other supports is available to all young people leaving care, whether they are in education or not. You can find more information on Financial Support in Aftercare (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.
If you are interested in fostering and would like to offer a child or young person a home, you should contact the Tusla fostering service.
The Irish Foster Care Association (IFCA) 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 local branches nationwide, offers advice, information and support for foster carers. In addition, the Association has produced an information pack (pdf) for those interested in finding out more about fostering.