More than 6,500 children in care of State, up 23 per cent on 2007

Tusla reports increase in number of babies from north Dublin city going into care

There is a serious shortage of foster carers in Dublin, particularly in north Dublin city, according to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Photograph: Alan Betson

There is a serious shortage of foster carers in Dublin, particularly in north Dublin city, according to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. Photograph: Alan Betson

Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 01:00

More than 6,500 children are in the care of the State, a 23 per cent increase on 2007, new figures from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, show.

While more than 90 per cent are in foster placements, there is a serious shortage of foster carers in Dublin, particularly in north Dublin city, Tusla says.

The shortage means the agency has had to relocate some children away from their own communities.

In 2007, 5,307 children were in the care of the State.

At the end of May this year the figure was 6,517. Of these, 6,054 – 93 per cent – were in foster care placements, living with individual fosterers, couples or families. The remaining children, just over 460, were in residential, specialist or secure care units and, in some cases, in specialist units in the UK.

Almost 640 children from north Dublin city, incorporating the north inner city and the postal districts Dublin 3, 7, 9 and 11, were in foster-care placements at the end of May. The area has one of the highest proportions of children in care in the country. There are currently 390 foster carers in the north Dublin city area and, as a result of the shortfall, some children have had to be placed away from their locality.

Since the beginning of the year there has also been a marked increase in the number of new babies from the area going into care directly from maternity hospitals, having been born addicted to drugs.

Tusla fostering team leaders in the north Dublin city area Bríd Griffin and Lisa Smyth say there is a huge demand for foster carers for children of all ages and needs.

Minimise disruption

Ms Griffin says Tusla is keen to keep children within their community of origin if at all possible.

“It’s difficult enough for children to have to move into care in the first place, so we would like to keep them in their schools with their friends,” she said.

Ms Smyth says when a child is taken into care the aim is to minimise disruption and change, so it is very difficult if a child has to move out of the county.

“It means a new environment, new family, new culture, new pace of life – it’s change everywhere, which is really hard,” she says. And moving from a local community can be particularly hard for teenagers.

Finding foster carers is always a challenge, Ms Griffin says, but the need is particularly great in the Dublin north city area, which has one of the “highest proportions of children in care”, in part due to “quite high rates of social disadvantage”.

She said Tusla is seeking to recruit new foster carers and hopes to attract people from all backgrounds.

“Professionals can only do so much; what we need is foster families. That is where the healing can really start happening for children,” she says.

Single people can apply to foster as well as married couples and people in civil partnerships. The process may be started through applying online at fostering.ie or by calling a local centre.

Those who foster find the experience very rewarding.

Paula, who does not want to be named, to protect the children in the care of herself and her husband, says potential foster carers sometimes think they are “not good enough” to foster.

“But if any person thinks children have a right to a nice warm bed and a safe home, then they are right for fostering,” she says.

20 years fostering

When she and her husband began fostering more than 20 years ago it was to help a relative. Since then she has had three long-term children and other children on shorter placements.

“I would fully recommend it. There is nothing better than seeing a child that comes in and is hanging on to something and being quiet and then in a while you look out and they are playing or laughing and enjoying themselves,” she says. “You say to yourself: ‘I gave them the space to be who they need to be.’”

Paula readily admits that when she and her husband began fostering they were naive about the needs of foster children.

“But you get over constantly trying to make up for what went before and you come back to basics,” she says.

She is also conscious that some would-be carers are put off by the vetting process.

“It doesn’t have to be ‘I can give them the best of everything’, it’s about their emotional needs,” she says. “The social workers need to know where you are coming from, what your view is on rearing; there is nothing to be afraid of.”

A local recruitment campaign for foster carers in Dublin city north will be launched later this year.