48% of children in HSE South care on voluntary basis

Study finds girls more likely than boys to enter care on foot of court orders

Almost half of all incidents where children were taken into care in Cork and Kerry by the HSE occurred on a voluntary basis with the support of their parents or carers, a study of childcare admissions in the region has found.

The study, Pathways into Childcare Systems in Cork and Kerry 2002-2012, looked at data gathered by the HSE South and is one of the first studies on the number and ways that children enter the childcare system either through foster families or residential care.

Researchers Donna O'Leary of the HSE and Dr Tony Fitzgerald and Prof Alastair Christie of University College Cork looked at data from an administrative database in Cork and Kerry largely used to summarise information for financial and service planning, to identify new information on childcare.

The study found that while the number of children going into care remains constant in relation to the growth of population, there has been a significant increase in the number of referrals to social workers.


Ms O’Leary said that over the 10-year period, some 48 per cent of the 15,000-plus episodes of care relating to the 3,063 children admitted into care were voluntary admissions. “This means that a high proportion of children were brought into care with the support of their parents or carers,” she said.

Slightly more girls than boys entered care as the result of abuse and slightly more boys than girls entered care because of more general welfare concerns; girls were more likely to enter care due to court orders and boys on a voluntary basis, she added.

The report, presented at a conference on childcare at UCC, also found that almost 33 per cent (950) of children had a respite placement to provide respite to their foster family in addition to their primary placement.

Ms O’Leary also revealed that 20 per cent of children had their first care experience when they were less than one year old while almost 50 per cent in the group were admitted to care before they were five. The average number of episodes of care per child was five, she added.

The study also found that 50 per cent of children were in care just once; those who were in care for more than 10 years were admitted before they were two with two thirds of these admitted for reasons of abuse, primarily neglect.

"Some 75 per cent of children were in foster care placement and, in line with best practice, most children (90 per cent) were accommodated in the county where they lived and less than 0.2 per cent – some 21 children – were accommodated outside of Ireland, " she said.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times