Almost all visits to children in residential care and detention facilities have been suspended as a result of the coronavirus crisis, including visits by most family members.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, which oversees a network of residential facilities around the country has said it is assessing visits to children in care on a case by case basis but that "it is correct that a significant amount of access is not taking place in the normal fashion".
The agency said it was using other means to facilitate contact between children and family members, including phone contact.
“We recognise the importance of family contact and access for children in care and their families and we equally recognise the need to balance this with public health concerns,” a spokeswoman said.
Gareth Noble, a solicitor specialising in child law, said most visiting to centres had ceased, something which was especially challenging for children in Special Care Centres.
Special Care Centres are secure facilities which provide intensive treatment and care to particularly troublesome or violent children for up to three months. Children can only be sent such a care centre on foot of a High Court order.
Therapy for children in special care is mostly provided by the Assessment Consultation Therapy Service (Acts). Mr Noble expressed concern that since the start of the crisis, Acts teams have mostly had to work remotely.
“We’re putting these children in detention for their own health and welfare yet we may not be providing them with the therapeutic input they need.”
Tusla management has issued specific advice on how to deal with children in care who engage in “challenging behaviour” during the crisis, including coughing, spitting and refusing to wash their hands.
Separately, all visits to children in Oberstown, the State’s only detention facility for young offenders, have ceased “except in exceptional circumstances” in order to prevent the virus spreading within the north Dublin campus.
Visits have been banned since March 27th, the same date the Irish Prison Service was ordered to ban visits to adult facilities.
Instead of in-person visits, families are able to contact children through video links. “Young people have daily contact with family members as they wish and the usual visiting routines on the campus have moved from physical to virtual for now,” an Oberstown spokeswoman said. “The campus facilitates face-time, video conferencing, Skype and other platforms such as Zoom to support ongoing interactions with family members.”
Oberstown said it is in “ongoing contact” with detainees’ families to reassure them about their care and to answer questions.
There are about 50 young people in Oberstown between the ages of 13 and 18. There have been almost no new admissions in the last two weeks due to the closure of the criminal courts for all but essential business.