Ombudsman concerned over supports for children in foster care

Dr Niall Muldoon says structures in place for vulnerable children need to be addressed

The standard of support being provided to hundreds of children in foster care who have moderate to severe disabilities continues to be a cause of concern, the Ombudsman for Children has said.

Dr Niall Muldoon was speaking a year after his office highlighted the case of Molly, a teenager in care with Down syndrome and severe autism whose foster mother was financially, emotionally and physically drained from having to look after her.

Dr Muldoon said that while improvements in the level of support for Molly have occurred over the past 12 months, there are still reasons to be concerned about the structures the child and family agency, Tusla, and the HSE have in place for other vulnerable children and their carers.

Molly’s case highlighted the problem that both Tusla and the HSE had in dealing with children in care who had disabilities. While Tusla operated a standardised approach to children in foster care, regardless of whether they had a disability, the HSE operated a standardised approach to children with a disability, regardless of whether they were in care.


The result was a failure in care provision which the investigation into Molly’s case found had negative effects on her and put enormous strain on her carers.

“Tusla has identified 483 children with moderate or severe disabilities in State care, and they have outlined a timeline of care plans already provided to most children. However, there is no consensus with the HSE that this is the number of children affected due to a failure to agree a common understanding of what is considered a child with a moderate or severe disability,” he said.

“The HSE does not have disability managers to undertake case management roles and the business case to secure enhanced payments for foster carers of children with a moderate or severe disability which was promised by Tusla in 2018 is outstanding.”

Over there past year there has been definite progress made, particularly for Molly herself. Tusla has worked closely with her foster carers to ensure that the supports she requires are in place, Dr Muldoon said.

However, the working relationship between Tusla and the HSE, and the impace this is having on the welfare of disabled children who are in State care, remains a matter of concern.

“As a result I will continue to monitor these issues for the next 12 months, engaging with both the HSE and Tusla,” Dr Muldoon said.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent