Tusla urged to address child private care placements

Family placements have ‘questionable legal foundation’, says special rapporteur

The Government’s special rapporteur on children, Dr Conor O’Mahony, says children placed in PFAs are in ‘a precarious position’ and a ‘legal twilight zone’

The Government’s special rapporteur on children, Dr Conor O’Mahony, says children placed in PFAs are in ‘a precarious position’ and a ‘legal twilight zone’

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Tusla and the Department of Children have been urged to “expedite” commitments made eight years ago to address the “precarious” position of children in unregulated, private care placements.

An unknown number of children are in what are known as “private family care arrangements” (PFAs) where a child is placed by Tusla in the care of someone other than their parents, usually extended family. These arrangements, organised by social workers, have no legal standing under the Child Care Act 1991.

In a report published last February, the Government’s special rapporteur on children, Dr Conor O’Mahony, said PFAs had “questionable legal foundation” and children placed in them were in “a precarious position” and a “legal twilight zone”.

“In the absence of proper supports and oversight, reliance by State authorities on PFAs as an alternative to a formal care placement abdicates the State’s responsibility under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR] and related case law,” says the report.

Tusla has said it is “committed to reviewing the use of informal family/private care arrangements”.

However, a spokesman said the agency did “not keep a national database of the number of private family care arrangements”.

He said private family arrangements were not Garda-assessed or approved in the same way as Tusla foster carers.

“Under new Garda vetting legislation recently implemented, PFA carers who work with the agency will be required to be vetted but this is subject to complex consent issues and the best interests of the child should be paramount in these situations.”

‘Unsustainable’

Dr O’Mahony told The Irish Times the ongoing, unregulated use of PFAs was “unsustainable”. There was huge regional variation in their use and the lack of data was a serious issue, he added.

“The Department of Children and Tusla are both engaging with this issue, but there could be more urgency about it… The response to the concerns associated with PFAs needs to be expedited and, in the intervening period, temporary measures aimed at addressing these concerns should be devised and implemented,” he said.

Tusla said it would “welcome new legislation to strengthen regulation and practice in this area”.

A spokesman for the Department of Children said work was under way on drafting the Heads of a Bill to amend the 1991 Child Care Act.

“Consideration of the role of Tusla in supporting children and families in the community and in the formal care system forms part of the process. In this context, the relevant reports of the Ombudsman and the special rapporteur on child protection will inform the deliberations.”

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