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Children in Care

State Intervention

The Child and Family Agency have a duty to investigate any concerns regarding child abuse or neglect. They also have a duty to support families in need of help.

The Child and Family Agency will only take children and young people into care when they believe that, at least for the time being, the child’s health, development and /or wellbeing can’t be ensured by their parents or caregivers. 

Social Workers will endeavour to address their concerns with parents and hope to come to an agreement to place their children into care voluntarily.

However when agreements cant be reached the Child and family agency will apply to the courts for a care order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the child/young person.


Going to court

Some commonly asked questions.

  • How will I be informed?
  • How do I get a solicitor?

The CFA will apply to the court for a hearing date and then a summons will be sent to you; giving you details of the time and date of the court hearing. In most cases you will be given seven days’ notice, except in an emergency care where it can be two days’ notice or none at all.  

In the summons from the court, you will be provided with advice on your entitlements to apply for legal aid. Details of the legal aid board, such as phone numbers and addresses will be provided. When you speak to the legal aid board inform them of your court date, so they can prioritise your case.

Attach the legal aid application form.

  • What supports can I have advocate/ can my extended family come with me to court?
  • Where will the court be held?

No other family member will be allowed to accompany you into court, only the parents of the child are permitted in the court. If you have learning or cognitive difficulties, your legal team can apply for an advocate to be present with you in court. They can explain in simple words what is being discussed.

All family court proceedings are heard in the District court. Generally, family law cases are heard on dates when not other cases are heard.

  • What’s the court like, who does be there?
  • Who will be called to give evidence?


The judge sits at the top of the courtroom facing everyone. On front of the judge is the court clerk. Beside the Court Clerk is the witness box. This is where everyone sits to give evidence. Both the CFA solicitors and your solicitors will sit at separate desks facing the Judge. All people called to give evidence will sit on benches to the back.

On the summons and during the hearing, the CFA solicitors will be known as the applicants and you will be the respondent.

All reports regarding the circumstances that initiated the court proceedings must be forwarded your Solicitor three days before the court date. These reports will be reviewed with you by your legal team. Professionals, including Social Workers,  who participated in the decision-making process on whether a child should be placed in care may be required to appear in court to give evidence about what they observed, heard, or did as well as their opinions. If Gardai were involved, they will also be called to give their report. School teachers or principals, or creche staff may be called, as well as family support workers.

Your legal team have the right to ask them questions also, while they are on the stand.



  • What is meant by “in camera rule”?
  • Giving consent.. what does that mean?

Family law cases are heard in private (in camera) to protect the privacy of the family. The only persons allowed in the courtroom while the matter is being heard are the court employees, solicitors, witness and parents involved in the case. There is no recording or publishing details of the case allowed.

As parents,  one or both of you can give consent for any care orders to be granted at any stage of the proceedings. For consent to be valid, this means that the person giving consent must understand what are they are giving permission for, the likely outcome and consequences of the decision they made. Seek legal advice before giving consent. In terms of a Interim care order or Care Order, it means that you are giving permission for the CFA to take/ keep your child in care.


Care Orders

  • Voluntary Care agreements
  • Emergency Care Orders (ECO)

Voluntary care is based on parental consent under Section 4 of the Child Care Act 1991, and the parents can revoke this at any time. Tusla would then either return the child to the parents, or seek to keep them in care by applying to court for an order. Voluntary care agreements are made by consent and recorded on a Voluntary Consent to Care Form for admission to care.  

An Emergency Care Order (ECO) places a child in the care of Tulsa for a period or not more than 8 days. It is sometimes accompanied by a search warrant to enable the Gardai to remove a child to safety. The child will be placed in alternative care for the eight days.

  • Interim Care Order (ICO)
  • Supervision Order

Tusla can apply for an Interim Care Order (ICO), where they believe ‘the child has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused’ or if ‘the child’s health, development or welfare has been or is being avoidably impaired or neglected, or the child’s health, development or welfare is likely to be avoidably impaired or neglected’.

The effect of the order is that the child is placed in the care of Tusla for a period not exceeding 29 days. The child will be placed in alternative care for the duration of this order. This period may be extended by the District Court.

Where the Child and Family Agency are concerned about the welfare of a child and wish to monitor the child further, they can apply to the District Court for a Supervision Order. This allows them to visit the child at home and if necessary advise parents on the child’s care. The child is not removed from his/her home.  This Supervision order will be for a fixed period of one year initially, but is renewable.

  • Care Order
  • Special care Order

Where Tusla, believes that a child “requires care or protection which s/he is unlikely to receive unless a court makes a care order” . It this circumstances, the child is removed from the care of parents either temporarily (for a period of 2 to 3 years) or permanently, and committed to the care of Tusla. A Care Order can continue until the child is 18 years old.

Special care is a short-term and stabilising care in a secure therapeutic environment for children and young people. A special care order(SCO)  can be made for up to three months but can be extended. These children and young people usually display extremely challenging behaviours which pose  a real and substantial risk of harm to their life, health, safety, development or welfare. Many will also have had previous disrupted placements.  This type of care is provided in special care units in which the child or young person is detained and requires a Special Care Order directing Tusla to detain them. It  includes medical and psychiatric assessments, examinations and treatment, and educational provision. Given the restriction on liberty, a placement in special care can only be made pursuant to an order of the High Court.

  • Breaches of School Attendance Notice
  • Foster Care

If a parent fails in their legal obligation to ensure that their child attends a school or otherwise receives an education up to 16 years, the Educational Welfare Services must sent a School Attendance Notice warning that legal action will follow if the child does not attend school regularly. If the parent fails to comply, he or she may be prosecuted for breaching the School Attendance Notice and if convicted, may be fined and /or imprisoned. The school must tell Tusla if a child has missed 20 days or more in the school year.


Alternative Care/ Children in Care

Alternative care is the term used to describe State provision for children who cannot remain in the care of their birth parents. Such care is usually provided in the form of foster care and residential care.

Foster care is full-time or part-time substitute care of children outside their own home by foster carers. Children can be placed in general foster care. This means that they can be placed with an approved person or  approved family who will look after them on a daily basis.

A relative foster carer is defined as a person who is a friend, neighbour or relative of a child, or a person with whom the child or the child’s family has had a relationship prior to the child’s admission to care (Child Care (Placement of Children with Relatives) Regulations1995). Wherever possible, the Child and Family Agency would consider relative care in the first instance (i.e. placing the child in the care of relatives) in order to lessen the impact of being in care for the child, also known as Kinship Care

  • Kinship care is when responsibility for the full-time care of children is taken on by grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, other relatives, or close friends of the family, in circumstances when their parents are unable to look after them.
  • Residential Care

It can occur for many reasons, including the death of a parent, parental substance misuse, domestic violence, mental or physical illness, or imprisonment.

Internationally, Kinship care is regarded as the preferred option for children who cannot live with their parents, because it enables family, community, and cultural connections to continue.

Kinship Care arrangements are made on a formal or informal basis.

Formal kinship care is when children are placed with relatives, who are assessed as Foster Carers.

There is currently no specific legislative framework, that recognises or resources informal kinship care, where relatives or family friends step in to care for children, often in ‘private family arrangements’ which are not considered to be part of the Alternative Care system in Ireland.  However, provisions of the Children and Family Relationships Act (2015) offer some mechanisms through which relatives can apply to the Court for Custody and/or Guardianship.

For more information, contact Kinship Care (Ireland), based in Treoir, on 087 148 7124 Email:



For some children and young people who are unable to live at home or in another family setting, (such as foster care or relatives care) residential care is designed to offer a secure, caring home environment for them.

A team of staff provide for the care of children in residential centres. This team is made up of a Centre Manager (Social Care Manager), Social Care Leaders and Social Care Workers.

  • Special Care
  • Family support workers

Special care is a short-term and stabilising care in a secure therapeutic environment for children and young people. These units are staffed by a multidisciplinary team, who are specialist in providing care for children and young people with high needs.


Access to Children

When children are received into care, Tusla will create an access plan to set out the times and locations of your visit with your child. Access plans vary from case to case, however Tusla will create a plan that best suitable for your child and their needs.

If access is supervised, that means that your Social Worker or access worker will remain present with you, while you have access with your child.  

Access generally takes place in a neutral location, such as an access centre, the Social Work offices or a family resource centre. In many situations parents are requested to arrive at the location in advance of the access commencing so the supervisors can ascertain if they are in a fit state to proceed with access. Once this has been established, the child is brought to the access location.

Social Workers can organise travel allowance for parents to attend access.

Additional access visits for special occasions such as child’s birthdays or Christmas, can be facilitated by Social Workers. Any requests to bring additional family members to access visits must go through Social Workers in advance of the scheduled access visit.

As part of the access plan, details regarding phone access will also be explained.


Support for Families

Tusla or community support services employ family  support workers to assist families when they are in need of support. They can assist you to address personal of family issues, support you in educational programmes and/or to get to appointments.

  • Access workers
  • Financial support

Access workers can offer support and guidance during your access visits with your children. They can support you getting to and from access locations. They can be the link person for you in answering  questions about your child while they are in care.

When your child is in care, some social welfare payments for dependent children can be stopped as well as child benefit. Your Social Worker can support you with this. If you are struggling with the cost of travelling to access locations, your Social Worker can organise travel allowance for you.

  • Guardian ad litem (GAL)
  • Keyworkers

A GAL is appointment by the Judge in the court to represent the views and promotes the best wishes of the child. The GAL works independently of Tusla and the family. They visit with the child, read all reports prepared about the child and talk to the parents. They attend court and present their evidence. They can have their own legal team at court.   

Children living in residential care have Keyworkers assigned to them. That is a particular member of staff in the unit, that oversees their care and reports to the Social Worker about the child’s care plan. They can also be the link person to the parents.


Case Conferences

  • Care plans
  • Trajectory plans

Children in care, weather they are in foster care or residential care have a care plan. A care plan is a written document that includes all of the child's pertinent information, such as their family's contact information, who they live with, where they attend school, access arrangements with family, and the strategies to be used to support their health, wellbeing, and education.

Everyone engaged in the child's care, including their parents, must agree to the care plan in writing.

Care Plans are reviewed and updated regularly. Input from all persons involved in the care of the child are requested to attend Care plan meetings.

Care plans should also set out an aftercare plan, for all children in care aged 16 and over. The aftercare plan refers to supports and services to young people when they become 18 and are considered adults. The aftercare plan should support the young people to transition to suitable accommodation and prepare them for independent living.


A trajectory is a document that sets out how the case will progress until eventually a decision is made to either:  close the case; or  meet the child’s safety needs outside the family home. The document gives families a clear timeline for what needs to happen to show Tusla that the child is safe. It sets out step-by-step how the professionals and the family will work together and on what tasks to develop the safety plan. This timeline includes: involving the child, developing a safety network, keeping the network is informed, and holding regular safety planning and safety monitoring meetings. Having the timeline makes it possible to assess the family’s ability to provide safety for the children. It also includes a specific case closure date which provides clear goals, motivating the family to reach them. Some or all of the practice tools will be used depending on the seriousness of the worries about the child.  Cite: signs of safety publication.



Reunification refers to the return of a child to its parents.

  • Parenting capacity assessments
  • Termination of care

Social Workers can complete a parenting capacity assessment, by attending access visits, visiting you at home and speaking to professionals involved in your life.

Otherwise, they can refer you to a parenting capacity centre, which is a residential centre, which carried out observational based assessment on your family life. They identify your strengths and put plans in place for your areas of difficulties.

Termination of care occurs in the following situations:

  1. When the child reaches the age of 18.
  2. When parents regain custody of their child where the child was placed in Voluntary Care.
  3. When a court discharges a Care Order.
  4. When a Care Order expires, and the court chooses not to renew it.

The removal of a child from all forms of placement can be initiated by either the person with care and custody of the child, or the Child and Family Agency.

It is possible for the Child and Family Agency to continue to help a child after he/she reaches the age of 18, up until he/she is 23 if they remain in education/training. Although the child is no longer in the care of the Child and Family Agency.







Organisation Telephone Email Website Address

Tele: 01 6710071

Freephone:116-123 Samaritans Ireland, 4-5 Usher’s Court, Usher’s Quay, Dublin 8
Tusla - Child and Family Agency (01) 635 2854 Child and Family Agency, Block D, Park Gate Business Centre, Parkgate Street, Dublin
Legal Aid Board

Tel: (066) 947 1000 

Lo-call No: 1890 615 200 Legal Aid Board, Quay Street, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry
Free Legal Advice Centre

Lo-Call: 1890 350 250 / +353 1 874 5690 Free Legal Advice Centre, 13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1
Citizens Information 0761 07 4000 260 drop-in locations nationwide.

Tel: 01 453 0355

Callsave: 1850 222 300   Barnardos National Office, Christchurch Square, Dublin 8


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