After signing a parent, a voluntary custody contract allows Tusla (the legal institution responsible for child protection and welfare) to care for a child without a court decision. About 55% of public care authorities in Ireland are carried out under voluntary care agreements. A passage to a court order and 70% of the children in care are on judicial order at the end of the year. Some voluntary agreements deal with short-term respite for a parent (for example. B to receive treatment for addiction or mental health problems), but others may persist for years. To date, the system of voluntary care agreements has been subject to very limited scrutiny. However, this situation will change before the end of the year with the publication of the results of the study on voluntary care in Ireland, which we carry out at the Schools of Law and Applied Social Studies at the UCC. The study identified the same problems as those raised by HIQA in the correspondence mentioned above; but it has also studied a lot of other issues. If you can`t keep your child for a while or if a social worker wants to take your child home, you can ask the ministry to place your child with family or friends to take care of them. You can organize this by an agreement on the advanced family program. Sometimes this is called the VET agreement. This means that in addition to the issues raised by HIQA, we have expressed concerns that voluntary care contracts can be terminated at any time by parents without the need for notice. This can result in an element of instability and potential risk to children.
In practice, Tusla can apply to the court for a custody warrant if he does not consider himself safe for the child to go home; in some cases, it may take some time. Assistance service agreements can last up to six months. Depending on the situation, you may be able to renew a support service contract. For these reasons, it is important that voluntary child care agreements remain in the child protection system in Ireland. However, the Voluntary Care in Ireland study also highlighted a number of significant weaknesses in the way voluntary care agreements are currently regulated. Overall, our study has shown that voluntary care plays an important role in Ireland`s child protection system, but is regulated fairly easily by international standards. This involves risks that, in some cases, can be used in a way that does not meet national and international standards for the rights of parents and children. If your child has been diagnosed as a severe disability or long-term or sustainable development, you may be able to receive additional help. The ministry could assist with services such as recreational care, home care, autism funding, a babysitter and care assistance. In short, voluntary care agreements have significant benefits that need to be retained.
However, the risks associated with flexible regulation should be addressed as part of the ongoing review of the Child Care Act 1991. The Voluntary Care in Ireland study will make detailed recommendations in the fall. The relatively unknown issue of voluntary care agreements has been the subject of media attention since a recent article in the Irish Times. The discussion arose from a correspondence in which HIQA expressed concerns with Tusla about how voluntary care agreements are used.