The Ongoing Impact of Covid-19 on Fostering Regulations

The ongoing Covid-19 restrictions have had a significant and ongoing impact on all aspects of daily life. This is equally true in the instance of children who require admission to care or are in care, their families and their foster carers.

The regulations that establish the structure by which foster carers are assessed and the visiting of children in care are the Child Care (Placement of Children in Foster Care) Regulations, 1995 (S.I. No. 260/1995) and the Child Care (Placement of Children With Relatives) Regulations, 1995 (S.I. No. 261/1995).

Both have been amended to incorporate what is to occur during what is termed ‘the emergency period’. The emergency period, as per the most recent amendments of 2021, is defined as being a period of 12 months from the 12th of May 2020.

The amending legislation is the Child Care (Placement of Children in Foster Care) (Emergency Measures in the Public Interest – Covid-19) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 170/2020) and the Child Care (Placement of Children with Relatives) (Emergency Measures in the Public Interest – Covid-19) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 171/2020) respectively.

General Foster Placements

Changes made include a requirement that Tusla – The Child and Family Agency maintain one or more emergency placement foster care panels. (Tusla is required to maintain foster panels outside of Covid times). Under the amendment regulations Social Workers are required to visit children as often as practicable during the emergency period and within four weeks if a child is placed with a foster carer with whom they have not previously resided. Subsequently a child is to be contacted (the requirement to visit is removed) by an authorised person every three months at least during the first two years of a placement and at least every six months thereafter.

Emergency Relative Foster Placements

Sometimes when the need suddenly arises to have a child received into the care of Tusla, a relative may be in a position to care for the child. The regulations address what is required of Tusla when the relative is not an approved foster carer. The changes specified in the amending regulations are relatively minor and again are applicable only during the ‘emergency period’.

Tusla must always be of the view that the immediate placement of the child with the relative is in the child’s interest and that the relative is a suitable person to care for the child subsequent to an authorised person having interviewed the relative, assessed (as opposed to having visited) their home and having made other practical enquiries. Tusla is to complete the checks required by the regulations (medical reports, garda vetting etc) “as soon as practicable, having due regard to all public health notifications and obligations” instead of within a 12-week maximum period. It is important to reiterate that this applies to a relative placement in an emergency situation only.

Where the child has not previously been placed with that relative, the child to be visited within 4 weeks of the commencement of the placement. The child must be contacted as opposed to visited as often as necessary and at intervals not exceeding three months during the first two years of the placement and after two years at intervals not exceeding six months. Visits are to have due regard to all public health notifications.

This article was written by Michelle Cronin, Family Law Solicitor, Comyn Kelleher Tobin.