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The Health Service Executive HSE define fostering in Ireland as individuals who take children, in need of care into their own home and provide guardianship for them (HSE, 2009). It is described by the office of the minister for children and youth affairs as ¿½the main form of alternative care provided by the HSE for children in need of care and protection who cannot remain in their own home¿½ (Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, 2011). There are many reasons as to why children may be in need of foster care, examples of this include, neglect, any form of child abuse, parents unable to cope or due to illness, cannot care for their child adequately (Dept of Health and Children, 2001). In a report called the working group on foster care the Department of Health and Children outline a set of child centred objectives on foster care. The purpose of these is to protect, develop and provide care for any child who needs it. To promote the child¿½s health, education and welfare developments and also impart the necessary support the child may need to grow and develop properly and to achieve their potential as much as possible (Dept of Health and Children, 2001). There are various categories of foster care available to children, however the most frequently utilised are day foster care, short-term foster care, long-term foster care and relative foster care.
Day foster care takes place when a child goes to a foster home on a daily basis for whatever reason, yet returns to their parents each night. This provides the child with the opportunity of remaining in the family home. Short-term foster care transpires when a child stays with a foster family for a short period, usually between one week and several months. Following this, the child typically returns home to their family (HSE, 2009). When a child is placed in foster care long-term, the duration is usually for a number of years and can regularly continue on until the child is old enough to live independently. However, a study carried out by Trasler (1960) identified this type of foster care to be the most difficult, as the first two years of placement are exceptionally vulnerable for a child due to the change in their life. He also states that three-quarters of all breakdowns of placements come about in this time (McAuley, 1996). Relative foster care occurs when a child is placed in the care of another family member. Although a child is being cared for by a member of their family, they remain in the care of the HSE who are still responsible for the care and protection of the child (Dept of Health and Children, 2001). Buckley (2003) states that recently, numbers have increased in children being care for through relative foster care. Research in 1998 showed that almost half of the children in foster care were in relative foster care (Buckley, 2003).
Foster care in Ireland is regulated by the Child Care Act 1991 and the Child Care (placement of children in foster care) Regulations 1995. However, it is also supported by the National Standards for foster care 2003, who ensure that children are receiving the best possible care. These governing bodies safeguard children¿½s wellbeing while on placement in foster care (HSE, 2009).
Buckley (2003) states that substantial advances have occurred in foster care throughout the last number of years. She believes it is now a ¿½much more regulated process due to the implementation of the 1995 regulations¿½ (Buckley, 2003). In conjunction with this the Department of Health and Children acknowledges that child protection and welfare services have improved and become better regulated as well as the introduction of many new guidelines (Dept of Health and Children, 2001).
Buckley also states that another improvement in foster care is that it has now become more child centred and the child¿½s needs and wishes are taken in to consideration by the HSE and foster families (Buckley, 2003). This corresponds with the children¿½s rights in the National Standards for Foster Care. It states that every child in foster care should be able to retain their dignity with regards to their personal care and stages of development. Each child must be permitted to possess a level of privacy for family contact, personal effects and the opportunity to be alone. In addition to these rights the child must be given permission to make choices in respect of their care and personal preferences. While recognising the rights of the children, the child¿½s age must be taken in to consideration and a level of age appropriateness must be maintained at all times (Dept. of Health and Children, 2003).
The introduction of the Child Care Act 1991, in particular section three, places an onus on the various health boards in Ireland to ¿½promote the welfare of children in its area who are not receiving adequate care and protection¿½ (Office of Attorney General, 1991). When a child is not being sufficiently cared for the HSE is required to take every action it can to safeguard the child by precautionary measures through interventions such as family support services to maintain the child¿½s welfare. However, these processes are not always successful and a number of children are removed from the family home and taken into the care of the state. This can be achieved through an emergency care order, if the child is in imminent danger, a care order. However, not all children who are in the care of the state are there due to abuse or neglect, some are placed so under a voluntary care order at the request of the child¿½s parents (Office of the Attorney General, 1991). When a child has been placed in the care of the state every effort is made to reunite the child with its family as soon as possible, nevertheless adequate care must be sought for the child and typically the first option is a foster home. Consequently the responsibility of this foster placement is now with the health board. They are in charge of ¿½arranging, providing or supervising placements with foster parents, the welfare of the child must be paramount. The wishes and feelings of the child and their parents should be taken into account¿½ (Dept. of health and children, 1999. P101).
Buckley, H. (2003) Child Protection and Welfare: innovations and interventions. Dublin: Institute of public administration.
Dept. of Health and Children, (1999) Childrens First National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children. Available at http://www.dohc.ie/publications/pdf/children_first.pdf?direct=1 (Accessed 28th April 2011).
Dept. of Health and Children, (2001) Report of the Working Group on Foster Care: Foster Care- A Child Centred Partnership. Available at: http://www.hse.ie/eng/Staff/FactFile/FactFile_PDFs/Other_FactFile_PDFs/Report_of_the_Working_Group_on_Foster_Care_Foster_Care_-_A_Child_Centred_Partnership,_2001.pdf (Accessed: 29th April 2011).
Dept. of Health and Children, (2003) National Standards for Foster Care. Available at: http://www.hse.ie/eng/Staff/FactFile/FactFile_PDFs/Other_FactFile_PDFs/The_National_Standards_for_Foster_Care,_2003.pdf (Accessed: 28th April 2011).
Health Service Executive, (2009) Fostering. Available at: http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/Find_a_Service/Children_and_Family_Services/Fostering/#What_is_fostering (Accessed: 30th April 2011).
McAuley, C. (1996) Children in long-term Foster Care: Emotional and social development. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Office of the Attorney General, (1991) Irish Statute Book: Child Care Act 1991. Available at: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1991/en/act/pub/0017/print.html (Accessed: 28th April 2011).
Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, (2011) Foster Care. Available at: http://www.omc.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?fn=%2Fdocuments%2FChild_Welfare_Protection%2Ffostercare.htm (Accessed: 30th April 2011).