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In order to fully appreciate the present situation of foster care in Ireland, an insight into the past history of foster care will be told. There has been a long tradition of fostering in Ireland. Foster care was present in the past, it was known as fosterage. It can be seen during the Brehon laws. Children from families of all classes were put into care of other families. This form of care was to lighten somewhat of the pressure for space in the home. This may have been as families were quiet large in the past and also financial difficulties. It also included children who were abandoned and needed the support and protection (Robins).
The Brehon laws acted as the legal laws in Ireland and created two types of fosterage on where no remuneration was given and the other where a few is given (Shannon, 2005). Foster parents in both cases were to maintain their foster child to there rank. It was under a legal contract to keep and for the child until the period of was fosterage was not being cared for sufficiently, the chid was to be returned to there family home (O’ Higgins, 1996).
Foundations of the present law around foster care were developed with the introduction of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1862. This provided children being “boarding out” to families who were not in work houses (O’ Higgins, 1996).
The Infant Life Protection Act of 1897 presents where our recent system has originated from. This involved the appointment of females to inspect the conditions in which the children lived in, it also gave power that if not up to standards the child could be removed and placed in with families.
Under the Health Act of 1953, health boards were empowered which provided for a major shift towards foster care. The arrangements that were introduced in boarding of children’s regulations in 1954, included provisions around the issue of being boarded out, placement in an approved school or if over 14 placed in employment (Task Force, 1980).
Providing to be an important piece of legislation was the children’s act of 1908. It stated that a child who was neglected or abuse could be placed in the care of a fit person (O’ Higgins, 1996)
Foster care as previously discussed was a main expression towards the need for recognition of the rights of the child. Development in this area for acceptance that the child has needs of their own has led to the system of foster care that provides “personalised family care that the workhouses and institutions could not provide”. (Kelly and Gilligan, 2000, pg 7-8)
Offers care in family setting
Offers care in communication
Offers opportunity to make attachment relationship to committed foster parents
It can permit children to be attached and identify with family of origin
It can include the child’s family in care of child
It can provide care and support into adulthood
It can channel extra support from the agency for the child and carers
(Kelly and Gilligan, 2000, pg 8)
Modern child protection procedures are not sufficient as to make up a child’s placement plan alone. It is more complex, as child care professionals now see the importance of individualisation and providing not only the physical care but the attachment and emotional needs ought to be provided for also (Kelly & Gilligan, 2000). Children need to be placed in an environment where there needs are met, wishes can be supported and they can make individual choices for the future (Coakley, Cuddleback, Cox, 2007)
Foster care is not a simple method of caring for a child; most children have experienced some form of trauma, may have been hurt or may have health or behaviour problems (Task Force, 1980). This calls for foster carers to be understanding and accept their emotions through being sensitive and caring. This can be a basis for the start of developing a relationship with the child (Fahlberg, 2004).
The emergence of relative care in Ireland has proved beneficial to families. Keeping in with family’s tradition and connection helps the development of child’s identity, the surfacing of partnership as a key principle in child care (Broad, 2001).
Legislation in Foster Care
Firstly the researcher will examine the legislation in relation to relative foster care in Ireland.
Child Care A ct 1991
There is a clear promotion for the welfare of children in the Child Care Act 1991. The health board has a statutory duty to identify children who are not receiving adequate care and protection (RWGFC). The welfare of the child is paramount and where appropriate the board is to give consideration to the wishes of the child based on their age and maturity (RWGFC).
If social services are to meet the needs of children going into foster care then they must, among other things, listen to the child and include the children where possible in the decision making process (Kelly & Gilligan, 2000). A plan is made which outlines aims and objectives for the placement and detailed guidelines for support to be given to the child, foster parents and natural parents (Shannon, 2005).
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
The UN Convention was ratified in Ireland in 1992. It includes articles providing rights that relate to the child’s life. It involves protection of the child from any form of discrimination and states the best interest of the child shall be held where possible when action is being considered which involves the child. It recognises the child’s right to be protected and provided for. Foster care is mentioned in Article 20, stating that it is a substitute care provider when the parent or guardian fails to do so. This shows that foster care is a recognised as a suitable and appropriate form of care.
Children Act 2001
The health board as stated in Section 23P requires at least 30 days notice for a private foster care placement to be arranged ad for an emergency foster care arrangement the health board requires notice within 14 days according to Section 23P2 (Shannon, 2005). At the time of notification, the health board has to be provided with the sufficient information around the foster placement (Shannon, 2005).
It is said that the welfare of the child should be a primary concern to the foster parent. Section 23U allows for three interventions which the health board are obliged to use if the following occur. If it comes to the health board’s attention that a private foster care arrangement has been arranged without notification to them or that the carers are not providing for the safety and welfare of the child then the interventions which can be implemented include a supervision order, an order to take the child and put into care or an instruction to terminate the order (Shannon, 2005).
National Standards of Foster Care
The national standards for foster care were devised following concerns around the quality of foster care services. These concerns were highlighted by the Report of the Working Group on Foster care, “Foster Care: A child Centred Partnership” (NSFC).
The standards were developed by a committee who gathered information from experiences from individuals and organisations who work in the area of foster care and from a representative group of young people currently in foster care (NSFC).
“The National Standards for Foster Care 2003 provide guidelines on the provisions of quality foster care within the existing legislative framework” (Shannon, 2005)
There are 25 standards in all; the first 13 standards take into consideration the standard of care of the child including quality of response to factors around the child’s needs and services required, whilst sticking to the relevant legislation (NSFC).
The 2nd section involving the standards 14 to 17 are in relation to the assessment process of possible suitable foster carers and the training and support they require to provide for successful foster placements (NSFC).
The final 8 standards are aimed at the duties and responsibilities of the health board. These standards provide guidelines which aim to promote the quality of services provided by the foster care professionals and Health Board (NSFC).
The Child Care (Placement of Children with Relatives) Regulations
The Regulations where put in place in 1995 as section 39 of the Child Care Act 1991 requiring the Minister for Health and Children to make regulations in relation to foster care. These regulations are directed at children who have been placed with a relative.
The health board must pay attention to the rights and duties of the parents but the board must consider and consult with the child on his or her preferences (Shannon, 2005). Certain procedures must be implemented and fulfilled prior to the placement of a child in a foster care setting (Shannon, 2005). In relation to the welfare of the child needing to be considered, being placed in a family member’s home can cause conflict between relative carers and the birth family, so if this conflict cannot be settled then other placement should be considered (Shannon, 2005).
Once the relative carers have lawful custody of the child, Article 16 of the regulations directs that the relatives take all reasonable steps to ensure the promotion of the child’s health, development and welfare. In addition to the above many other factors contribute to the regulations. A relative intending to care for the child, must in according to Article 5 give in certain information regarding their health, two referees, examine into the relatives background such as criminal charges and any other relative information to the Health Board (Shannon, 2005).
According to Article 12, the Health Board has to keep records of the children in foster care, including personal details of the child, an up to date case record containing certain documents (Shannon, 2005). In addition to this, the health board may visit the child as stated in the care plan. Whatever the arrangements made, Article 17 calls that the foster placement has visitation from an authorised member of the health board at least once every three months for the first two years (Shannon, 2005).
To ensure the above aims of the child’s placement, it is recommended that the case should be reviewed in terms of the successive of the placement and the possibility of the child’s return to their natural family’s home (Shannon, 2005).
A foster care arrangement will end when the child reaches 18 years. Other possible reasons are that the child returns to their family home or at the request of the relative carers (Shannon, 2005).
Assessment Process in Relation to
Relative Foster Carers
There are certain issues around the assessment process that are a cause for concern. Certain developments and amendments need to be applied to provide the best opportunity for foster care placements to be successful.
In traditional foster care the assessment process lasts for a length of nine months usually, this process has to occur before the child is placed in the foster home. In comparison relative care, this process of assessment usually occurs after the child is placed with relatives due to the rapid movement of the child (Kelly & Gilligan, 2000). A decision for the child to be placed with relatives is usually in the midst of a crisis. The family can be approached by the agency or the family themselves may contact the agency. As there are different regulations for traditional foster care and relative foster care, and the placement of the children occurs at different times, then it is questionable that there should be different assessment criteria (Kelly & Gilligan, 2000).
In recent studies, it shows that birth families themselves had preference to relatives caring for their children rather than with a home outside the family. Depending on the route to which the child entered relative care, either by agency approaching the relatives or the relatives approaching the agency, this can cause conflicting tensions between families (O’Brien in Broad, 2001). The decision to take on the care of a grandchild is not an easy one. If the birth parents are not happy with the Health Service Executive’s decision to place their child in care, it can become a dilemma (Climo et al, 2002).
The model of assessment of relative care is the same used for traditional foster parents. This is not right for relative carers as they have a connection with the child and family, the process is different to which they become known to the agency and the fact the placement is already made (O’Brien in Broad, 2001). The assessment process of placement of a child with a relative usually occurs in two stages. The first is a preliminary assessment of the relatives; if the agency is content with the outcome then they proceed with the placement of the child. When the child is residing in the relative’s family home the formal assessment process occurs (Kelly & Gilligan, 2000).
The following issues were found in a study done by David Pitcher assessing grandparents. The grandparents felt confused when being assessed and feared giving aware giving certain answers would result in their grandchildren not being placed with them. The process needs to be explained and the grandparents informed on the reason behind it to allow the process to be carried out in an honest manner (Pitcher in Broad, 2001). As grandparents have not planned to take on the full time care of a child, the can feel unprepared. Placement of the child usually occur mid crisis so it can cause the grandparents to feel stressed as they face meeting the criteria that is expected of them (Coakley et al, 2007). Social workers need to work with the grandparents in preparing them to cope with the challenges to promote successful placement and to alleviate these pending placements (Coakley et al, 2007).
If the process is not explained properly this can lead to difficulty between the social worker and the grandparents. The grandparents can feel overwhelmed by the depth their private lives are being looked into. They can find this process negative and very intrusive and also it can be a frightening experience for them (Kelly & Gilligan, 2000)
As the process begins the grandparent should be given a written copy of the format of the interview. The social worker needs to give an honest explanatory description to the grandparents to prepare them for the process ahead. The aim of the social worker is to get an idea of the carer’s personality, to look at practical issues i.e. housing schools and to discuss together the perceived length that the placement will be (Broad, 2001)
It can be of some reassurance for the birth parents that the child is going to live with people they know and may trust. The child can have different feelings of moving homes as in a study by Terling, 2003; found that trauma can be reduced when the child knows the person that will care for them rather than a stranger. Although the grandparent must acknowledge that while the child does know the grandparent, it does not reduce all of the stress and trauma that the child may experience when moving into another form of care (Broad, 2001). Also, the relationship between the grandparent and child must be looked at, questions need to be asked by the social workers such as does the grandparent actually like their grandchild and is there a sense of belonging for the child (Broad, 2001). Training should be specific to the carers needs.
Parenting & the Family Cycle
“The individual life cycle takes place within the family life cycle which is the primary context of human development” (Carter & Goldrick, 1988, pg 4).
In early adult hood it can be expected that a couple will become parents of the younger generation, this can be an exciting period in a persons life. This new role that they adopt can involve responsibility in the child’s developmental process and having authority in acting out parental roles to their children (Carter & Goldrick, 1988).
Perspectives of the role in later life are viewed as having less responsibilities and more time to reflect and relax. An older person is thought to experience retirement, dependency of others preferably their children or younger relatives, a sense of financial insecurity, possible loss of friends through death and the difficult time when a spouse dies (Carter & Goldrick, 1988). Although this is a much generalised view, these experiences do occur.
Grandparenthood can offer a person a sense of being and bring joy to their life. Becoming a grandparent can create new motivation and add fulfilment to an elderly person life. It creates opportunities for them to experience a new role and to develop a special close relationship (Carter & Goldrick, 1988). Grandparents have a good position in their family network because they are not the parents of the children but they have a caring and considerate interest in their grandchild’s development (Brubaker, 1985, citied in Bernades, 1997). A grandparents role has no clear guidelines, they can adopt rules but in remembering that they do not have the same authority that they had with their own children. Instead, grandparents can spoil and indulge in their grandchildren (Bernades, 1997).
There are different styles of grand parenting involving different characteristics. The types of relationships they hold with their grandchild can vary from being distant to authoritarian and being involved in their life with assuming responsibility but having love and care (Hammer & Turner, 1990). This can have an effect when a grandparent becomes a full time carer for their grandchild. If the grandparent was distant then it can be harder to develop a bond that has been absent. In comparison if a grandparent has been involved and caring, then to gain authority and create rules it can take some time and adjustments (Hammer & Turner, 1990). It involves a lot more responsibilities than previously needed. They will have to set routines, assume responsibility in daily tasks and educate the child with essential skills and attend to the needs of the child (Hammer & Turner, 1990).
Grandparent hood can be seen as a second chance at parenting. This can be seen for grandparents when their own child has failed at their duty of parenting, the grandparent can become the main carer due to the fact that they feel part to blame. They may feel that in helping, they can fix the problem that they may have blame in (Hammer & Turner). Another possible reason presented by Climo, 2002, seen that grandparents felt a commitment to the value of family continuity, they agreed to take care of the family. Their commitment to both generations their child and grandchild meant they felt it was their responsibility to step in (Climo, 2002). Also grandparents may not want their grandchild to be placed with strangers and fear that they may lose contact with their grandchildren (Climo, 2002).
Factors Attributing to Relative Care
It may be hard for the grand parent to deal with conflicting issues between themselves and the birth family so by introducing skills this can assist in managing family dynamics. This can essentially result in ensuring the best outcome for the child’s welfare (Coakley et al, 2007). These include boundaries with birth parents, adopting care plan and following guidelines around maintaining a good relationship with the birth family (Coakley et al, 2007). If the grandparents allow continuous contact with the birth family, it can have a negative effect. This can be said when the reason for placement was abuse, if constant communication is occurring then the child may be put in danger. Also, the grandparents will never be able to gain responsibility, authority or develop a routine if the parents are interfering and not sticking to access plans that have been drawn up (Terling, 2001).
Some argue that relative carers are not capable of meeting the child’s needs (Sparr, 1993, Dubovitz, 1994 citied in Terling, 2001). There are assumptions that a child experience of parenting from their parents can be transmitted from one generation to another (Pugh & De Ath, 1985). The grandparent’s capability needs to be questioned, looking also at their suitability of caring for their grandchildren, as they are the ones who raised the troubled parent (Gladstone & Brown, 2007). Parental failure can be seen as a result of learnt behaviour from previous generation’s poor parenting (Davidson, 1997, citied in Climo, 2002). As characteristics run through the family, it can prove that the relative carers might have similarities in parenting to that of the birth parents. Especially in this case considering that the grandparents raised the birth parents. It can be said that if the reason for placing the child in care is due to abuse or neglect this can be a worry and should be considered (Terling, 2001).
Implications can occur when a grandparent takes their grandchild into care. “They can find it hard dealing with the child’s emotional, behavioural, physical problems, issues of attachment or loss, perceived agency inadequacy, dealing with authority of the child welfare system and dealing with birth parents” (Coakley et al, 2007, pg 93).
A custodial role can affect the grandparent’s health as they need to alter their routine and plans, they can feel physical tired, have less time for themselves and have extra duties to do around the house with the addition of a new person (Gladstone & Brown, 2007).
As they are then busier, relationships can be affected. They have less time to interact and enjoy doing things with their friends, this can cause them to become socially isolated (Broad, 2001). Other relationships include the grandparents other grandchildren who can become jealous at the thought of their grandparent being closer to one grandchild and providing them with more attention (Jendrick, 1993, citied in Climo, 2002).
Depending on the grandparent’s employment status, they may have to quit their job as they will be responsible for the child, this can have an affect on their financial income. They will have more to payout as an extra person, with less money to do this with (Gladstone & Brown, 2007). It was found that grandparents can become to resent the situation they are in and it showed they felt they were incapable of keeping up with the child (Climo et al, 2002).
Role of the Social Care Worker
Relatives who foster care tend not to receive as much support, can ask for less help and it is believed that social workers feel they need less help than traditional foster care workers. The worker and grandparent need to draw up a support plan that will ensure the above do not occur (Broad, 2001). The social worker needs to assess what it was like for the grandparent when they were parenting their own children. They need to reflect on what worked for them when raising their children, try to identify possible mistakes they made and acknowledge how it will be different raising their grandchild (Broad, 2001). They need to understand it may be difficult in altering their role towards their grandchild, possibly identifying their idea of discipline as it may not be appropriate in terms of child welfare, for example corporal punishment was norm years ago but times have now changed. Also as the hope is that the child can one day return to their birth family, the parents own beliefs in raising a child has to be made aware to the grandparent so they do not confuse the child (Broad, 2001).
The grandparent may find parenting hard if they have to deal with social services monitoring them. It can be difficult for the grandparents as now there are many factors to be considered which put increases in the demand of them (Pugh & De Ath, 1985). In comparison to parenting in the elderly person’s time, the knowledge around the needs of the child in terms of physical, intellectual, social and emotional development has become more recognised. All of these will be monitored by officials in the case of relative foster care. As before a parent would not receive this type of pressure to ensure that their child is constantly receiving care and having there needs met (Pugh & De Ath, 1985). Grandparents can feel inadequate under the high expectations of their role in the child’s development. It can be quite a comparison as when the grandmother was parenting there was little demand to satisfy social demands. The importance was to run the household and the saying mother knows best was the parental ethnic (Pugh & De Ath, 1985).
In comparison to traditional foster care, relative carers are said to not receive as much support as needed. Possible reasons for this are because the social care workers may have the idea that the relatives do not require the same level services (Dubowitz, Feigelman & Zuravin, 1993, citied in Mc Coakley, 2007). According Schlonsky & Berrick citied in Mc Coakley, social workers may be influenced by the relationship that is already present within the family. As the child is under the care of their family, the social worker may feel it is the families right to raise the child without the intrusion of them (Coakley et al, 2007). Another possibility is that the grandparents themselves either refuse or do not request support from services (Coakley et al, 2007). Grandparents may feel that asking for help or showing a need for help may be perceived as a weakness in their ability to cope. In the findings conducted by Mc Coakley 2006, it can be seen that mutual goals should be drawn up in the assessment process so that the best possible care for the child can be achieved. In addition to this, if the agency can show how committed they are in tailor making the families intervention and meeting the needs specific to the child and family then the family may welcome support more openly (Coakley 2007).
Gladstone & Brown (2007) identified the following factors which contributed to a positive relationship between the social worker and grandparent. It was found that firstly if a social worker presented as a friendly, considerate personality and the grandparents felt that they could connect and talk to them then they were more likely to open up to them. Social workers need to show an understanding to the situation, and allow the grandparents to feel appreciated for the contribution they are making (Gladstone & Brown, 2007). Grandparents appreciate when a social worker responds to their needs and offers them informative advice and support on child management issues and referrals of other services that could offer support (Gladstone & Brown, 2007). For a grandparent being informed can help them with their new role of parenting. As they are monitored and assessed, receiving feedback can allow them to know where they stand and how they can improve and also know what they are doing right. Also as their situation changes they need to know about entitlements that they can receive (Gladstone & Brown, 2007).
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