Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Kenneth Burns, Conor O'Mahony and Rebekah Brennan
EuSARF 2021: The Perspective of the Child
Voluntary care in Ireland: professionals' views on children's participation in decision-making
Zurich, Switzerland
Invited Lectures (Conference)
Optional Fields
Voluntary care arrangements under section 4 of the Child Care Act 1991 are a crucial component of Irelandís child protection system. They account for c.55% of admissions to the care system. However, while there is a growing volume of published international research analysing court and court-like care proceedings, there have been no empirical Irish studies and very few international studies to date of voluntary care arrangements. In Ireland, a voluntary care agreement is where a parent signs an agreement to place their child in state care. The parent(s) retain their rights including decision-making powers for important matters (medical care, education, religion, travel), and they can cancel the agreement at any time. There is no prescribed period for the length of these agreements. The "Voluntary Care in Ireland" project (2019-2021) at University College Cork is a mixed-methods approach utilizing a national survey of social workers, interviews with lawyers for both Tusla and the Legal Aid Board, focus groups with social workers, and interviews with parents to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of voluntary care. Key themes emerging from the research include challenges around ensuring free and informed consent by parents; participation by children in the decision-making process; and independent oversight of voluntary care arrangements to ensure that the best interests of the child are given priority. This presentation will present findings from this research as they relate to the rights of children. Specifically, the presentation will present new data on professionals' views on children's participation in decision-making in voluntary care agreements. The key finding is that professionals are reluctant to place this decision-making "burden" on children and they provide a clear rationale for this position. However, this position is at variance with policies on children's participation in decision-making and international legislative developments which are increasingly unequivocally including children in decision-making in voluntary care arrangements. The paper concludes with recommendations for reform of the voluntary care system, including amendments to S.4 of the Child Care Act 1991 which our research data suggests is not fit for purpose.