The main piece of legislation dealing with child care in Ireland is the Child Care Act 1991. Under its provisions the Health Service Executive is given responsibility for attempting to ensure the health and safety of children.
To this end it can seek different types of court order the main ones being the following:
- A Care Order
The effect of which is to place a child or children in the care of the Health Service Executive for a specified period, so that it takes over the role of the parent or parents and provides accommodation and care for the child.
- A Supervision Order
The effect of this is that the Health Service Executive are entitled to visit the child on such occasions as it considers necessary with a view to satisfying itself that the welfare of the child is being protected.
- An Interim Care Order
This is the same as a care order but applies only for the period from the date of the application for a care order until the determination of that application.
- An Emergency Care Order
As its name suggests this order is designed to deal with a situation of emergency where there is an immediate and serious risk to the child and it places the child in the care of the Health Board for a period of not more than 8 days. If the matter is sufficiently urgent such an order can be made ex parte, that is without notice to the parent or parents.
Before it can grant a care order or a supervision order a court must be satisfied:
- That the child has been or is being assaulted, ill treated, neglected or sexually abused, or;
- The child’s health, development or welfare has been or is being avoidably impaired or neglected, or;
- The child’s health, development or welfare is likely to be avoidably impaired or neglected.
If these conditions are met the court may make a care order if it is satisfied that the child requires care or protection which he or she is unlikely to receive unless the order is made. In the alternative if the conditions are met the court may make a supervision order if it is satisfied that it is desirable that the child be visited periodically by or on behalf of the Health Service Executive.
The Health Service Executive is also under a duty to receive a child or children into its care by way of voluntary placement by a parent or parents if it is satisfied that the child requires care or protection which he or she would otherwise not receive.
When a child is in the care of the Health Service Executive it can provide and care for the child in a number of different ways:
- By placing him or her with foster parents or;
- By placing him or her in residential care or;
- By placing him or her with a suitable person with a view to adoption, or;
- By making such other suitable arrangements, (which may include placing the child with a relative) as the Executive thinks proper.
The Court can give directions to the Health Service Executive in regard to any question affecting the welfare of a child in its care and can, in particular, determine the access which the parent or parents is to have to the child. The Health Service Executive is obliged to facilitate reasonable access to a child by his or her parent or parents.
For the purposes of child care legislation a child is a person under the age of eighteen years other than a person who is or has been married. Applications for a care order or a supervision order are brought and determined in the District Court and there is a right of appeal to the Circuit Court, where a full re-hearing takes place. An appeal only stays the operation of a care order or a supervision order if the court so determines.
Quite apart from the provisions of the Child Care Act 1991, the High Court has an inherent jurisdiction to make orders which are necessary to protect the health and welfare of children. In recent years that court has exercised such powers to authorise the detention of vulnerable children in secure care where such a course of action is necessary to protect their welfare.