When a child is taken into care by the HSE, it can then make decisions about the child as if it were the parents.
A Care Order will be made where the court is satisfied that a child has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused or where a 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.
In circumstances where the HSE have concerns about a child in its area it may also apply for a Supervision Order, which enables the HSE Social Workers to visit the child at home on a regular basis to ensure the child’s welfare and to give advise on the general care of the child.
In the case of an emergency situation, the HSE may apply for an Emergency Care Order or an Interim Care Order. An Emergency Care Order can last for up to 8 days and an Interim Care Order can last for up to 28 days.
Where the Gardai have a concern that a child is at immediate risk they can enter any property where the child is and remove him or her to a place of safety. This is more likely to occur over a weekend period.
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) can be appointed in certain cases. The role of the GAL is independent to the HSE and the court and is generally appointed to establish the wishes, feelings and interests of the child and present them to the court with recommendations as to the care of the child and where the child should live.
Parents have a right to defend any application by the HSE and should contact their solicitor at the earliest opportunity.
Even where a child has been taken into the care of the HSE, the parents and the child have a right to contact with each other and this is usually arranged with the Social Worker allocated to the case. Depending on the circumstances of the case, access may be supervised by the social worker.
Only as a matter of last resort will the State, being the HSE, interfere with the private family unit and then only where it is necessary to protect the safety and welfare of the child.
When the HSE takes a child into long-term care, i.e. until the age of 18, they must provide a Care Plan which sets out the proposals for the care of the child into the future. Case conferences are held with all of the people involved in the child’s care, including parents. It is important when invited to participate in these case conferences.