Your Right to Protection from Harm
Section 4 of Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People
This factsheet is an extract from the publication Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People, published by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and the Children’s Rights Alliance. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the ICCL and the Alliance. Download the publication in full from www.knowyourrights.ie or www.childrensrights.ie. Know Your Rights is a public information project of the ICCL designed to inform people in clear and accessible language about their rights under key areas of the law in Ireland."In this sectionIn this section
Adequate care and protection
Do I have a right to be protected from abuse?
Yes. No matter what age you are, you have the right to be protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation. The State has a legal duty to look after your welfare. There are laws and organisations in Ireland that work to protect children from possible abuse and to investigate and punish abusers. The Gardaí and Director of Public Prosecutions may have a role to play in prosecuting people that harm children and young people.
What is abuse?
There are four types of child abuse: neglect, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. A child may suffer from one or more forms of abuse at any given time.
Neglect is when an adult fails to take care of you and this causes you significant harm or stops you developing properly. Neglect may include:
- not being properly fed, kept warm or clothed;
- not being kept safe;
- not getting attention and affection from adults;
- not bringing you to school;
- not getting medical care for you, if you need it.
Neglect is something that happens over time and not just at one specific point.
Emotional abuse usually happens when an adult is not affectionate or supportive. Emotional abuse can also occur if you are regularly made to feel unsafe. This form of abuse is more about the kind of relationship you have with an adult rather than particular incidents that take place. It can result in you feeling insecure, unhappy, having low self-esteem and underachieving in school or in other aspects of your life.
Physical abuse happens when an adult causes you harm through physical punishment or by not taking action to stop you from being physically hurt when it is possible to do so. This type of abuse includes severe physical punishment or deliberately hurting you. It can include, but is not limited to, slapping, hitting, pinching, watching someone else hurt you and not stopping it, and terrorising you with threats.
Sexual abuse or exploitation happens when an adult uses you for sexual purposes. This may include touching you in a wrong way, having sex with you, forcing you to watch an adult engage in sexual acts, and showing you material of a sexual nature. It may also include wrongful sexual relationships between you and an adult, trafficking and being used for prostitution.
What should I do if I feel that I am not being treated well, do not feel safe or have been abused?
You have a right to be protected from all forms of abuse. The most important thing, if you experience any kind of abuse at home, school or anywhere else, is that you tell someone you trust so they can help and support you.
You or an adult you trust should contact your local social worker in the Child and Family Agency, Tusla. To find out their contact details see www.tusla.ie or call the HSE National Information Line, LoCall 1850 24 1850. If you need help in an emergency or outside office hours, contact your nearest Garda station or ring the emergency phone line, either 999 or 112.
If you want advice about abuse or neglect or are worried about yourself or a friend, you can talk to Childline. This is a confidential and free service for children. You can contact Childline by phone on 1800 66 66 66. You can also text ‘Talk’ to 50101 or you can chat with someone online at www.childline.ie.
What is the role of social workers?
Social workers are part of a service that is provided by the Child and Family Agency, Tusla. They help and support children who may be at risk of harm or who are not safe. It is the job of social workers to protect and support you if you are feeling unsafe at home or in your life.
How do I contact a social worker?
Social workers are available from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. There are social workers across Ireland. To contact a social worker in your area, you will need to contact your local Tusla social work duty service. You can do this by telephone, email or by calling into the office.
You can get contact details for social workers by:
- ringing your local social worker office (the number is on the Tusla website, www.tusla.ie);
- calling the HSE National Information Line, LoCall 1850 24 1850.
What is the role of An Garda Síochána?
An Garda Síochána is the national police service in Ireland. It is their job to make sure you are safe and do not come to any harm. There are local Garda stations across Ireland. The Garda emergency free telephone number is 999 or 112. The Gardaí are available 24 hours a day.
What kinds of family supports are available to help me and my family?
Family support services are available to help you and your family deal with difficult situations such as separation, the death of someone close to you or addictions. These supports may include counselling, support groups, social worker visits or working with family support workers. The support services will do all they can to make sure that you can stay with your family, if that is in your best interests. You can get more information on these supports through the Child and Family Agency, Tusla - www.tusla.ie.
For parents, guardians and other adults
What should I do if I suspect a child is not getting adequate care or protection or is being abused?
Contact the duty social worker in the Child and Family Agency in the child’s local area (see above on how to contact a social worker). If it is outside office hours, and you feel the child is in immediate danger, you should contact the Gardaí on 999 or 112.
You can find out more information about child abuse and how to respond to it by reading the Children First Guidance, available on Tusla’s website, www.tusla.ie.
What can I do to protect my child from abuse within the home?
You can apply to the court for an order to protect you and your child from domestic violence. A court can make a Protection Order which prevents someone from threatening to use violence or fear against you and your family. If the person does not live with you, the Protection Order prevents them from hanging around or watching your house. A Protection Order lasts until you get a full court hearing. At this stage the court can decide to grant a longer-term order (called a Safety Order) or an order to prevent the violent person from being in the home (a Barring Order).
There are also many services which offer short and longer-term refuge for those looking to escape domestic violence. If you are currently experiencing domestic violence or if you wish to access a refuge, legal advice, emotional support or advice on available services, there are a number of organisations that can help you.
You can also call the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 for advice and help.
Children in state care
What is care?
State care means that the Child and Family Agency, Tusla gets involved in your care if it decides that you are not being properly cared for at home. If you are taken into care you will either live in a foster family (which may be with relatives) or in a residential care home.
How could I be taken into care?
There are different ways that children and young people can be taken into care. If your parents and the Child and Family Agency both agree that it is not in your best interests to live at home, your parents can agree to you being taken into care (this is called voluntary care).
If your parents do not agree that you should go into State care but the Child and Family Agency thinks there is good reason to remove you from your home, it must go to court and ask a judge to order that you be taken into care (under a care order). If the judge agrees, the judge will grant a care order for a short time. The social workers must assess your situation before a long-term plan for your care is agreed. You will be asked for your views on this.
If the court makes a care order and you are taken into state care against your parents’ wishes, they may appeal the order to the court.
Supervision order: this order allows the Child and Family Agency to monitor a child it considers to be at risk. You are not removed from your home. A supervision order may last up to 12 months.
Voluntary care: your parents can make an arrangement with the social worker that you go into state care without going to court.
Interim care order: this order can be made while waiting on a decision on a full care order. You will be placed in the care of the Child and Family Agency for up to 28 days although the District Court can extend this time.
Care order: this order allows you to be removed from the care of your parents and placed in the care of the Child and Family Agency. A care order can continue until you reach 18 years.
Emergency care order: this order places you in the care of the Child and Family Agency for up to eight days.
Who is responsible for me while I am in care?
Usually, the Child and Family Agency (through your social worker) will take all the important decisions such as the kind of care you need and where you should live.
If you are in foster care or residential care, your foster carers or the carers in the residential centre will be in charge of the day-to-day decisions affecting your life. If your parents have agreed that you should go into care (voluntary care), they still have the right to take part in all decisions affecting your life.
If an interim care order is granted, your parents must still be consulted about most things in your life. Even if you are placed under a full care order, your parents can still make some important decisions about you, for example in relation to your education and the type of school you can attend.
Can I choose where I live when I am in care?
No. You cannot decide for yourself where you will live. Your social worker and the Child and Family Agency will decide for you but your social worker should listen and take into consideration your views. In most cases, children will live with a foster family or with relatives (these are known as relative foster carers). Some children may live in a children’s residential centre. As far as possible, you will stay living in your community.
What are my rights if I am taken into care?
You have a number of rights if taken into care. The Child and Family Agency has a duty to make sure that any decisions about your care are made in your best interests. Your social worker should tell you what is happening but the amount that you are told will depend on your age. You have a right to have your views heard when decisions about your care are being made. Your wishes should be taken into account, as far as possible.
If a care order is sought in the court, the judge must take your wishes into account if he or she feels you are mature enough to understand what is happening.
Do I have a right to have access to a social worker?
Yes. Every child in care must be given access to social worker. The social worker is employed by the Child and Family Agency. He or she will meet with you to support you and give you whatever information or advice you need. It is your social worker’s job to draw up a care plan for you and to put it into action.
If I don’t have a social worker, who should I contact?
If you do not have a social worker, you should contact your local social work office and ask for one. You may also contact EPIC (www.epiconline.ie) which provides a range of services for children in care and leaving care.
What is a care plan?
Before you are placed in care (either in foster care or residential care), a social worker must prepare a care plan for you. Your care plan must state:
- the aims of your care placement;
- the support the Child and Family Agency will give you, your foster carers or the residential centre and, in some cases, your parents;
- the access arrangements made between you and your parent(s), relative(s) or anyone else who has the right to have contact with you;
- when your care plan will be reviewed.
If you were placed in care in an emergency situation, the Child and Family Agency must prepare your care plan as soon as possible after the emergency placement.
When will my care arrangements be reviewed?
A meeting called a 'child in care review' should take place two months after you first enter care to review how you are getting on. The review should then be repeated every six months for the first two years of your placement in care. After this, your care plan should be reviewed at least once a year.
Can I go to the child in care review?
Yes. Your social worker should tell you when the review meetings will take place. You have a right to attend these meetings and to give your views. Other people such as your parents, teachers, counsellors, foster carers or other people working with you may also be at these meetings. You have the right to be told about any decisions that are made as a result of these care plan reviews.
Do I have a right to know what is in my care plan?
Yes. You should know and understand the key points in your care plan. At any time you can ask your social worker or a residential care staff member to explain to you what is in your care plan.
Do I have a right to have my views heard in court when decisions are made about my care?
Yes, but the court has different ways of hearing your views. This depends on your age and level of maturity, and on the wishes of the judge. Your social worker will be in court and will tell the judge about your needs. In some cases, the judge might appoint a Guardian ad Litem. This is someone who makes sure that the judge hears your views and advises the judge on what is in your best interest.
The judge may want to speak to you directly. While the judge might listen to your views, he or she may not agree that what you want is the best course of action for you. The Guardian ad Litem may also have a different view from you as to what they think is in your best interests.
Do I have a right to be present in court when my case is being heard?
No. The judge will decide if it is in your best interests and if you need to be present in court when your case is being heard. In general, young people are not present during court proceedings.
Do I have a right to have my privacy protected in court?
Yes. When your case is being heard in court, only certain people will be allowed to be present and to report on the case. They are not allowed to share any information that would identify you in public – such as in the newspapers or online. Your name, address and image cannot be made public.
Do I have a right to leave care and go home?
No, you cannot decide to leave care until you are 18. If you are in care under a voluntary arrangement, your parents may withdraw their consent for you to be in care and take you home. If this happens and your social worker is not happy that your needs will be met by going home, the social worker may ask for a care order from the court to keep you in care.
If you are in care under a care order, a court may decide that the reasons you were taken into care in the first place have changed and it has no further concerns about your safety or welfare. If this happens, you can go home. You have a right to have your views heard in this decision.
Do I have a right to contact with my family while in care?
Yes. While you are in foster care or residential care, the Child and Family Agency must make sure that you have reasonable contact with and access to your parents or guardian and other relatives unless the judge thinks it is not safe or in your best interests. This contact can take the form of visits, phone calls or letters or emails. The Child and Family Agency should also make sure that you have contact with anyone else who has an interest in your care such as a grandparent, aunt or family friend.
Have I a right to practise my religion (if any) in care?
Yes. You have the right to practise your religion, if you have one, while in care. The Child and Family Agency must do what it can to enable you to practise your religion. The Child and Family Agency must also take your religion and the wishes of your parents into account when placing you with a foster family.
What are my rights if I am not happy in care?
You have the right to ask to see your social worker at any time while you are in care. Someone from the Child and Family Agency should visit you during your first month in care, then every three months during the first two years that you are in care and every six months after that. If there is a problem with your care, the Child and Family Agency must make sure that your welfare is protected. If you are not happy with your care, you have the right to:
- make a complaint to the Child and Family Agency;
- know and understand the complaints procedure (someone must explain it to you);
- be supported in making your complaint, for example, by a parent or an independent advocate (someone acting on your behalf);
- know the outcome (result) of your complaint; and
- get a written copy of any decisions made about you.
If you are not happy with the complaints process, you have the right to complain to the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO).
You may also contact EPIC (www.epiconline.ie) which provides a range of services for children in care and leaving care. See pages 71 and 80 of this guide for contact details for these organisations.
For parents, guardians and others with an interest in the child’s welfare
Can I ask the Child and Family Agency to review the placement of a child in care?
Yes. If you have a genuine interest in the welfare of a child in care, you can ask in writing that the Child and Family Agency carry out a special review of the child’s placement. If the Child and Family Agency decides not to do so, it must tell you in writing and give reasons for its decision.
Do I have a right to aftercare from the State once I leave care?
Before you leave care, an aftercare plan should be developed for you. The Child and Family Agency may assess your needs and provide you with aftercare support. If you are in full-time education after leaving care, the Child and Family Agency should support you (up until you turn 21) to complete your education. Aftercare support might mean that you get help with paying for school, third level or other fees and costs, getting an apprenticeship, or finding a place to live.
- For more information on aftercare, contact EPIC – see page 80 for contact details.
- Focus Ireland has aftercare support services in Dublin, Limerick and Waterford.
- Focus Ireland, EPIC and Empower Ireland have produced a guide for young people leaving care. You can ask Focus Ireland for a copy by ringing (01) 881 5900 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get a copy online at www.focusireland.ie.
What is a Special Care Unit and could I be sent to one?
The behaviour of some children and young people places their life, health, safety or development in danger. In these rare occasions, a social worker may ask the court for a child or young person to be detained for their own welfare or protection in a Special Care Unit in Ireland or abroad.
A Special Care Unit is a secure locked unit where children or young people aged 11 to 17 years are placed by the High Court when they are considered a risk to their own health or safety. Compared with other care settings, Special Care Units have more staff. They also have educational, therapeutic and specialised supports to help the child or young person overcome behavioural difficulties or other problems. The aim is to provide intense, short-term care to help the young person become more stable so they can return to regular care as soon as possible.
What are my rights if I am placed in a Special Care Unit?
Only a High Court judge can order that you be placed in a Special Care Unit. Your social worker and possibly a Guardian ad Litem will represent you in court and give the judge your views, but you are not entitled to a solicitor. A placement can be for three to six months. After this time, the court must review the placement. The court itself can decide to change the order placing you in a Special Care Unit or the Child and Family Agency can ask it to do so.
What are my rights if I am homeless or in need of emergency care?
If you are homeless and without your family, or if you are in crisis and need emergency care, you should contact your local social worker in the Child and Family Agency, Tusla (www.tusla.ie). If it is after 5pm and the office is closed, you should contact your local Garda station where a member of the Gardaí will contact a social worker for you. There are also a number of organisations, such as Focus Ireland, who work with young people who find themselves homeless.
The social worker will assess your needs and try to find accommodation or care for you. The social worker may contact your family if it is appropriate to do so. Or, the social worker may take you into care or place you in emergency homeless accommodation. Emergency and homeless services are provided through the Crisis Intervention Service in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow and through the Emergency Place of Safety Service in the rest of the country.