What are my rights as a young person in care?
Read all about the laws that specify the rights of young people in care
This factsheet is an extract from the publication Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People published by the Children's Rights Alliance. It is reproduced here with their kind permission. Know Your Rights is a public information project designed to inform everyone, in plain language, of the rights and entitlements children have in Ireland and where to go when they are not respected.
If you are in the care of the state it means that Tusla (Child and Family Agency) has decide that you are not being properly cared for at home and need to be taken into state care. If you are taken into care you will either live in a foster family (which may be with your relatives) or in a residential care home.
How could I be taken into care in Ireland?
There are different ways that children and young people can be taken into care:
- If your parent and Tusla both agree that it would be better for you not to live at home, your parent can agree to you being taken into care (this is called voluntary care)
- If your parent does not agree that you should go into state care but Tusla 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, they 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.
What types of care orders are there in Ireland?
- A Supervision Order allows Tusla 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. When the original order ends, Tusla can apply again to extend the order
- A Voluntary Care Order means your parent can arrange with the social worker for you to go into state care without going to court
- An Interim Care Order can be made while waiting for a decision on a full care order. You will be placed in the care of Tusla for up to 29 days although the District Court can extend this time
- A Care Order allows you to be removed from the care of your parent and placed in the care of Tusla. A care order can continue until you reach 18 years
- An Emergency Care order places you in the care of Tusla for up to eight days in an emergency situation
What are my rights if I am taken into care?
You have a number of rights if you are taken into care. Tusla has to make sure that any decisions about your care are made in a way that will benefit you most. Your social worker should tell you what is happening but what you are told will depend on your age and maturity. 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 they feel you are mature enough to understand what is happening.
What supports are available to me if I am in care?
Empowering People In Care (EPIC) provides independent advocacy support for children:
- being taken into care
- who are already in care
- going through care proceedings
Who is responsible for me while I am in care?
Usually, Tusla (through your social worker) will make all the important decisions about your care like 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 parent has 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 parent must still be consulted about most things in your life
Can I choose where I live when I am in care?
As far as possible, you will stay living in your community. You cannot decide for yourself where you will live. Your social worker and Tusla 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) especially if they are under the age of twelve. Some children may live in a children’s residential centre.
Do I have a right to have access to a social worker?
Yes, every child in care has a right to a social worker. The social worker is employed by Tusla. They will meet you to support you and give you whatever information or advice you need. You should be given a phone number of your social worker so you can contact them if you need to. 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 which provides independent advocacy support for children being taken into care, in care, or going through care proceedings. EPIC can help support you to have a say on what you want. For more information, see EPIC’s website.
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 and the support Tusla will give:
- your foster carers
- the residential centre
- in some cases, your parent.
The plan must also state the access arrangements made between you and your parent, relative or anyone else who has the right to have contact with you and when your care plan will be reviewed. You can ask to give your input into your care plan. If you were placed in care in an emergency situation, Tusla 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. This should review how you are getting on. The review should 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. You may also bring someone to support and accompany you like an EPIC advocate. Other people like your parent, 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. You should also get a copy of your care plan from your social worker.
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 for you. This is someone who:
- makes sure that the judge hears your views
- advises the judge on what is best for you.
The judge may want to speak to you directly or have an expert speak with you. You can ask to attend court, or you can write a letter to the judge. While the judge might listen to what you want, they may ultimately make a decision that does not follow your views. The Guardian ad Litem may also have a different view from you about what they think is best for you.
You can also ask to be made a party to the case which means that you would be represented in court by your own lawyer. This is done by what as known as a section 25 application. If you would like more information on this you can contact the Children’s Rights Alliance helpline. EPIC can support and accompany you to court or meetings.
Do I have a right to be present in court when my case is being heard?
You do not have an automatic right to be present when your case is being heard. However, if you ask to be present for the hearing or any particular part of the hearing the judge should say yes to your request unless they think it would be better for you to avoid being there.
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 – like in the newspapers or online. Your name, address and image cannot be made public. This is called the in camera rule.
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 parent 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, Tusla must make sure that you have reasonable contact with, and access to, your parent or guardian and other relatives unless the judge thinks it is not safe or the best thing for you. This contact can take the form of visits, phone calls or letters or emails. Tusla should also make sure that you have contact with anyone else who has an interest in your care like a grandparent, aunt, uncle or family friend. You can ask your social worker if you would like to see your family more or less often.
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. Tusla must do what it can to enable you to practise your religion. Tusla must also take your religion and the wishes of your parents into account when placing you with a foster family.
Can I tell people I am in care?
You can tell people in your life that you are in care. However, you should be careful when posting information about your care status online or in any publication. No one else is allowed to identify you to the public on broadcast media or a written publication as a child who has been or is in care.
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 Tusla 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, Tusla must make sure that your welfare is protected. If you are not happy with your care, you have the right to:
- complain to Tusla
- 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
- 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. You may also contact EPIC, which provides a range of services for children in care and leaving care.
What happens when I turn 18 if I am in care?
If you are going to turn 18 soon, before you leave care, Tusla (The Child and Family Agency) should carry out an assessment of what you may need once you turn eighteen and leave the care system – this is known as ‘aftercare’. This assessment of your needs should be recorded in writing.
Am I entitled to an Aftercare plan when I leave care?
If you have been in care for twelve months or more between the ages of 13 and 18 you are entitled to an aftercare plan setting out how your needs could be met. While you have a right to an aftercare plan, you do not have an automatic right to access the services contained in the plan. For more information on aftercare, contact EPIC.
Aftercare support might mean that you get help with:
- paying for school
- third level or other fees and costs
- getting an apprenticeship
- finding a place to live
Tusla can support you until you reach 21 unless you are in education, in which case they can support you to complete your education until the age of 23.
Need more information?
We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.