COVID-19 creates major issues around access in child care cases

COVID-19 creates major issues around access in child care cases

Dr Carol Coulter

The COVID-19 pandemic has created serious issues, particularly around access, in child care cases, the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) has found.

The project has published its latest volume of reports on child care cases heard during the COVID-19 crisis, some of them through remote hearings. As well as the pandemic, mental health issues among both parents and children emerged as a major issue.

Dr Carol Coulter, director of the CCLRP, said: “The issues arising out of the COVID-19 restrictions underline the importance of all public bodies maintaining a focus on the rights and needs of children, as Ireland is mandated to do by its ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international commitments.

“In addition, the prevalence of mental health problems, which, along with cognitive disability and membership of an ethnic minority, is a feature of child protection proceedings, demonstrates the appropriateness of bringing several of these matters within the remit of the Department of Children.”

One of the main issues emerging from the reports is that of access, where face-to-face access between children in care and their parents was often discontinued, leading to disputes between the parents and Tusla.

This was particularly distressing for parents and children where the child was in a psychiatric unit with other children who suffered from diseases like anorexia nervosa and were therefore especially at risk from COVID-19.

Another issue arising was the impact of the lockdown on vulnerable parents, where those struggling with addiction or mental health problems were placed under further strain which impeded their recovery and hampered efforts at reunification.

Some of the cases demonstrate how the pandemic has also posed problems for services which could not be delivered face-to-face, such as various physical and psychological therapies. While these could be delivered via video link, not all therapies, or indeed all clients, were suited to this and it inevitably impacted on the availability of services.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of full care order hearings we expected to be heard were adjourned, and most of the cases heard remotely were uncontested,” Dr Coulter said.

“Nonetheless, the work of the child protection courts has continued, and we hope these reports offer an insight into the work of the child protection courts at this challenging time.”

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