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Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth | Carrying out preliminary enquiry for cases of forced child removal from mother’s custody

To ask the Minister for Children; Equality; Disability; Integration and Youth the extent to which a preliminary enquiry might be carried out in respect of issues relating to numerous cases whereby children are being systemically and forcibly removed from their mother’s custody and handed over to the protagonist (details supplied); if a preliminary enquiry will be empowered to examine the circumstances of these cases prior to any further decision in this regard, judicial or otherwise, given that Tusla appears to be not empowered to act in such circumstances to protect the welfare, health and safety of children in these circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Details Supplied) for years in some cases, on foot of a spurious presumption that the children or their mothers have been alienating the mother’s partner/spouse for which they continue to be punished in the way described


Under the Child Care Act 1991, the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, is the statutory body with responsibility to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. The Act is the key piece of legislation whereby the State, as a last resort and for the common good, may intervene to supply the place of parents as provided for under Article 42A.2.1 of the Constitution.

Tusla is aided in its child protection role by the Children First Act 2015, which provides for a number of key child protection measures. These include awareness raising, providing for mandatory reporting of child protection concerns by certain categories of persons and improving safeguarding arrangements in organisations providing services to children. The Act operates alongside the non-statutory obligations provided for in Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children 2017, which sets out how all reasonable concerns about a child should be reported to Tusla. The Act recognises that a child’s welfare includes their emotional welfare while the Guidance sets out definitions of abuse, including emotional abuse, and signs for its recognition.

Referrals to Tusla regarding the possible harm to a child from a parent are assessed in line with Tusla’s policies, procedures and best practice. Tusla has advised that its child protection and welfare assessment considers any past harm and any future danger to a child as a result of complicating factors in a child’s environment. These factors include any parental behaviour that is deemed to have a negative impact on a child resulting in them being seriously harmed, including the behaviours that would indicate emotional abuse. Tusla also considers any strengths and existing safety present for the child in the context of the harm and then works collaboratively with parents, professionals and others to create effective safety for the child into the future.

Tusla has advised that relationship breakdown and separation have long given rise to issues surrounding the subsequent welfare of children that can result in referrals to Tusla Child Protection and Welfare Services. Parental behaviours that cause harm to a child are relevant matters for Tusla in the context of considering the impact of such harm on the child and supporting and protecting a child from future danger associated with such harm.

Tusla social work staff are supported in their professional and evidence informed assessments by access to an online evidence informed toolkit that provides detailed up-to-date research and recommended interventions on key areas such as attachment, critical analysis and thinking, child development, the impact of abuse, separation and loss and parenting capacity. Tusla also provides all staff with access to an entire research centre with relevant current research and publications relevant to child protection and welfare practice. In addition to regular professional supervision, this ensures staff are supported in maintaining their expertise in an ongoing and supportive learning environment.

Tusla works collaboratively with child and adult mental health services, the Courts and other therapeutic services in respect of any relevant matters referred to it, including in relation to necessary interventions to support the safety and wellbeing of a child. If there are any concerns about Tusla’s dealings in a particular case, Tusla should be contacted directly in the first instance.  

Tusla can also apply to the court under the 1991 Act for a number of different orders when it believes that children are at risk or in need of care. These orders give the courts a range of powers including decision-making about the type of care necessary and about access to the child or children for parents and other relatives. In such cases, the court has the power to direct Tusla regarding the care of the child. In any child care proceedings under the 1991 Act, the court must regard the best interests of the child as the paramount consideration.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a Family Court Bill. The Family Court Bill will be a key element in the development of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts families at the centre of its activities, provides access to specialist supports and encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution in family law proceedings. My colleague the Minister for Justice received Government approval in November to publish the Family Court Bill and the first National Family Justice Strategy, marking a significant step towards reform of the family justice system.

Of particular relevance here, the Family Justice Strategy includes an action led by the Department of Justice, with the participation of both my Department and Tusla, to ‘consider the outcomes of the research and consultation on parental alienation and develop appropriate proposals’. My Department is represented on the Family Justice Oversight Group, led by the Department of Justice, and is closely involved in the planned reforms, particularly as they relate to child care proceedings, and in ensuring that children’s best interests are kept to the fore.

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