Speeches

Address by Mr Brian Lenihan T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the Annual Conference of the Irish Foster Care Association

Introduction

I am delighted to have been invited today to speak to you all for the second time at the Annual Conference of the Irish Foster Care Association.

Irish Foster Care Association

As you know, the Irish Foster Care Association came of age last year. Since its inception in 1981, the Association has endeavoured to improve the services provided for children in foster care. Over the years this has been achieved in partnership with my Department, the Health Boards and other relevant agencies. The Association played a key role in the development of the “Placement of Children in Foster Care Regulations, 1995” and in the Report of the Working Group on Foster Care. The Association was also ably represented on the group that developed the National Standards for Foster Care, which I was happy to launch in April of this year. In its 22 years of existence, your Association has moved from being an organisation of mutual support for those involved in foster care, to an organisation that provides training programmes on many aspects of foster care, aimed at foster carers, children and young people in foster care and people who wish to explore the possibility of fostering.

Child Care

You, as foster carers, play a vitally important role in the lives of children when you provide a place in your home for them at a vulnerable time of their lives. As parents and carers, our role in the care of our children is to ensure that we facilitate them in every way possible to allow them achieve their true potential.

Child care policy is grounded on the principle that children who cannot, for whatever reason, live with their own family, are provided with an appropriate alternative. Studies have shown that the development of a child is best achieved in a loving family environment, which foster care normally provides.

Standards in Foster Care

One of the recommendations of the Report of the Working Group on Foster Care was that National Standards on Practices and Procedures be drawn up to ensure the highest quality of foster care. A committee chaired by the Social Services Inspectorate was established to draw up these standards. The Standards, which were launched in April focus on:

  • the quality and consistency of services for children and young people in foster care;
  • standards and practices related to foster care;
  • guidance to health boards on how they can effectively meet their statutory obligations.

These standards have been the subject of intensive discussions between key players involved in the child welfare and protection area. As I indicated earlier, the Irish Foster Care Association was represented on the standards group and you the members played a major role in the consultation process for the standards. I would like to thank all those involved for your comprehensive response

Children in Foster Care

As I said earlier, our function as parents and carers is to do whatever is in our power to allow the children who depend on us to achieve their true potential. The challenge for us is to provide an appropriate response to children who are particularly vulnerable. This response must respect their rights to a childhood in a secure family environment so that they may fulfil their potential in adulthood. While the ultimate objective of the foster care service is to enable a child to return safely to his or her own family, data indicate that many remain in care on a long-term basis and some until they are 18 years of age. It is important, therefore, that we continue to work in partnership together in the best interest of these children. One of the ways we can do this for children in foster care is to continue in our work of implementing the Working Group’s Report on Foster Care.

Adoption

I know that the issue of the adoption of children who have been in long term foster care has been to the forefront of your minds. In my address to your AGM last year I undertook to put in place a consultation process on adoption legislation in Ireland. I am happy to tell you that a working document has been developed by an independent legal expert, Geoffrey Shannon who is no stranger to the Irish Foster Care Association. This document was published in June and contained a number of areas for debate. A call for submissions was published in the national press and I know that your association sought the views and opinions of all your members, which were then incorporated into a submission on behalf of the association as a whole. This consultation process culminated in a very successful conference held on 17th and 18th October at which there was a very positive reaction to the concept of guardianship for children and young people in foster care. I am currently considering how this can be progressed.

Conclusion

The Irish Foster Care Association plays a very important part in Irish society and particularly so in the area of child care. Of particular note are the Association´s training programmes such as “Fostering – A New Horizon” for new foster carers, “New Beginnings” a training session for the children of families who foster. These children are all too often the unsung heroes of foster care but I am glad to salute them now. Other training programmes include the issues relating to Multiculturalism and Aftercare.

I would also like to again congratulate the Irish Foster Care Association on its co-operation with the Mid Western Health Board in the production of the booklet “Safe Care in Foster Care” which is an extremely valuable document for foster carers and health board alike. In conclusion, I would again like to thank you for inviting me here today. I hope that you have a very successful annual conference.