OF THE 6,300 children in Ireland’s care system, each cases poses a unique mix of complex emotions, personalities and perspectives on what family life should be.
But when you mix families from different cultures in there as well, doubled with traumatic experiences of a family fleeing from war, that makes child care all-the-more challenging.
This week, Tusla have teamed up with the New Communities Partnership (NCP) in order to help people from different ethnic backgrounds mix with the foster family they could be placed with.
“There are a lot of challenges in the area of child protection,” says Daniela Jurj, National Coordinator of NCP Migrant Family Support Service.
At the heart of that difficulty is defining what parenting is, and what it means in Ireland, specifically.
“Nothing is meant to be easy. Everything is a challenge, especially for families facing extremely difficult situations. We get involved when things get really difficult.”
The Child Care Law Reporting Project conducted by Dr Carol Coulter, shows that there are high numbers of migrant children in care, and within that, a high number of children are from West Africa.
Parental mental health is another common factor.
“We were shocked to discover the number of parents with cognitive difficulties or mental health made up a huge proportion of cases,” Daniela says. They’re concentrating now on helping families gain awareness and access to supports that could be around the corner from them.
There are fantastic services just around the corner that can do what aunties and uncles might do. Just sometimes people don’t know they’re there.
When placing a child in the care of a foster family, the first priority is to place them with an extended family member, or find a foster family that’s a cultural match.
This is particularly important for teenagers, who as well as needing support in integrating in a new family and schedule, need their cultural and identity acknowledged also.
“The one thing is there aren’t a lot of migrant foster families, and not a lot of diversity with religion,” Daniela says. Tusla are to campaign to recruit more migrants as foster families.
Overall, however, the number of applications to become a foster family/parent is on the rise.
You wouldn’t believe the number of people who’ve said to me ‘I didn’t know I could put my name forward’.
The myths around fostering and children in care is probably the most challenging.
You don’t have to be in a relationship, and you don’t have to be a parent, for example. Another is that is the distinction between foster care and adoption: foster care involves taking a child in (short term or long term), but Tusla remain the legal guardians of the child. In cases of adoption, the ‘adopters’ become long term guardians.
In cases where foster care is needed, it can happen voluntarily (when a parent or family asks Tusla for help) or through a court order, based on the best interests of the child.
“We’re talking about families in a moment of crisis,” Daniela says. “Families who need huge levels of support, and we’re here to support them and help work out what’s not working.”
The NCP provides unique services for migrant families – they can become more aware of what parenting in Ireland is, can get support, and help ease the relationship between parents and social workers.
That means something as simple as explaining the childcare services process to the birth parents, or communicating more clearly.
“They don’t always understand what professionals are putting in place and there to do,” says Daniela. “Once we explain to the families, that’s all for the better of the family. They’re more likely to engage.”
On the NCP website they have, in very simple English, explained what constitutes as child abuse, why they would be concerned about emotional abuse in a family. They also distribute the information to schools, churches, mosques, and other social centres.
The information can be a culture shock for the families – they find out the way they grew up is not how children should be raised. Daniela says that Ireland isn’t far from that stage either:
Irish families sometimes realise something similar. In previous generations parents supervised their children less, the older sibling cared for younger siblings, and they’d walk to school and back. Parenting has changed a lot in recent years, but it’s still a big struggle for migrant parents.
“The standard in Ireland is putting children first, that’s there and that’s good. What’s lacking definitely is the resources and facilities to put a good framework in place.”