Children in Care – Can their rights still be upheld during the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Covid 19 EPIC

Can their rights still be upheld during the Covid-19 Pandemic?

At the present time, we are all living in an unfamiliar and challenging situation and attempting to cope with isolation, separation from families and a different working environment, for those who are working.

How does it feel to be a child in the care system, who is removed from their parents in either a foster home or in a residential placement? Is it possible to ensure that their rights are maintained, or due to this unprecedented crisis, is there a risk that some of the most vulnerable children in our society may be further disenfranchised by this crisis?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) clearly states that “[I]n all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”[1]

However, currently it is unclear how the best interest can be guaranteed against the other competing interests associated with the COVID19 crisis. In EPIC, we are currently finding that one of the main issues emerging for children in care is maintaining contact with their family, and especially their siblings. This is of great concern especially if children and young people are living a considerable distance from their relatives or do not have digital access.

The resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly clearly states  that when children are in the care of the State  “every effort should be made to enable siblings to maintain contact with each other, unless this is against their own wishes or best interests.”[2]

Presently Tusla are attempting to ensure access within public health guidelines and where this is not possible, they are trying to ensure that online contact is offered to every child with appropriate security in place to maintain confidentiality and protect the child.

It is important that every effort is made to facilitate children in care being able to have contact with their siblings and always ensuring their safely.

At present there are 5985 children in care in Ireland[3] and the onus rests upon the State, as corporate parent, to ensure balance in compliance with national legislation, the rights of the child under the UNCRC and the current restrictions under the COVID19 public health guidelines .

The right to a relationship with parents and siblings is the heart of every childhood and our societal norms. No child should have to endure the trauma of family separation without the guarantee that every effort will be made to enable them to maintain direct contact with their family, as far as is reasonably possible.

“A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.”[4]

We all have a responsibility to work together to ensure that everything is done to ensure that the right of every child to maintain contact with their siblings and other family members is upheld, as far as is reasonably possible, in these extremely challenging times.

John Murphy

Advocacy Officer & Researcher, EPIC

[1] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 3.

[2] United Nations General Assembly, Guidelines for the Alternate Care of Children, 24 February 2010, Article 17.

[3] Tusla, Quarterly Service Performance and Activity Report. Quarter 4 2019. p.33. [accessed: 15 April 2020].

[4] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 20.

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