On average, more than 130 babies under the age of one are taken into care annually.
By the end of 2015, there were 121 babies in care; 139 in 2014; and 136 in 2013.
The figures were released by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone in response to a parliamentary question by Independent TD for Tipperary, Mattie McGrath.
Mr McGrath asked Ms Zappone about the number of cases since 2011, when a newborn child was removed from the care or custody of its parents directly or soon after birth.
While she was unable to provide a figure for the number of newborns taken into care, Ms Zappone could provide figures on the number of children under the age of one in care for the five-year period.
In 2012, there were 148 children in care before their first birthday and in 2011 there were 136 babies under the age of one in care.
“Tusla [the child and family agency] has confirmed that it does not collect a metric that collates the number of newborn children taken into care directly or soon after birth,” said Ms Zappone.
Mr McGrath also asked about the criteria by which a child can be removed from the care or custody of its mother directly or soon after birth.
“Social workers employed in maternity hospitals engage with vulnerable mothers to assess their capacity to care for their newborn babies and, if necessary, will contact the local social work department in Tusla,” said Ms Zappone.
“Once a referral from a maternity hospital social worker is made, an assessment is completed and, if a risk of harm or neglect is identified, one which the family cannot address, then a care order is made to the courts.
“Children are only separated from parents or carers when alternative means of protection have been exhausted. Reunion is always considered in the context of planning for the child’s future.”
While Mr McGrath commended the work of protecting vulnerable babies, he said more should be done to assist parents.
“I would have concerns that there is not enough support or focus for developing a parallel process, whereby a parent or parents can be fully supported in their efforts to get their lives back on track and so recover custody when the ability to care has been proven,” said Mr McGrath
According to Tusla’s latest monthly management data report, there were a total of 6,388 children in care in Ireland as of August of this year.
The report said these children were in five different types of care situations, some of which included foster care, relative foster care, and residential general care placements.
A total of 4,100 of these children were in a general foster-care placement at the end of August of this year, whereas 1,832 were in a relative foster-care placement.
A total of 5,937, or 93% of the full number of children in care, were assigned to an allocated social worker.
Data from these monthly reports is subject to ongoing validation procedures to ensure accuracy.
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