There was a rise in the number of interim care orders granted in the second half of last year, with one prominent solicitor saying there has likely been a further rise in the early part of 2021, with the pandemic a likely factor.
Interim care orders can last up to 28 days and can be renewed. They are granted in court when Tusla believes it must intervene in a situation where neither parent can – at least in the short term – provide adequate care for their child.
According to new figures provided by Tusla, there were 236 interim care orders and 1,348 extensions of interim care orders sought by Tusla in the first half of 2020. In the second half of the year, there were 281 interim care orders and 1,470 extensions of interim care orders sought.
That represents an 18% rise between the first half and second half of 2020, but Sonya Bruen, a solicitor with Mason Hayes and Curran, which acts on Tusla's behalf in District Court proceedings, said the firm had seen a significant increase in its legal work around children, families, and domestic violence over the past year, and particularly so over the last lockdown.
"We have had quite a high number of cases where interim care orders are made," she said, adding that in some cases this is due to domestic violence in the home.
Ms Bruen described the period of lockdown earlier this year as "not the norm, this is an extreme situation" and one which already vulnerable households would find difficult.
"Violence has escalated," she said.
Her experience tallies with figures that have shown a growth in the rate of domestic violence cases being dealt with by gardaí over the course of the pandemic and the rise in the number of mandated reports to Tusla by the managers of domestic violence refuges.
The most recent monthly report, for last January, showed 48 reports to Tusla by managers of domestic violence shelters, accounting for 5% of all mandated reports that month and meaning shelters were the fourth most likely source of such referrals.
That is not typical and also comes in the context of an overall fall in the number of mandated reports in January as schools remained closed amid spiralling case levels of Covid-19.
In February, Tusla said it received 76% more mandated reports from managers of refuges in the first six weeks of this year compared with the same period in 2020.
Tusla said data relating to cases of domestic violence or domestic abuse is not formally gathered in relation to interim care orders, but a spokesperson said: “Bringing a child into the care of the State is a last resort, where it is in the best interests of the child.
"Any decision regarding placing a child in care is either agreed voluntarily with a parent or by direction of the court following a full and detailed consideration and examination of the assessment and the evidence that supports that decision.
"It’s important to stress that every effort is made to continue a working relationship with parents, and even in care order situations, consent and agreement can be present."
"Where a safe agreement for the child cannot be reached, Tusla may consider applying to court for an order to make suitable arrangements for a child’s care."