A child has the fundamental right to live with his/her natural family. Under the new law on child rights, which came into force in January 2005, this relationship between a child and its parents is emphasised, and the state is obliged to support a family that finds itself in difficulty. This marks a fundamental reform of the system, which was based on the idea that the state should step in and take care of a child in difficult circumstances (resulting in large numbers of children placed in residential care).
For various reasons, some parents get to the point where they are unable to look after their children properly. In these cases, under the new law, or guidelines, the state may become involved and must find a solution that is in the best interest of the child. If the problem cannot be sorted out with the parents, the next option is to place the child with relatives or neighbours, and if this is not possible then foster care and local adoptions can be considered. Only in rare cases can children be sent to residential homes, many of which have closed down as family-based alternatives have emerged.
Raising children is truly a difficult and complex task, and parents need all the support they can get. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, or a sign that there is a lack of love. In fact, asking for help is a courageous act and usually in the interest of the child. The parents have a duty to ask for help if they lack the resources to bring up their children, or have shown other real problems (like violence or neglect). All citizens have the duty to report cases of abuse if they come across them.
If you and your child are in a really difficult situation, or you know of cases where a child is being abused or neglected, you should call the Toll Free Line on 0800 8200 200. By calling the Toll Free Line you can speak to professionals who will offer you immediate advice and will refer you to the local Department of Social Work and Child Protection.