A Dublin-based couple who have successfully provided foster care to "at risk" children for more than a decade are set to resign from the service in protest at their treatment by the HSE.
Tracy and Stephen Kelly from Ballyfermot say they have reluctantly decided to stop fostering after becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of support and communication which they have received.
They say the "last straw" came when they were recently informed they would effectively have to reapply for approval to look after children who are not related to them.
This is despite them having provided both relative and non-relative foster care for eight children for almost 11 years.
Tracy Kelly told the Sunday Tribune they felt they were being treated as if they are new applicants, despite their years of experience as foster carers.
"We had considered leaving in the past because of the HSE, but we've always felt we've got a lot to offer. We're just not being supported in what we are doing. We should be listened to, instead we are being constantly undermined," she said. "It is like going for an interview 10 years after getting the job… Any child that ever came into our home has been and remains a part of our family. It is not a job for us, it is for life."
Brenda Irwin of the Irish Foster Care Association, who has provided support to the Kelly family, said it has received similar complaints from foster carers about this issue.
"We fully support moves to improve standards and training of foster carers. But a lot of foster carers who have been doing this for years are now being told that they have to go back and seek this approval," she said. "The issue is the way the HSE have gone about this. In some situations they do seem to have adopted a very heavy-handed approach… Our concern is that others are being put off fostering as a result."
Stephen Kelly told the Sunday Tribune the couple had initially agreed to go through the assessment process but were shocked when they saw what this involved.
"We have not been assessed by the health board to be non-relative carers despite these children living with us over the past 10 years. And now they are asking us to apply as if we are new applicants," he said. "Were these children illegally placed in our home?"
According to Siripon (Sarah) Kubandi, a 19-year-old student originally from Thailand, the Kellys had made her "welcome and loved" when they began looking after her at the age of 10.
"I'm upset over what the health board have been doing," she said. "Stephen and Tracy have been just brilliant, and should not be stopped from fostering."
A HSE spokeswoman said it does not comment on individual cases. However, she said carers are "expected to participate in appropriate training", including a foundation for fostering course.
She maintained that the assessment process for non-relative carers "does not start as if completely new."