Relatives have been unable to see vulnerable children in the care of the State due to visiting restrictions imposed since the Covid-19 crisis hit Ireland in March.
A new report on childcare law matters reveals how, in one case, the parents of a young girl with anorexia were unable to see their daughter after she was admitted to a psychiatric unit.
The case is among 46 published today by the Child Care Law Reporting Project.
The project, led by Dr Carol Coulter, reports on childcare cases across the country and highlights trends and areas of concern emerging from court hearings.
Dr Coulter said it had come across cases where the type of comfort vulnerable children might have got before from visiting family members was no longer available to them.
She said the discontinuation of face-to-face access was leading to disputes between parents and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
In the case of the young girl with the eating disorder, the issue was raised during a hearing where the HSE applied to the District Court for the extension of an order made for her involuntary admission to hospital under the Mental Health Act.
The parents were worried because no face-to-face contact was permitted in the inpatient unit during the pandemic and they had only had Skype access for the month since she was admitted. The court heard the HSE position was that it was particularly difficult to have face-to-face visits as patients were "exceptionally frail and immune-compromised".
The judge hearing the matter said: "It is not satisfactory for the parents but they are the standards affecting everyone."
The parents had no concerns about the extension of the order, with the father saying they knew their daughter was "in the right place and she needs to be there".
But he emphasised they were stressed due to the lack of access. The court was told the child was a serious harm to herself and "if left to her own devices she would starve".
In another case, a court heard a mother of children in care now only had video-link access to them.
The court heard she struggled with this as the children were young and it was hard to keep them engaged.
The woman was hoping to be reunified with her children but after hearing she did not have accommodation the judge queried how she could have her children back.
A solicitor for Tusla said the local county council would not consider housing the woman unless she had her children.
In another case highlighted in the report, a full care order hearing had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
Dr Coulter said the pandemic has also posed problems for services which could not be delivered face to face, such as physical and psychological therapies.