The director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project has said that Ireland needs a dedicated family court to deal with children's care cases as the current system is "utterly overburdened".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Carol Coulter highlighted some of the cases detailed in the agency's latest report, including the case of a child in foster care whose Catholic parents objected to their daughter attending a local Protestant school.

According to the report, the case arose because "the parents of the young child were not consenting to her attending the local Church of Ireland primary school on religious grounds".

She explained that the parents of the child who were Catholic, with one of them originally from another European country, were not happy that the child was going to a Church of Ireland school with the children of the foster family.

Despite the opposition from the parents, she said the guardian ad litem and everybody concerned felt that the child "was better to be part of the family if they all went to school together".

The court looked at the matter and assurances were made that the child would receive religious education and be prepared for first communion.

Dr Coulter said that although the case was certainly not an example of a "huge row", it did demonstrate that Tusla, the Child and Family agency, looks at all aspects of a child's welfare and whether they are being properly integrated into the foster family.

Speaking about some of the more distressing cases coming before the courts, particularly in the area of mental health, Dr Coulter reiterated her concern that some children with severe mental health difficulties are being detained for therapeutic purposes.

She said there are two ways that children get detained. One could be under the Mental Health Act, applicable both to children and adults, which clearly defines mental health problems.

Dr Coulter said there are a number of children who are now being detained because they are severely mentally ill. She said it is very concerning that there are teenagers who suffer from "that level of mental illness that they would have to be detained".

She also explained that in cases of children who do not meet the diagnosis of psychiatric illness but suffer from severe behaviourial problems, including threat to themselves or other people, they can be detained under what's called "secure care orders" in the High Court.

Dr Coulter said in the most severe cases, children have to go abroad because "we don't have the specialist facilities in this country for them". They would normally go to the UK.

Speaking about the recently introduced legislation, Dr Coulter said there is a gap in it pertaining to the issue of sending those children abroad.

Asked about the capacity of the courts to process these cases, Dr Coulter said the system is "utterly overburdened" and that Ireland "needs a family court" which could look at all of the cases together.

She said her enquiry about the upcoming orders showed that there are a number of them ready for hearing but "they can't be heard because there isn't a judge available to hear them".

"And there is no spare capacity in the system. In fact, the system is utterly overburdened and I - once again - think that we need a family court which can look at all of these things together properly," she said.