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Tusla seeks barring order against alleged violent parent
Dr Carol Coulter

17 Jan 2023 / family law Print

Tusla seeks barring order against violent parent

The latest Child Law Project (CLP) report has details of 62 court cases involving children.

Since early 2022, the 'Child Care Law Reporting Project' has been using the shorter title of 'Child Law Project' (CLP). 

Most concern applications for care orders in the District Court, and cases were attended randomly by CLP reporters.

Cases involved parental mental-health difficulties, parental addictions, homelessness, and domestic violence, with a small number of cases of separated children (unaccompanied minors) fleeing war and forced marriages.

One District Court case was brought using section 11 of the  Domestic Violence Act 2018 .

The court granted an interim barring order against a man who was in custody, but who was likely to be released back to the family home on bail the following day.  The order was sought by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) - Tusla.

Executive director of the CLP, Dr Carol Coulter commented: "This is the first time we have observed this provision of the 2018 Domestic Violence Act being used.

"The CFA is to be commended for its efforts to protect this mother and her children from the threat of violence, in circumstances where the mother had applied for a restraining order, but later withdrew it." 

This volume also includes 11 High Court cases related to wardship proceedings, and a composite report on High Court special-care proceedings relating to 48 children heard over a 15-month period.

The special-care report highlights serious concerns expressed by the presiding judge in relation to difficulties in securing appropriate residential placements, the lack of specialized facilities, and poor inter-agency working.

The lack of step-down residential placements was noted by the presiding judge to be hindering the timely discharge of children from special care.

Delayed discharge

Special care entails a deprivation of liberty, and a delayed discharge, and may undermine the child's progress or risk the child becoming institutionalised.

The presiding judge, noting that this problem had been going on for years, again relayed the court's concerns to Tusla, and commented that he felt like a "stuck record".

A wardship inquiry was brought to the High Court by Tusla following an interim care order for a teenage girl, who had arrived in Dublin Airport as a separated child, likely as a trafficking victim.

She had a mild intellectual disability, epilepsy, and had been subjected to significant sexual abuse and neglect that had affected her cognitive ability.

The court heard that the girl's father and mother were believed to be living in two different countries in Europe. It appeared that the girl had not resided with her parents for about six years, but with "various men", one of whom she described as a "boyfriend".

Her cognitive functioning was in line with that of a four to six-year-old.

Interim wardship orders were granted and a medical visitor was directed by the court to prepare a report.  A guardian ad litem (GAL) was also appointed. An order was also made joining the HSE as a notice party.   

A subsequent hearing was told that residential staff were doing "remarkable work" with her, and she had been given "a very high quality of care".

An inquiry came in "from someone claiming to be from her family" in [her country of origin] but no information was sent on.

"Presumably everybody is informed not to provide the information to anyone?" asked the judge.

The judge noted that "a strong email should be sent out that anyone seeking the whereabouts should be immediately refused".

He further noted that the orders provided "a legal basis for withholding that information".

Complex needs

A judge in Dublin District Court granted a care order in respect of a teenager with complex mental-health difficulties until she reached 18.

The social worker informed the court that the teenager had been in a placement in an apartment with other young people and staff, but had been very unhappy with this arrangement.

As a result, she had returned to her grandmother's home, had remained there since, and had been doing well, but this was not suitable long-term.

The social worker agreed with the GAL that the teenager needed a suitable placement, but that such a placement had not yet been found, and the search was continuing.


The social worker said the teenager had complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), expressive and speech and language difficulties, and a borderline cogitative disability. She also had emotional difficulties.

The social worker explained that the teenager's difficulties stemmed from complex childhood trauma.

Both the teenager and her grandmother had declined offers of support – including an offer of a residential placement.

The social worker stated that the teenager had previously expressed worry about being in care under a voluntary agreement, and that this anxiety had begun to evolve into an anxiety about "what happens when I turn 18" in 2023.

The GAL gave evidence that the teenager had told her when she went missing from her placement that she had been in the city centre, and had been hanging out with homeless people there.

The girl said that she had been offered drugs, which she had refused, but she was very worried that, when she turned 18 and was without support, she would take the drugs. She also said she had been sexually assaulted on a number of occasions.

The GAL said that the only support that the teenager was currently receiving was from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) to obtain her medication. 

The court was informed that the CFA had made an application for special care, but that the application had been refused by the Special Care Committee on the basis that the teenager did not meet its criteria. 

The judge noted that everyone was in agreement – ​​​​including the teenager herself – that it was in her best interests that an order be made to take the girl into the care of the CFA until she turned 18.

The judge also listed the case for aftercare planning, and for review in relation to the placement issue.

Teenage girl

In another case, a teenage girl, who was both in care and a ward of court, was detained for several months in the pediatric wing of a hospital due to escalating patterns of self-harm.

CAMHS refused to admit her to one of its inpatient units. After a failed attempt at mainstream residential care, the teenager was placed in the 'least worst option' of a children's hospital.

She remained in this hospital for several weeks, where she shared a room with a young child before being admitted to a special care unit.

In another case, concern was expressed about the isolation being experienced by a young girl, previously in secure care, who was placed in a residential unit on her own with two staff members, and with controls on her access to the internet.

Commenting on the volume, CLP's Dr Maria Corbett said: "The State appears ill-equipped to respond to children who have experienced trauma or loss, who have a disability or mental-health issue and whose home life or care placement has broken down.

Political attention

"These children often display self-harming and other challenging behaviours. Discussions in court cite difficulties recruiting and retaining care staff, the limited number of special care beds, and the narrow legislative definitions required to trigger an obligation on HSE disability and CAMHS to get involved .

"Political attention is urgently needed to rectify the State's failure to provide a timely, joined-up response to these vulnerable children."

Another District Court case involved two siblings who had been in care with the same relative foster carers for ten years under a voluntary care agreement. The parents were often uncontactable due to addiction and homelessness.

The CFA said that the parents had thwarted their care of the children by not signing consent forms, which delayed an assessment for one of the children, and meant the children had missed out on a holiday.

The children called their foster carers 'Mom' and 'Dad' and the GAL said: "When I mentioned the possibility of them returning to their parents, they just looked at me in a state of bewilderment."

Dr Coulter commented that: "This case is a good illustration as to why the long-term use of voluntary care agreements can be problematic.  The forthcoming reform of the Child Care Act is an opportunity to amend the legislation to put in additional safeguards."   

Special care list

The High Court may grant a Special Care Order to detain a child aged between 11 and 18.

The CLP observed proceedings in relation to 48 children, boys and girls, most of whom were between 15 and 17.

While an initial order is for three months, most stayed much longer under extended or further applications. For example, one 17-year-old boy was in and out of special care over a three-year period due to drug addiction issues and was the subject of a fourth special care order.

In one case where the child had been in special care for 16 months, the judge commented, "I appreciate the difficulty in sourcing placements is hugely complex but there are statutory obligations and functions and it is wrong if special care applications are being made because the CFA is unable to provide residential care in another [mainstream] placement where the children concerned could be looked after.

"This is particularly so as detention in special care carries the risk that the child will become institutionalised, and any progress made in special care will be set at naught as a result or the situation will regress even further."

In another case where a girl had been in special care for more than 13 months, the judge expressed concern that she was becoming institutionalized and said: "Special care and special-care orders are not a holding cell for children who ought not to be in special care."

Deferring definition of mental illness

In relation to interagency co-operation, the judge frequently commented that some in-house therapies available in placements in Britain are not available in Ireland, and also commented on the difference between the definition of mental illness under Irish and UK law.

He said that the problem was that "children are falling between services provided by the CFA and HSE.  There is no equivalent of Tavistock or St Andrews in Ireland.  [Children] need treatment and intervention available in those centres.  [This issue is] going back for years and is not being dealt with by the legislature or those in power.”

In one case where the child would require long-term care, the judge commented on the "ongoing tension" between the CFA and the HSE.


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