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Child in care thanks judges for their protection over several years
Dr Carol Coulter

09 Jun 2021 / courts Print

Child in care thanks judges for their protection

The latest research from the Child Care Law Reporting Project gives details on 53 court proceedings, countrywide, where applications were made to take children into care.

The reports show some very serious mental-health issues among children, information on the care of unaccompanied minors, and cases involving domestic violence.

The CCLRP publishes regular reports on court orders under the Child Care Act.

It collects and analyses anonymised data from court proceedings.

Concerns about the risk that domestic violence poses to children feature in six cases; and difficulties in obtaining appropriate treatment for children with serious mental-health issues feature in four.

Residential placement difficulties

In one case, the Child and Family Agency reported difficulties in finding a suitable residential placement for a disturbed young boy who was too young for a special-care placement.

The District Court also heard applications concerning five children who were in the State, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, including one who had gone missing from care.

Ongoing issues of neglect arising from addiction to alcohol or drugs, cognitive disability or parents’ mental-health issues also gave rise to care applications by the Child and Family Agency (CFA).

CCLRP director Dr Carol Coulter said that children’s mental-health facilities clearly need increased resourcing.

“It is very concerning that it appears so difficult for children with mental-health problems to receive the assessments and treatment they need, including in-patient treatment, in a timely manner,” she said.

Domestic violence concerns

The prevalence of domestic-violence concerns in care applications shows the need for greater focus on the impact of domestic violence on children, Dr Coulter added.

In one case, a district court judge in a regional town made an interim care order in respect of a young baby for one month. The mother of the child consented to the order. However, her solicitor raised issues regarding a ‘blanket ban’ on access for children in care because of COVID-19.

A case was heard over three separate days in a provincial city concerning a primary-school-age child who was considered a risk to his mother and siblings. Due to his young age, no suitable special residential placement was available, but an interim care order was made nonetheless, and he remained at home with supports from the Child and Family Agency (CFA). 

Physical and emotional abuse

The boy was the subject of an emergency care order after setting a fire and threatening a neighbour with a knife. He had suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his stepfather, since deceased. The CFA lawyer said that he required a special residential placement, but that, due to his very young age, it had been impossible to obtain it.

The mother’s lawyer reported that the boy’s siblings had to be removed from the family home, such was the risk to their health and safety due to his violent and unpredictable behaviour.

He was already drinking alcohol and using cannabis regularly. He was described as violent, abusive, and showing no empathy for other people.

The mother’s lawyer said that his mother was “black and blue” from bruises received from him.

No placement – either in the public or private sphere – was willing to take him, and a nationwide search was currently underway for one.

The boy had been engaged in shoplifting, theft, and violent assault causing harm, and had also caused a violent incident at his primary school.

The judge stated that this was an extraordinarily difficult case, as the young child was totally out of control and a danger to his siblings and family.

The lawyer for the CFA told the court that it was in a precarious position while the child remained at home, but that his very young age was prohibiting him gaining a place in the residential unit he needed.

The judge granted the extension of the interim care order for an additional 29 days.

No in-patient bed

The District Court heard an application over six days seeking urgent directions for provision of a short-term private residential placement and, thereafter, an in-patient bed in a psychiatric unit, for a teenage boy, who the court was told was suffering from “significant and immediate” mental-health concerns.

These concerns had given rise to 37 incidents, including what gardaí deemed “a hostage and/or suicide incident”, when he threatened his parents with knives and spoke of killing himself.

The parents’ barrister summonsed the HSE to the court to answer questions on the timing of assessments and availability of a bed.

he parents’ barrister said that a secure care placement had originally been considered, but the parents felt that a private placement was more suitable to the teenager’s needs, as he was “very vulnerable”.

Inappropriate accommodation

The lawyer said that the CFA was currently only offering the boy a bed in emergency accommodation for homeless children. He said the boy had already spent a week in this hostel, and that it was “not at all appropriate”. He was currently back home with his parents, but, given the scale of his needs, an urgent private placement was required.

The CFA solicitor said that a ‘wrap-around service’ was being provided for the teenager while he was at home under a voluntary-care agreement, which involved “significant co-ordination and supervision by An Garda Síochána”.

A garda witness gave evidence of attending the boy’s home where he was threatening his parents, and finding him with self-inflicted injuries. The social worker gave evidence that the teenager had been known to the CFA since 2014.

The guardian ad litem described the boy as “a charming and articulate young man”. She said: “He is a gentle boy, with a warmth about him, which probably makes him a vulnerable target. He wants his drug and alcohol use to stop; he fears that if it doesn’t stop, he is not going to survive.” 

The barrister for the parents emphasised that it was accepted by the HSE and the professionals that the teenager required an in-patient admission for assessment: “We are left in this situation all the time where State institutions are saying this person requires [that service], but it is not available.”

Missing child

The District Court heard an updated report about an unaccompanied minor who travelled to the State, but who was not in the custody of an adult, and was therefore placed in the care of the Child and Family Agency. The child had gone missing in care several months earlier, and had not been found to date.

The judge referred to criminal matters before the Children’s (criminal) Court and said that the child may be “in the control of somebody else”. 

Extension of interim care order

he District Court approved the extension of an interim care order for two children who had been subject to physical and emotional abuse.

The social worker gave evidence that the older child had told her that the father had threatened to kill his children, and then himself. She told the court that the mother’s ability to protect the children was limited, and the father refused to engage with mental-health services.

The children said that they had no desire to have contact with their father, and were afraid of him. They were doing well in their foster placement and had had a good Christmas.

Positive outcome

A court heard of the progress made by a child who had been in care for 11 years.

The CFA solicitor said that the child was attending a private school and was an excellent sportsman. He would continue at school until he had completed his Leaving Certificate. She said he had expressed interest in studying the social sciences, with a view to working in social work. He would be able to remain in a self-contained apartment within the residential unit where he lived.

The guardian ad litem said that it was truly an achievement for the boy to get this far. She said: “[The boy] has asked me to say that he wanted to thank everyone who has helped him over the years, and wanted to thank the judges for protecting him all this time.”

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland