Child rights poll changes nothing, says judge
NEXT MONTH’s children’s rights referendum will bring no change when the State has just 10 places for troubled teenagers in need of secure and special therapeutic care, a judge said yesterday.
The referendum, which proposes a new article in the Constitution to affirm the rights of the child and allows the State in exceptional circumstances to take the place of parents, is planned for November 10th.
But the number of places for children needing special therapeutic care was “a shame, a sin and a disgrace”, Judge Ann Ryan said yesterday at the Dublin Children’s Court.
Her comments came during a case involving a 17-year-old girl who has a drug addiction and keeps absconding from care. The girl has been living in a residential care unit and had been ordered as a condition of bail to obey a curfew there.
However, Sgt Séamus Treacy told Judge Ryan the girl had repeatedly gone missing in recent weeks and drug-taking paraphernalia had been found in her bedroom.
As he explained this, he took out a plastic bag containing a spoon and burned tinfoil, which he showed to the judge. The girl, whose speech was sluggish, said: “That’s my sister’s.”
Sgt Treacy said the girl, from her demeanour, was not in a fit state to be in court, “not compos mentis in relation to any discussion” and there were serious issues in relation to her addiction.
“I do have a drug problem, I need help,” admitted the girl, who has stopped attending addiction counselling. Her social worker said the girl had been placed in a residential care home, where the staff had worked endlessly to keep her secure. There were child protection concerns and an application to place her in a special secure care environment has been made.
The social worker said there were 10 special care beds in the country; the decision on whether the girl would get one was in the hands of a HSE committee.
The girl’s lawyer said the HSE could not “keep an eye on her every minute of the day” and it was accepted she had breached her bail terms and was continuing to abuse drugs.
The judge said care workers had done their utmost, but the girl’s current placement was not appropriate and the priority was “that she is off the streets and minded”.
She could only hold the girl in a detention centre for one week for breach of bail. “After that it is the responsibility of the HSE.”
She added: “It is a joke listening to the children’s referendum. Nothing changes and nothing will change with the referendum – the bottom line is the same as the first day I sat in this court.”
In relation to the 10 special care beds she said: “I wonder how many managers are there in the HSE?” She added: “It is a shame, a sin and a disgrace.”
The judge remanded the girl, who was in tears, in custody to appear again next week. She said by then she expected to hear that progress has been made in relation to putting her into a special care unit. “If there is no progress, I would expect someone who is making the decisions to come to court,” she added.