‘Crisis’ in secure provision for children because of shortage of beds, judge says

Guardian tells court system is ‘criminalising a child’ due to inappropriate placement

Judge Brendan Toale said the professional view was the boy needed secure care and in its absence he was unlikely to improve.

Judge Brendan Toale said the professional view was the boy needed secure care and in its absence he was unlikely to improve.

Wed, Jan 15, 2014, 01:00

In a childcare case at the District Court, a judge said there was “a crisis at the centre of the secure care provision” in Ireland.

The only way an adolescent can get a secure placement is “to show the effects of not getting what he needs”, Judge Brendan Toale said.

The court heard the boy, assessed as high risk, was on a list of 14 children waiting for a secure care placement.

His guardian told the court the boy had spent some time in custody and was released on bail. All but one of the charges against him related to criminal damage, such as breaking a door, in the accommodation he had been placed in, which was not suitable for him.

“We are criminalising a child because of the inappropriate environment in which we are placing him,” he said.

The boy had been exposed to domestic violence from an early age and also had a drug problem. He needed help, but he needed it in a secure environment, the guardian said.

The child’s social worker said she hoped a recent new placement might “break the cycle of drug misuse”. She said sending a child to out-of-state secure care would only be considered in exceptional circumstances.

“Where is the line between a child being at upper level of risk and exceptional circumstances?” the solicitor for the boy’s guardian asked.

“I don’t think I can answer that question, judge,” the social worker responded.

Judge Toale said the professional view was the boy needed secure care and in its absence he was unlikely to improve. He said he could not imagine “what could be more exceptional than being on a list of 14 for secure care”.

He adjourned the case to next month “in the hope that whoever it is who has the power” would make secure provision for him.

Care order
Separately yesterday, before president of the District Court Judge Rosemary Horgan, the Child and Family Agency applied to extend an interim care order for two siblings. The court heard the children had been taken from their parents along with two other siblings following allegations of physical abuse. Two of the children had been returned, but two did not want to go back.

The children’s father told the court his son would not be told what to do by anybody.

“As long as you tell him what to do there is going to be difficulty,” he said. He said he and his wife were prepared to agree to the extension of the interim care order as they wanted their son to come home “ready to fit into the family”.

The court also heard the couple denied physically abusing their children.

The court-appointed guardian described the girl as “bubbly” and said the boy was “well-mannered and polite” but “really distressed”. “He is not a bold child,” she said.

She said she was concerned there had been no investigation into allegations made against the parents and whether we were “talking about chastisement or physical abuse”.

Judge Horgan said she was troubled that there wasn’t an assessment of risk by the HSE, now the Child and Family Agency. She acknowledged the concerns of the parents that the children wished to “dissociate from their cultural heritage” and be integrated into an Irish heritage “where they feel they may be better provided for materially”.

She instructed that a meeting with experts be held to address the complex needs of the children.