Judge praises Tusla workers for improving life of teen who could have been ‘beyond rescue’

Care agency had appealed to Supreme Court after being forced to place two teenagers in oversubscribed special care

A High Court judge has praised Tusla workers for improving the life of a teenage boy who was several months ago constantly going missing from State care, abusing drugs daily and participating in organised crime.

Mr Justice John Jordan said the boy has experienced “improvements on all fronts” since being detained in special care on foot of a court order. His case demonstrates why the court must make orders for the detention of children in special care units when the evidence is that they need this highly specialist and targeted support, the judge said.

Children aged 12 to 17 who are particularly at risk can be admitted to and detained in one of three secure centres only if so ordered by the High Court.

The judge said that if this teen had not been placed in special care, it is “probable that he would have continued to participate in the drugs underworld, in drug taking, in drug dealing and would be in a much worse position and perhaps beyond rescue”.


The boy was one of two children for whom the Child and Family Agency, also known as Tusla, was forced, by High Court order, to apply late last year for orders for their detention in specialist secure units, known as special care.

The agency unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court arguing Mr Justice Jordan’s special care orders for the pair should not have been made when they were then “impossible” to comply with due to acute staffing shortages in the sector. Another child needed the bed more than these two, it submitted.

Both teenagers were eventually detained in special care facilities, and the agency recently asked the judge to extend the special care order for the boy.

Barrister Donal Ó Muircheartaigh, appearing for the boy’s court-appointed advocate, told the judge the boy is now engaging in a programme geared towards employment and wants to be kept away from an area where he could be tempted by drugs.

Mr Justice Jordan said it “does need to be said that the improvements in [the boy] are due in large measure to the work of the Child and Family Agency and their staff”. These workers deserve “credit for improving this young man’s life”, he said.

He “could not but be satisfied” that the agency had demonstrated he should extend the special care order in the boy’s interests. The boy got time in special care because the High Court made a special care order that was upheld in the Supreme Court, and “he has benefited”, said the judge.

The boy’s case was one of several to come before the High Court’s weekly special care list, which, the judge said, deals with “children at the edge of a precipice”.

Separately, he made an order extending the detention of a girl in special care who “might not be alive” if she had not been admitted. Her state care placements had broken down due to her behaviour and she made serious attempts at self-harm, the judge said. She has made improvements, but she is “not out of the woods yet”, he added.

This was a “good example yet again of why special care is necessary and of what can be done to improve the lives of children who have fallen through the cracks”, he said.

Mr Justice Jordan noted the agency continues to experience “considerable difficulties” in securing staff to open up more special care places.

These issues have been continuously highlighted in court decisions and media reports, with Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman confirming early last month that just 13 of the 26 special care beds were operational due to a lack of staff.

The agency is the subject of an application seeking to have its chief executive brought to court and committed to prison over the agency’s alleged failure to comply with an order for another young teenager’s placement in special care. That case is due to return to court on Thursday.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter