A child in care had nowhere to go after a placement in a private facility broke down on the eve of a bank holiday because of financial issues with the provider, according to the Child Care Law Reporting Project.
The solicitor for the child’s father told the District Court the uncertainty, stress, and lack of clarity for “these most vulnerable children . . . is a form of abuse in itself”.
Tusla, the Child and Family Agency (CFA), was "under obligations and this is a continuing problem of the CFA contracting out their obligations," the solicitor said.
“If this was a Tusla building with Tusla staff, then this issue wouldn’t arise.”
The child was provided emergency care with a previous foster parent and the issue was resolved with the provider within four days, the court heard.
Forty-seven reports are being published by the Child Care Law Reporting Project on its website on Monday. The project, led by Dr Carol Coulter, publishes regular reports from the courts on orders made under the Child Care Act. It collects and analyses data and reports on the nature of outcomes of the childcare proceedings.
Severe mental health issues among teenagers, the appropriate jurisdiction to hear child protection cases and particular problems of vulnerable and/or migrant parents are among the issues revealed in the latest volume of case reports.
In a number of cases, the High Court made teenagers wards of court in order to facilitate their transfer out of the jurisdiction for therapeutic treatment in specialised centres in the UK.
The High Court also granted a secure care order for a young teenage girl, who had come to the attention of An Garda Síochána and Tusla due to sexual exploitation as well as being exploited in drug-related crime.
A secure or special care order means that the child is committed to Tusla’s care for as long as it remains in force. It authorises the agency to provide appropriate care, education and treatment and, for that purpose, to detain the child in a special care unit.
The District Court saw cases involving “very vulnerable parents”, including two where the parents had their own guardians ad litem (a person appointed to represent the best interests of a child in court).
In one case, the 16-year-old mother had a disability and the court was asked to appoint a guardian ad litem for her and to decide on a point of law who should pay for it.
In another case, also involving a mother with a disability, a guardian at litem was appointed as the Tusla feared she was being forced into marriage. After a few appearances the mother, from an Asian country, disengaged from the proceedings.
The District Court also made orders under the Mental Health Act for children to be detained in residential psychiatric facilities due to severe mental health problems.
The report project said it had learned that in some parts of the country, contested cases ready for hearing could not go ahead because of a shortage of District Court judges.
When the sitting judge has heavy lists of regular cases, he or she asks for the assistance of a moveable judge to hear contested cases that may be lengthy and they are not always available when requested.
Dr Coulter said: “It is very concerning that so many young people have such severe mental health problems that they are being detained for therapeutic purposes.
“It is even more concerning that some of them have problems of such complexity that we cannot deal with them in this country, and the children are sent to therapeutic centres abroad, away from their families and communities.
“We are also seeing a growing number of very vulnerable mothers who need the assistance of guardians ad litem to speak for them in court and advise the court on their best interests. These guardians are normally appointed for children likely to go into care.”
Case study: Boy at “high-risk” sent to UK because of no care facility in Ireland
A teenage boy in care with “extremely high-risk behaviours” was made a ward of court so that he could travel out of the State to receive specialised residential therapeutic care in the UK.
The High Court heard that the wardship application was being sought to bring the child under the protection of the court, and that he had been in a secure care unit for nearly a year due to his sexualised behaviour, violence, property damage, threats, verbal aggressions and disengagement from education.
The treating clinical psychologist’s report set out a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyspraxia and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
Counsel for Tusla told the court many attempts to find a placement in Ireland to meet his needs had not been successful, despite the fact they had approached 15 private providers and sent out 19 referrals. The type of facility the teenager required was simply not within the jurisdiction.
It had been agreed by all parties – Tusla, a guardian ad litem and the boy’s mother – that the placement in the UK, which would provide integrated therapeutic provision alongside education, was an appropriate placement. His mother agreed that it was in his welfare and best interests.
Counsel for the Tusla described the residential centre as the best that could possibly be available and told the court that the amount of research that went into obtaining a suitable facility was quite staggering.
The mother’s preference had been for a placement within the State but the reality was that there was no such facility. Although she was satisfied with the placement in the UK having seen it, she had concerns as to how wardship would impact on her status and rights. The judge reassured her that she would continue to be involved in decisions regarding her son.