‘Unnecessary’ for staff to examine texts of teen in care

Judge says that teenage girl in residential care unit entitled to ‘a degree of privacy’

 Dublin District Family Court: Judge Brendan Toale said while reading the girl’s text messages might seem “a minor issue”, it could undermine her placement in the unit. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

Dublin District Family Court: Judge Brendan Toale said while reading the girl’s text messages might seem “a minor issue”, it could undermine her placement in the unit. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

 

A teenager in a residential care unit was entitled to “a degree of privacy” and it was not necessary for staff to examine her text messages without discussion, a judge at the Dublin District Family Court has said.

Judge Brendan Toale said while in one sense reading the girl’s text messages might seem “a minor issue”, it was the sort of thing that had the potential to undermine her placement in the unit.

In a review of the girl’s case, the court heard she had been in a relationship with another resident at the care home and the boy was then moved elsewhere. She had continued seeing him, going missing occasionally from the unit, and was refusing to go to school.

Her social worker said the girl’s disengagement was very unfortunate. They had made all reasonable efforts to convince her to return to education. Though she had complained about her residential unit, the Child and Family Agency believed it was the best place for her, she said.

The girl’s court-appointed guardian recommended mediation. He said the girl believed her concerns were not being listened to and she felt disrespected and not in control of her life. Accessing her text messages without her consent was unacceptable, he said.

Trust

The court was told one of her brothers, in care separately, also had issues with absconding and with school. Another brother was in secure care.

Judge Toale described the case as difficult and complex and said the problems raised had been identified with the three children on an ongoing basis.

He said the girl’s opinions and views had to be respected and the agency should discuss the possibility of mediation for her at a case meeting next week. He adjourned the matter for review in six weeks time.

In a separate case, an application for weekly access and access in the family home, made by the parents of two primary-aged siblings in care, was refused.

The boy and girl were taken into care in 2013 after allegations of physical punishment and domestic violence at home.

Access visits

A report was then produced by a psychologist on the effects on the boy. It found his “score”, in terms of negative behaviour, was greater when the boy saw his parents than when he did not.

Judge Toale said the psychologist acknowledged the conclusions in her report were “weak” and that “competing hypotheses” could not be isolated. He said he could give little weight to it.

He took into account the views of the children, their court-appointed guardian, and the social worker, who said access should be once a fortnight and not in the family home. He said given the allegations of what happened in the home, concerning traumatisation had been raised as an issue if access visits were held there and it would not be in the children’s best interests.

He ordered that access should be on a fortnightly basis until after the hearing of a full care order for the children, later this year.