CFA challenges order directing it to pay €35,000 to boy’s guardian’s solicitor

Judge’s payment order ‘irrational’, claims child agency

Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) is challenging what it describes as a judge’s “irrational” order directing it to pay €35,000 to a solicitor, representing a vulnerable boy’s court appointed guardian, to help find an appropriate place for him.

The 17-year-old boy has been living for some six months in a residential children’s hostel used mostly for emergency accommodation.

In High Court proceedings, the CFA claims the payment order, made by a District Court Judge, is beyond that judge’s powers under Section 47 of the Child Care Act and, if upheld, has consequences for the agency’s functioning.

The order improperly circumvents regulatory requirements applying to the creation, allocation and regulation of residential placements, it claims.

It also maintains the order is irrational and unreasonable and there is no evidence €35,000 would resolve the placement issue.

Mr Justice Garrett Simons this week granted the CFA leave to challenge the District Court order in judicial review proceedings and put a stay on the requirement that €35,000 be paid to the guardian’s solicitor by September 11th.

The leave application was made ex parte by lawyers for the CFA and the matter will return before the court later this month.

The boy was made subject of a care order last June. He had spent a year in special care before being discharged from that earlier this year.

Concerns about the boy include his use of alcohol and illegal substances and his case has been before several District Court judges in recent months.

In its High Court documents, the CFA agreed with the boy’s mother and guardian at litem the hostel is not appropriate for him.

For reasons including 122 other children need residential care places, a shortage of care staff and the cost of renting property in Dublin, the agency says it has yet to find a more suitable place.

On July 25th last, District Judge Dermot Simms made an order, under Section 47 of the Child Care Act, that the CFA was to source, fund and staff more suitable accommodation for the boy by July 30th.

If not, a CFA service director was required to attend before the court.

Because no place was found by July 30th, the service director attended court where a different District Judge was presiding, and outlined what was being done about getting a place.

The judge directed Donal McCormack, the CFA’s national director for residential services, to attend court on August 6th to outline the options for the boy.

Mr McCormack did so and described the boy as a high priority. He said referrals had been sent to all 21 care providers in the private and statutory sector nationally but none had a place or were unsuitable.

Mr McCormack said a bespoke placement was also being considered but, if the CFA was to structure one itself, that posed challenges as it would have to find a property in the difficult Dublin property market and address registration, staffing, and other issues. There are only 1,000 social care graduates annually, he noted.

Mr McCormack said the CFA’s view was a supported residential place would be best and the agency would also have to address the post-care situation once he turns 18 next year.

The matter was before the District Court several times in August for updates on the search for a place and the CFA was directed by another judge to look at registering a bespoke placement.

When it returned before Judge Simms on September 4th, he was told the boy’s position was being considered weekly in the hope a private provider could create a bespoke place for him. He was told the CFA was hampered in putting together a bespoke place itself because of the difficulties already outlined.

The CFA said its focus was on “risk management” while continuing to try and find an appropriate place. The guardian reiterated the current placement was not suitable.

Judge Simms directed the CFA to pay the guardian’s solicitor €35,000 by September 11th and said both the solicitor and the guardian should source appropriate accommodation for the boy.