Judge says agency left parents in ‘heart-breaking’ situation for months

Boy who had shown violent behaviour to be moved to emergency residential placement

Mr Justice Kelly made an additional High Court order, if the boy absconds from the placement, gardaí have power to arrest him and detain him in Garda custody. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Mr Justice Kelly made an additional High Court order, if the boy absconds from the placement, gardaí have power to arrest him and detain him in Garda custody. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The president of the High Court has said the parents of a boy with autism and other disorders who has exhibited violent behaviour had been left in “a heart-breaking situation” for months with little apparent support from the Child and Family Agency (CFA).

Mr Justice Peter Kelly made the remarks after an agreement was reached on Friday for the 14-year-old boy to be moved from a hospital paediatric unit to an emergency residential placement under a voluntary care arrangement under the Child Care Act.

Mr Justice Kelly made an additional High Court order, if the boy absconds from the placement, gardaí have power to arrest him and detain him in Garda custody.

When dealing with the matter late on Friday, the judge paid tribute to the efforts of the paediatric unit for the boy but was very critical of the “shocking” failure by the CFA over months to procure a suitable place for him. .

He “regretted and resented” the court was placed in the position it was “due to the CFA’s failure to go about its business appropriately”.

The hospital had been trying for months to have the position addressed and the court had been left in a dreadful situation of contemplating putting a child into Garda custody where little seemed to have been done by the CFA for the boy until a court application was made by the hospital last week.

He hoped this was an isolated case but, whether or not it was, it was “heartbreaking” for the parents who appeared to have had very little support from the CFA.

He had read many reports on children exhibiting disturbed behaviour but never one where a psychiatrist had said last August there was a significant risk of this boy engaging in violent behaviour, up to and including homicidal acts.

David Leahy, for the boy’s guardian, said it was the fault of the CFA the judge had to make such an “extraordinary” order permitting the boy’s detention in Garda custody.

The boy was sent last August to the hospital on an emergency basis by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services over suicidal ideation and alcohol and substance misuse. He could not go home because he had regularly assaulted his parents and siblings who were in fear of him.

Due to the hospital’s concerns about his behaviour, it secured emergency court orders a week ago permitting it to detain him. When continuing those orders last Wednesday, Mr Justice Kelly told the CFA it had 48 hours to find an alternative placement. .

On Friday, the judge was told by Alan Brady BL, for the CFA, an emergency residential place with a private service provider was available which it was hoped would give the boy structure and stabilise him while efforts continued to find a medium-term placement. The CFA did not consider the boy suitable for a secure placement.

Counsel said the service provider had said it can only take him if he was in voluntary care under the Child Care Act, which required parental consent which could be revoked at any time.

The boy’s parents and guardian expressed reservations about the proposal.

The mother told the judge the parents had been asking the CFA for help for months and were very concerned the CFA now wanted them to hand over their son’s care to it.

Their concern was their son’s safety and, if they accepted the CFA offer, he could escape and come to harm as the place was not secure. He needed to be somewhere “where they can lock doors”.

She told the judge the parents believed he had their son’s best interest at heart and would prefer if he was in charge.

After an adjournment, the mother said the parents would reluctantly agree to a voluntary care arrangement which they wanted to be as temporary as possible and wanted the judge to supervise things. She also thanked the paediatric unit for all it had done for the boy.

The matter was returned to next week.