No legal basis for placing children in HSE care abroad


A VULNERABLE child sent by the Health Service Executive to a secure unit in Scotland could technically leave and be wandering alone around Scotland because of the lack of a legal basis for his detention, according to a solicitor who acts for such children.

Catherine Ghent was commenting on the implications of a recent ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which found that there was no legal basis for the detention of troubled and vulnerable Irish children in secure units in the UK, where a number have been sent by the HSE because there are no suitable facilities for them in this State.

Earlier this month, the HSE told the High Court it was seeking to regularise the legal status of the children being detained in such centres. Seven children are being detained in two centres, one centre in England and one in Scotland, the court was told.

Ms Ghent pointed out that during the hearing on Monday, May 14th, when asked if there was anything lawfully to stop the child at the centre of the application from walking out of the UK institution, the HSE’s witness said: “The technical answer would be no.”

She said it was clear the HSE had planned to send a considerable number of such children abroad, as at a High Court hearing in January counsel for the HSE said it had “block-booked” beds abroad that went into “significant double digits”. The HSE had told the ECJ, when it was examining the legality of the detentions abroad, that as a small state we would never have the volume necessary to develop our own services for the children who required a highly specialised service.

“This obviously causes significant concern in a number of respects,” Ms Ghent said. “Firstly is should not be the policy of the agency charged with looking after the State’s most vulnerable children to look at ways of exporting them, rather than developing services here.

“Secondly, the difficulty from a practitioner’s point of view, is that you are faced with a particular child and protecting their interests, and aware that services here were so appalling, you have been left with no choice but to seek to have the child detained abroad where they will have access to appropriate services.”

However, she said if the intention was to save on cost this had backfired, given the need now to engage lawyers to argue for the children’s detention in the UK courts as well as in the High Court in Ireland.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said the vast majority of children in care (91 per cent) are in foster care, and 54 were placed with the High Support and Special Care Service in 2011.

She added: “The need to provide placements outside the jurisdiction into the future cannot be avoided in a very small number of cases in order to ensure the best interests of some children with specialised additional needs are met. The referral of children abroad for specialised therapeutic interventions is an established feature within our health and social care system and decisions in each case are made in the best interests of the individual.”

The cost of placing children in care abroad was €2.2 million in 2009 and €2.5 million in 2010.

She said the HSE was implementing a capital development programme for high support and special care services to ensure that there was sufficient capacity to meet the needs of children requiring this specialised care, but there was likely to be a continuing need for care abroad for a very small number of children.