We publish below the Courts Service statistics for child care applications for 2012. These can be read along with the statistics for 2011, published earlier.
The statistics show an overall increase in the number of applications, up from 8,109 in 2011 to 9,315 in 2012, an increase of almost 15 per cent. While there were some minor omissions in the 2011 figures (Emergency Care Orders were only given for Dublin) this does not account for the increase, as there has been an increase in all other categories of application. Such a dramatic increase inevitably places strain on all the services and agencies involved – the HSE, the courts, the HSE’s legal services, the guardian ad litem service and the Legal Aid Board. The 2011 figures already showed an increase on those for 2010, so there is no indication that the trend will be other than up.
It must be stressed that the statistics are not directly related to the number of children in care or the number of families who come to the attention of the HSE. They do not, of course, include the children who are in voluntary care, as these children do not come before the courts. In addition, the largest single category of applications is for Interim Care Orders, which make up 62 per cent of all applications. Many, and probably most, of these are extensions of existing Interim Care Orders, which must be renewed on a monthly basis.
While the legislation provides for Care Orders (sometimes called Full Care Orders or Final Care Orders) to be made until a child is 18, in practice in some courts they are made for much shorter periods, in some instances for as little as a matter of months, and a fresh Care Order is then sought when that one expires, thus inflating the total numbers. In addition, separate orders must be made for each child in a family, so the numbers of families involved are considerably less than the number of orders sought. Nonetheless, the Courts Service statistics provide a very useful insight into the volumes of child care proceedings taken throughout the State, and to the great variation that exists between different areas. These figures are also taken by the Child Care Law Reporting Project as a guide for the allocation of our reporting resources.
One of the striking features of these statistics is that the volume of applications varies greatly between towns of roughly similar size. For example, the town of Letterkenny is approximately the same size as Carlow and not much bigger than Tullamore, yet there were 229 child care applications in Letterkenny in 2012, compared with 10 in Carlow and nine in Tullamore. Other substantial towns with very few applications were Longford (31) Mullingar (38) and Portlaoise (22).
It is also noticeable from the statistics that some District Courts appear to be more likely to grant the applications than others. Cities and towns with high volumes of applications are particularly likely to grant most, if not all, applications, though this is not true of Dublin. For example, Cork city granted 100 per cent of the 702 applications made, as did Limerick (500), Clonmel (427 applications), Tralee (176) and Trim (140) and a number of towns with smaller numbers of applications. Letterkenny, Mallow, Drogheda, Ennis, Kilkenny, Donegal and Clonakilty all granted more than 95 per cent of the applications made.
A few slight anomalies exist – for example in a couple of instances the number of orders granted exceeds the number sought. It is likely that this is because the initial application was made the previous year.
The statistics do not show, of course, whether the application sought by the HSE is always granted by the court in the terms in which it was sought. As the reports on the Publications section of our website show, in many instances the HSE may seek a Full Care Order until a child is 18, but the court may only grant it for a much shorter period, perhaps one or two years. If such an order then expires, the expiry is not noted in the Courts Service statistics.
Once again, Dublin heard a very high proportion of all applications, accounting for almost 45 per cent of the total, of which 74 per cent were granted. It was followed by Cork city, with 7.5 per cent of applications, Limerick with 5.4 per cent, Wexford with 5.1 per cent, and Waterford and Clonmel with 4.6 per cent each. These six cities and their catchment areas accounted for 72 per cent of all child care applications made in 2012.
Apart from Dublin the courts are listed below in alphabetical order.
|Tralee (includes Listowel)|
|Full Care Orders||1,677||1,384|
|Interim Care Orders (including extensions)||5,773||4,862|
|Emergency Care Orders||519||424|