In this volume we focus on a special category of child care cases, those involving children who must be cared for in a secure unit in order to receive the therapy they need. These are children with severe problems, who require to be detained for their own protection. They may be suicidal or self-harming, or engaging in such anti-social behaviour as to be a threat to others. Because they have not be convicted on any criminal offence, the power to detain them is only vested in the High Court, and their detention must be regularly and frequently reviewed to verify that it is still required, so they come before this court on a regular basis, on what is known as the “Minors’ List”, heard every Thursday.
However, there is a shortage of secure care places, and in a minority of cases there is no suitable therapy available in Ireland for a child, who might then be sent to a unit in another jurisdiction for the therapy he or she needs. The court hearing the Minors’ List may hear about such children waiting for a suitable place, or about the progress, or lack of it, made by children already in secure care. The lack of availability of secure care beds for minors on the secure care waiting list was discussed in the court on a number of occasions in earlier this year.
The court also heard about one child who returned from a facility abroad needing continuing therapeutic care, but no suitable placement could be found for him in Ireland and he spent some time in holiday accommodation. Another child was ready to return, as he had received the treatment he needed, but could not because no suitable place was available for him either.
Three teenagers in secure care, all of whom had been victims of sexual abuse, attempted self-harm during a five-month period they were on the list having their cases reviewed weekly by the court. Some of these incidents were serious and ended with admission to hospital. All of these teenagers had made disclosures of having been sexually abused and were attending assessments in specialist units for child sexual abuse.
The other type of child care cases considered by the High Court are those where mothers arrive in Ireland within days of the expected birth of a baby because they fear the child will be taken into care, and perhaps adopted, in another jurisdiction, usually the United Kingdom. When this is suspected the baby is then taken into care by the Child and Family Agency.
Normally the Child and Family Agency asks the High Court to rule, under the provisions of an EU Regulation, that the matter of the child’s future care be decided in the family’s country of normal residence, on the basis that this is where the information about the family and the relevant witnesses will be. We publish some of these cases here, including the preliminary proceedings which take place in the District Court.
This volume also contains reports of some lengthy and complex cases heard in the District Court, including one where the father of the very young child offered to abuse her on-line. This call was intercepted by police in the UK, the Gardai arrived at the house and arrested the man, seizing computer equipment with images of child pornography. The Child and Family Agency took the child into care under an Emergency Care Order and sought a full Care Order, which was opposed by the man’s wife, the child’s mother. The case took place over more than 20 days spread over a year, hearing a number of expert witnesses. In a lengthy written judgment the court granted the order, on the basis that the mother could not guarantee the safety of the child as she remained in contact with the father and under his influence.
Another written judgment from the District Court followed 40 days of hearings of a case involving four African children who had suffered neglect and physical and emotional abuse. They too remained in care, as the parents, both of whom had cognitive disabilities, were unwilling or unable to acknowledge the basis for the CFA concerns and therefore were unable to deal with the problems.
As in previous volumes, a number of cases involved the children of parents who were abusing drugs, alcohol or both. Some had been in care themselves. These included a case where an infant was found in a car on a cold night with two adults who were about to smoke heroin, and where the child had a gash to his neck he said was caused by his father.
However, there were some happy outcomes. In one case concerning a baby born prematurely to a mother with serious mental health problems the CFA had sought an Interim Care Order, which was refused, and a Supervision Order was granted instead on the basis that the baby live with the young couple in the paternal grandparents’ home. A year later, while the mother had left and continued to suffer from mental health difficulties, the baby was thriving in the care of his father and grandparents and the CFA sought the discharge of the Supervision Order.
In another case the CFA sought the permission of the court to seek a passport for a non-national girl in its care who had been abandoned by her parents. The passport was needed to allow the girl participate in an international sporting competition. The Department of Justice initially opposed the application, but later withdrew its opposition and the court granted the girl’s social worker the right to apply for a passport on her behalf.