Care order and aftercare plan for girl where sexual exploitation under investigation – 2024vol1#32

An interim care order was extended, and a care order until 18 was later made, for a girl who would soon age-out of care. She had been in voluntary care for a period in 2021 and then had a number of foster placements, but she fell outside the CFA criteria for automatic entitlement to after-care support.

During the hearing of the application to extend the interim care order, her guardian ad litem (GAL) brought a section 47 application as there were concerns that the teenager was being exploited to provide sexual images of herself in return for money from a variety of men, understood to not be boyfriends.

The girl had asked to meet the judge and had done so privately and had a lengthy discussion with him.

Garda evidence

A garda from a specialist team which was asked to investigate the child sexual exploitation allegations, following a referral from the Child and Family Agency (CFA), was invited to attend the court. The garda said he worked with vulnerable people and with victims of offences. He said the investigation was still ongoing and he did not want to say too much.

He said that he had received a referral form and he had reviewed the form. He had a number of investigative steps to take and they were progressing but it had not concluded, no decision had been made and he had not sent the file to his detective sergeant (DS) for review. When the file would make it to the DS, the DS would review and could ask the Garda to do more work on the file or they may not in which case the file would go to the Inspector for recommendations.

The garda said he had not seen any offences yet involving third parties. He said the only offence he had seen was one committed by the teenage girl herself in self-generating images.

He said he had had a lengthy meeting with the teenager and he said he had spoken with her about her own safety and behaviour as she was almost an adult. He talked with her about putting herself in dangerous situations. He said he told her it would not always work out all right and he told her he was available and she had his contact details. He said he told her she was able to say whatever she liked at the meeting. They spoke about the images on the phone and he said she felt that the images were hers and she could do whatever she liked with them. He said she said: “It’s normally me against the world”.

It was put to the garda what while they were conducting an investigation what they were really saying was that the teenage girl was the one who was committing a crime. The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said that the GAL had met with the girl and she had the impression that she was the one to blame rather than those paying for the images. Only when pushed did the garda say there were other investigations going on separate to the one involving the girl self-generating naked sexual images of herself.

The GAL’s solicitor asked the garda what the images were of. He said they were sexual images of herself. He was asked if there was any evidence of anyone controlling her and he said no. The solicitor said that it was a crime to pay for sex but it was not a crime to provide it. The garda was referred to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act. He was asked about the potential purchasers of the images and what offence they may have committed. He said he had not yet completed his report or investigations.

The judge said it was of concern to the court that this was a teenage girl and a teenager in care. The court was concerned at any threats of violence and was concerned about the images and messages and pictures such as those on her phone.

The judge asked: “Are there numbers on the phone you can follow up/investigate? Is she being prostituted? Are the images self-generated provocative images? Was she selling images of herself? Were there threats to her?”

The garda was reluctant to provide any information but said that threads were deleted on the phone, WhatsApp was encrypted and the phone when downloaded may not have downloaded everything. “You may not always be able to see who got what message.”

The solicitor for the GAL asked the garda why they were just investigating this case and not the other people concerned. Why were they not prosecuting the men who received the images? The solicitor told the garda that the teenager had said to the GAL that she was being blamed. The GAL asked the garda: “Are you considering prosecuting others?” He said the file was nearly closed and they were looking at all criminal offences.

He was asked about taxis and hotels and images on the phone. He was asked if he was investigating others on the phone. He was asked about registration numbers of cars. He said everything was being looked at.

He was asked if he would class the teenager at 17 as being vulnerable and he said yes.

The solicitor for the GAL said that there had been other sexual abuse referrals in 2012, 2013, and in 2019.

The garda was asked if there was an issue if a person receives child abuse material. He replied that it depended on whether the person receiving child abuse materials knew the individual was a child. He said the girl was telling the men she was 18.

The judge asked the garda how many individuals were involved and he said 20 or 30 but it could be more as she had been using Snapchat and Instagram. The garda said the girl’s attitude was she was nearly 18 and she could do what she wanted. He left the court after completing his evidence. The opinion of the court was that the garda was very non-committal and not very helpful in his responses.

In addition to the sexual exploitation allegations the teenager was also about to age out and without CFA aftercare provision would be homeless in the coming weeks. The solicitor for the CFA said that there had been ongoing correspondence regarding the teenager’s aftercare and a number of alternatives and additional services were being looked at.

GAL evidence

The GAL said the teenager had felt uncomfortable talking with the garda. She was a vulnerable 17-year-old with fears and anxieties. She said the garda painted a picture of her as being bolshy and defensive.

The GAL said the girl was nervous about coming to court but was happy to speak up and wanted help in relation to what happened after she turned 18. She needed support to get accommodation. The teenager was holding down a job and had to travel a distance within Dublin to get to it. The GAL said the CFA’s inaction had prejudiced the teenager. The GAL said that there had been no care plan, no child-in-care review and she was not eligible for aftercare.

The GAL said that if the teenager had been in care for the necessary period of 12 months she would be eligible for support after she aged out. The CFA had the power to exercise their discretion and offer aftercare. She said that the primary support the CFA needed to provide was in relation to accommodation, the CFA needed to support her in this and help her get a housing assistance payment (HAP) and other social welfare supports. She said the agency were acting as the parent and that the teenager would soon turn 18.

The GAL said the CFA could exercise its discretion and she had known of another case where the full aftercare package was offered where it was the same area manager as for this case. The interim care order was extended and a date set for a full care order application.

Subsequent hearing

The case came back before the court primarily in relation to the teenager’s aftercare plan and for the full care order. The teenager was about to turn 18 and without the CFA’s co-operation would essentially be left homeless.

The barrister for the CFA informed the court that there had been agreement in principle in relation to the formal plan and discussions had taken place outside of court. He said that some changes had been agreed and would be emailed to the solicitor for the GAL. A separate document would be prepared for the teenager.

The court was told that while the teenager did not meet the statutory requirements in relation to aftercare, provision would be made by the CFA to assist the teenager and that included assisting her to complete and make a housing application. The social worker would also take the teenager shopping to purchase some housing items and would remain on the case for a four-week period post the teenager turning 18.


On receiving the updates and evidence, the judge granted a care order until the teenage girl reached the age of 18 years. He said that the case had been before the courts since the middle of 2023. He said he had met with the teenager and he said she was a resourceful young woman.

The case had come before him on a number of occasions following the GAL’s section 47 application over the GAL’s concerns that the teenager would lose her accommodation and would age out without any assistance from the CFA. He acknowledged the proactive engagement of the GAL, the solicitor for the GAL and the new social worker.

He said the teenager had been the subject of concerns regarding both emotional and sexual abuse. He said she had gone missing from home during 2021 and had a number of foster placements following a period of voluntary care.

He granted the care order as sought. He said she had essentially been abandoned by her parents and that therefore it was both proportionate and necessary for the section 18 to be made.

The judge gave additional terms to be added into the care order: he wished the child well; the child was to be provided with independent legal advice, with regard to any civil remedies, in respect of the CFA’s engagement with her since 2021; he said the amended document was to be sent by the CFA solicitor to the court office so that it could be put on the file; the GAL was to remain in place until the girl reached her majority.