Care order for former unaccompanied minor – 2020vol2#14

The District Court made a full care order for a non-Irish adolescent, who arrived in Ireland in 2013 as an unaccompanied minor, until the age of 18. The court heard he had lived with relatives in Ireland until 2018 when he left their home and refused to return due to isolation, neglect and emotional abuse. His family members also did not want him to return.

The social worker told the court that the child was very accomplished, that he was fluent in five languages and very strong academically. The social worker gave evidence that the minor came from a very isolated home environment where he suffered emotional abuse and neglect and was generally excluded from the family.

There was an allegation that when he was 10 the boy was watching cartoons on YouTube when a video of a woman in a bikini played. There were no adults present at the time, but another child who was present informed the adult family members and the boy was accused of watching pornography. He was called a devil and was not allowed around the other children. He said that he would self-harm if he had to return to the family home.

The court heard that because the child had entered the country unaccompanied and there was no documentation regarding his country of origin or his birth it had been necessary to carry out DNA testing to determine if the family he was living with were his family members.

While his adult relation was attending an appointment for this test one of their children had become sick and passed away very quickly. The social worker told the court that the minor felt responsible for this.

Social worker: “He is a lovely child despite what he has been through.”

He said that the documentation the social work department had on the child is very unclear. The department had no birth certificate and no agency in Ireland had any documentation on him. This was problematic for determining the child’s age and also because he is undocumented. He told the court that the social work department had been advised not to contact the child’s country of origin as it could compromise the safety of family members who were still in his home country.

The guardian ad litem (GAL) gave evidence that the boy liked routine, playing football and spending time with his friends. He said that he was currently living alone in semi-independent living. He got €100 per week for food, clothes, mobile top up and spending money. The GAL told the court that this was an isolated lad living all alone in an apartment with his friends as his only network. He said it was a worry that if he were stopped by Gardai tomorrow he would have no documentation of any kind and that he was particularly concerned that the minor was vulnerable because he was undocumented.

There was some doubt as to the boy’s age, and whether or not he was in fact over 18 and therefore outside the remit of the Child and Family Agency (CFA). The GAL gave evidence that the child presented physically and emotionally as a teenager and that academically he was on par with his peers. He said that they had considered a bone density test but that it might not be sufficiently accurate as he was close enough to 18 years of age that there might be a discrepancy in the test. He also said that there was no reason to doubt his age except for the allegation by a family member, which seemed to be malicious. In her care the child was basically on his own, isolated and walking the streets at night and that the family member made no effort to obtain any documentation for him in the many years he was with her. The GAL told the court that there were several immigration pathways open to unaccompanied separated children and that legal advice was currently being obtained in that respect.

The judge said the court was satisfied that the boy was under the age of 18. He asked the GAL if he was getting emotional warmth. The judge said that he was concerned that the child was living independently from the foster family. The judge inquired as to whether the boy’s family member was still in receipt of children’s allowance for him. He said that if she was the allowance should be put aside in an account for him so that when he turned 18 there was a nest egg for him. The judge said to pursue whatever entitlements he was eligible for.

Judge: “He’s a kid that’s on his own so he needs a little back up.”

The court made a care order until the age of 18. The court also lifted the in-camera rule to allow the court order to be shown to any state body necessary for processing the boy’s immigration or asylum claim. The court also directed that a computer be purchased for him within four weeks. The court also recommended that, if possible, a foster placement that was culturally more sympathetic and closer to the minor’s school and friends be obtained.