Care Order for homeless and at-risk teenager – 2013vol3#18

An interim Care Order was granted in respect of a teenager who was homeless and whose voluntary care arrangement had broken down nearly three months previously, when he had been discharged from a residential unit. The teenager wished to be present at the hearing. The mother, who opposed the application and wanted the boy to live with her, initially was not represented but later obtained the services of a private solicitor.

In relation to the teenager being present, the judge said: “It is not necessary for [the child] to be here but if he requests to be present, I then have to consider whether to grant that request.”

The solicitor for the GAL said the teenager was homeless and at risk, his mother was homeless. His voluntary care arrangement had broken down nearly three months ago. The HSE was now seeking his detention in a secure unit, though no place was yet available.

“And all of a sudden it’s urgent today, in the absence of legal advice [for the mother]. Have you a placement?” asked the judge.

They had a placement if the Interim Care Order was made, but it was not a secure unit, it was a holding operation until a placement was available in a secure unit, which was deemed necessary for him at this stage, nothing else had worked, the HSE solicitor told him.

The judge pointed out that the HSE had not brought an Emergency Care Order.

When the case came back the following week, the teenager who wished to attend court fainted outside and began getting sick before the proceedings commenced. He was taken to hospital by ambulance.

The hearing then began. The mother was now represented by a private solicitor whom she had chosen herself and knew well.

The HSE solicitor told the court there was no secure unit available as yet, but the teenager was approved for secure care at a particular unit. The waiting list was indeterminable. “You could be on the list for weeks and someone could leapfrog you because their situation is more extreme.” A placement in a residential unit was available until then.

There were 11 children on the waiting list, said the GAL solicitor. “This morning’s events will have to be investigated, it is something which needs to be considered, the manner in which the concerns arose this morning should be investigated promptly,” she said, and relayed to the Admissions and Discharge Committee [which arranges detention in secure units], in order that the seriousness of the case be known. Furthermore, the clinicians in the hospital where the teenager had gone to would have to make a report regarding bloods.

The social worker told the court he was allocated last year when the teenager was discharged from a residential unit and moved to another, where he resided for about three months. The boy was involved in Youth Reach, he had bereavement counselling due to the cot death of a younger sibling, he had a youth worker and key workers, but criminality kept re-occurring. The residential structure did not change this, so he was discharged for the second time from a residential unit.

While he was there a lot of bicycle thefts went on, he was getting perhaps €50 for each bike he stole and possibly using that money to acquire weed. There was also a concern regarding benzo use, he was “resting his head for the night and getting the food, but was out and about during the day.” It was assessed that he would require a higher level of support which was in his interests before he would acquire a criminal record. He was “a very nice kid”, he appeared to have a lot of strengths, but his actions did not follow through. His safety, welfare and development were currently at risk.

He was not engaging with any supports, while he was attending his court appointments for the criminal aspects he was at great risk of increased criminality. “He was found unresponsive one morning, we assumed he may have taken some benzos without knowing the full consequences or dangers of overuse.” An ambulance was called and he was revived. The social worker’s suspicion was this morning could have been a similar situation.

“Regretfully with all due respect to the mother we would have worries he would be exposed to greater risk in her care,” said the social worker, there were also accommodation concerns. The mother’s solicitor said the mother “believed her son would abscond and go back to her care.” However the social worker felt “the likelihood of absconding would be determined all the more by her support.”

“She wishes to be assisted with accommodation and supported in caring for [the child], she would encourage [him] to take whatever assistance was necessary to remedy the situation,” said the mother’s solicitor.

The social worker explained that intensive supports had “previously been offered to the mother, hence we have the view that she would not have the appropriate capacity to reside with him, all the supports they had put in over the years had not put in enough of an improvement. They could write letters but could not control the allocation of houses.”

“[The mother] is attending her methadone maintenance programme, she is breathalysed on a daily basis, she is attending her clinic, her urinalysis has been clean for some time, domestic violence is in the past, she is in a better position to assist [him],” replied the mother’s solicitor.

The social worker pointed out that it was due to these previous issues that the teenager had “developed his personality.”

“She is concerned the plan may not work, she feels if he continues to abscond back to her, from a long term view it would be better if he was supported with her, she has a very strong bond with [the child], if he is taken into care there will be damage to that bond.”

“The application was for secure care due to this acknowledgement of his absconding,” said the social worker. He understood the bond needed to be supported and maintained.

He told the GAL solicitor that since staying with his mother at her homeless B&B (the mother would not give her address to anyone) the teenager had picked up further criminal charges. The social worker also had concerns about him due to also his presentation that morning. A specialised parenting capacity assessment would be needed as this child had been in her care and due to the fact her other children were subject to Care Orders.

The mother told the court that she had had a significant drug and alcohol problem over the years. However, she had stayed in a detox clinic, she was down to 20 milligrams of methadone from 100, she had completed a detox, and was breathalysed at zero every day, no alcohol was found in her system and her urines had been clean. She was willing to take support from the HSE.

What was her view about [the child] being taken into care, asked the HSE solicitor. “He will keep absconding and coming back to me, if I turn him away he will be out on the streets and picking up more charges.”

“Do you think you’re strong enough at the moment to take care of [him] and stop his criminal behaviour?” She said she did.

The judge said, “I’m very impressed with the efforts that [the mother] is making recently with regards to her drug and alcohol use, it’s very much for her benefit and [this child] and indeed the other two children’s.

“The future for [the child] looks very bleak, it seems to me unless there is intervention, and a well thought out intervention, that in a few years’ time [he] will be in jail, his health will be impaired, he could be killed by drug dealers, there’s a fair chance he will be addicted to alcohol and drugs. He really does need you and your support, there is no evidence before the court at the moment that you are capable of giving [him] the care he needs.

“He needs expert interventions at this stage; he needs a psychologist and other therapeutic interventions that remain to be assessed. This is not going to happen unless he is in the care of the HSE. The level of cooperation is very limited; it’s very disappointing he’s in danger of sliding into a very dark place unless these interventions come in the immediate future.”

He granted the ICO and directed that the case come back within one month in order for appointments to have been made with a psychologist “to see what difficulties he may be experiencing and see what remedies are necessary, and an educational psychologist in order to identify his strengths and weaknesses, to work on those strengths so that some sort of future can be offered to him.”

“[The child’s] chances of availing of the expert help the HSE can provide depends upon the support and encouragement you can give him…if you support him to get through his difficulties and get him to see a future for himself then there is real hope,” the judge told the mother.

He instructed the Admissions and Discharge Committee to give a written reason if a secure care placement was not approved for the teenager, “otherwise it is an arbitrary authority without justification.”