Care Order for young teenager with behavioural difficulties – 2018vol1#4

A care order until the age of 18 was granted on parental consent in the Dublin District Court for a young teenager with high levels of need due to challenging behaviour and a mild intellectual disability. The child [A], who had significant health needs required two carers providing care in a residential setting.

The judge agreed that it would be appropriate to list a review of the care order in 18 months at which point, if the mother considered it appropriate, an application could be made under section 22 of the 1991 Child Care Act to discharge the care order.

The previously allocated social worker told the court that before the child, whose family came from another European country, had come into care five years ago his mother had been struggling to care for him and had used physical abuse to manage his behaviour. He had been subject to unintentional neglect, and also fallen out of a bedroom window while living at home.

A voluntary care agreement had been reached in 2013 and although family reunification had been attempted in 2014 it was not successful, so the child returned to his residential placement. The boy was out of formal schooling for just under two years from 2015 but was now settled in a school that met his needs. He was on a reduced timetable, and he had diminished communication skills but his speech was improving.

The care order had been sought when his mother sought to return with her son to her country of origin. The social work team had been concerned that such a sudden change would trigger his behaviours, which would not have been in his best interests as the child had a limited ability to self-regulate. He also needed continuous access to multi-disciplinary teams and saw his residential placement as his home.

The current allocated social worker told the court that the child’s medical condition and his behaviour was not manageable without the support he was receiving in his residential placement, where he had a behavioural support plan which included constant activity from 6am until 9pm. Part of his diagnosis was ADHD, OCD and ODD (oppositional defiance disorder). He also had a further medical illness and all in all needed to take medication at a required time.

Within his school he had SNA provision and was in high need of two people at a time to look after him, however he only currently had one. The school principal had put in extra DIY fencing as he had a propensity to run away and the staff carefully managed moving him from class to class as he was very boisterous and could harm other students.

His speech and language were improving and the staff in his placement were trying to get him to speak in a full sentence.

The child’s parents were not a couple and the father was not available to care for his son as he currently worked five days a week in one job and worked weekends in a second job. He did want involvement, however, or to avail of access.

The threshold for a full care order had been met based on the child’s high needs, the required supports, his diagnosis and his disability. The GAL was supporting the application and recommended a review of the case in 18 months’ time. The CFA confirmed that they would reassess the circumstances of the child and his mother.

The GAL told the court that the parenting capacity assessment carried out for the care order hearing was being admitted. When the case came in for court review in 18 months’ time another parenting capacity assessment would be required. Any reports in the interim regarding the child would also be required, such as speech and language, occupational therapy, psychology, social work reports, access reports, and self-reporting of access from his mother, reports from his residential centre and feedback on the presentation and demeanour of the boy. Information would also need to be furnished such as proposed additional support for the mother, if her child were to be returned to her care.

While the child was in his mother’s care his needs had posed a significant challenge to her, the GAL said. Furthermore, there had been no emotional reciprocity from him and that had brought stress and its own forms of guilt, something that was less of an issue in a residential unit.

[A] was unable to express his views on the proceedings coherently and could not understand them. Frequently he would communicate with his carer in charge via a picture system. However the GAL informed the court that the young teenager was making great progress in his residential centre, progress that none of the people involved in the case would have thought possible.

The judge granted the care order under Section 18.1.b. of the Child Care Act until the age of 18 and listed it for court review in 18 months’ time, noting that the court review would presuppose an application or consideration by the CFA of the parenting capacity assessment and particular needs of the child at that point. All of the documentation and information that the GAL had mentioned would need to be available before the court for that review.

The judge noted that the father had not attended the proceedings and that it must have been disappointing for the mother not to see him taking responsibility for his son and leaving her with the sole burden of being at the proceedings.

She was satisfied on the evidence adduced and substantive reports (including a psychiatric report, a clinical psychology report, a school report, GAL report and social work reports) that the threshold for the care order had been met. The judge noted that while the teenager was very resourceful he had significant struggles, including being on the autism spectrum, he had an intellectual disability, OCD, ODD, ADHD and required two SNAs in the school and one to manage him on school transport.

However he had made significant strides in his speech and language. Regarding his autism spectrum disorder, the judge said that no child was defined by disability but they were defined by their ability. It was entirely appropriate for the court to review the case in 18 months to consider the child’s progress and the position of the mother and whether the order was still relevant.

She asked that the central residential unit manager link in properly with the mother in order to ensure that there was no deficiency in her parental rights. The judge also asked for the CFA to file a protocol for notification to the mother going forward due to a lack of consistency in telephone calls from her son in order to provide him with his nightly phone access.

Furthermore, he had absconded from the unit and the mother had not been informed in a timely manner. This absconding was currently forming part of a HIQA review of the unit. The GAL was to remain appointed until the HIQA report was published and to be reappointed six months in advance of the review in 18 months’ time which would also make sense in regard to his aftercare planning.

The judge told the mother that children in care were entitled to certain services on turning 18 and with regards to her son these would include services from Enable Ireland and the HSE. It was important to begin this process, therefore if there was any change or alteration in A’s care plan the matter had to be noted. [The care plan for a child in care is brought before the court in a care plan review when the child turns 16.]

She told the mother that she had been delighted to see her in court.