Foster parents and child to come to High Court for discussion – 2014vol4#16

A High Court judge heard that a young teenage girl in secure care wished to return home to her foster family with whom she had lived with since she was placed in their care at five weeks’ old.

The placement had dramatically broken down when she had made an allegation against the foster parents. Four subsequent foster placements had broken down, said counsel for the CFA, and the girl was deemed so disturbed that she went into secure care. This was quite a significant step for such a young child, he said. In the meantime the allegation had been investigated and was found to be unfounded. However, the CFA had residual concerns about aspects of the foster family’s care.

Counsel for the CFA told the court that the teenager’s rate of progress in secure care was not optimal. While it was thought this was maybe due to stress or a level of maturity, “it [secure care] didn’t take as well as expected.” This brought up the question of a forward plan.

When the decision had been made to discharge her back into the care of her foster family “she embraced it like nothing else,” said counsel for the CFA, and improved dramatically. While her foster parents were happy to have her back, the unresolved question remained regarding the capacity of the family to deal with the child.

“A capacity assessment must be carried out,” he said. “However that needed to be balanced with [a young teenager] who has had a bad time, who did not progress in secure care, but was now on the road back to the foster parents whom she loved.” The GAL had expressed concerns about the slowing down of the transition. The child wanted to know when she was finishing up with secure care and High Court proceedings. “The GAL is right, we need to get on with this,” said CFA counsel.

The barrister for the GAL told the court: “We now need to know when a full paediatric assessment and neuro-assessment will take place, as well as a cognitive assessment, and parental capacity assessment of the foster parents. This needs to be accelerated, this is an extraordinary case, she is their child; they are her parents in the real world. If we can have some feedback within a week; as to when the matters are going to go ahead, and if not, what the difficulties are.”

The judge put the matter back for two weeks. In the meantime, all parties needed to have some discussion with the foster parents and the child, said the judge.

“There needs to be a plan, while she really wants to go back, there is a flavour about the sort of complaint she was making, I know you say it was unfounded, she alleges they spoke roughly to her at a minimum. It seems to me that there seems to be some work done if she does go back, that she is spoken to with respect and she needs to reciprocate that, that it is done in a sensitive way,” said the judge.

The judge felt that perhaps the child resented being in care and that her trust needed to be built up. She suggested bringing her to court to explain things to her in front of her foster parents: “So she knows she is very important and we will facilitate her, after the assessments.”

In the meantime the child would have overnights with her foster family at the weekends.

The judge noted the social work report had stated that if it did not work out with the foster family, the child would have to be placed out of the state. “That seems to me to be colossal money and not a great approach. If the [foster family] aren’t deemed to be appropriate and suitable would there be another family capable of taking on a challenge?” she wondered.

The judge set the date for the parties to come with the foster parents and child for a discussion. “It might short circuit a lot,” said the judge.

The judge met with the teenager and her foster parents the following week, prior to her return home. When the case returned to the list a few weeks later again, the minor had transitioned home but the CFA sought to extend the order for secure care for one week in case the bed was needed. Senior counsel for the CFA told the court that there were Facebook issues now, that she was a strongly willed teenager whose mood could escalate very dramatically and very quickly. The guardian ad litem also agreed that the orders should be extended.

The barrister for the guardian told the court that the teenager’s school attendance was not good. Furthermore she was contacting her biological family and there were issues of violence and aggression. The judge extended the secure care orders for the period of one week.

The following week in court the CFA applied to discharge the secure care order, a suite of supports had been made available to the teenager and the bed was needed for someone else on the list, it could not be held any longer, said the CFA senior counsel. Barnardos were providing a parenting programme to the foster parents and a consultant clinical psychologist was meeting with the minor, who had worked with her in the special care unit. She had anxiety in relation to going to school. While it was a serious enough case, it did not warrant being re-detained and the best way to manage the case was to keep it under review.

The barrister for the guardian told the court that this young teenager had been a very troubled child, in severe risk prior to secure care. She now had contact with her biological family and this was becoming an obsession. She was now back three weeks with her foster parents and did not go to school on her own. She had access to mobile phones and social media and there was a concern about who she was meeting online. There were serious potential risks in relation to this because she looked much older than her age.

Wi-fi had been shut down in the home, said the CFA senior counsel, so she could not go online. It was unfair to keep a resource [the secure care place] that was urgently needed in abeyance and the secure care order should be discharged.

“Once she loses that bed, that bed is gone,” said the GAL barrister. The GAL felt that she would very likely need to avail of it again.

The judge discharged the secure care order with liberty to apply. He said he could not accede to the application to extend the secure care order.