CFA misled on supervision of non-verbal autistic child in private placement; placement abruptly ended – 2024vol1#46

During the review of the case of an autistic and non-verbal child who was in care it emerged that the social work team had been misled by the private placement about the level of supervision provided to the child. The primary school aged girl was generally getting on well, but the placement had been abruptly ended by the provider.

Social worker evidence

The social worker told the court that the child’s profile went out weekly and monthly both locally and nationally placement communications and she was included in a previous “foster a child” campaign. She said they were also looking at private fostering placements as part of a parallel plan. The social work team was trying to identify a place but the realities of that were somewhat dim given that they had been exploring placement opportunities since 2021 and this was the second time this child had featured in a previous poster campaign. This was due to a shortage of placements and her additional needs.

The private residential unit had been the subject to a media exposure campaign at a national level and this had triggered the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to look deeper into it. There had been concerns for the child’s care in the unit and these had been raised, specifically regarding the supervision of the child and an allegation of her being locked in a room.

The social worker said that at a recent meeting –attended by the HSE, the facility, the GAL and the social work team – the social work team had received assurances from the facility regarding the concerns that had been raised. But following the meeting, a 28-day letter was received from the unit saying that the child’s placement was going to be terminated. The team was appalled to receive the letter and the social worker said she had looked for and received assurances and had received assurances at the meeting about the placement and then out of the blue she had received the termination letter.

She said that the child had been doing well at school and was in mainstream school although in an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) class. The options now under consideration included a centre that would be closer to her birth family. The girl’s friend would also move to that newly identified unit which had a private disability centre and a therapeutic centre but not until early 2024 when another child was due to move out.

Another option was to go to a centre some distance away which was HIQA approved but the difficulty with that placement would be that she would not be able to travel to her school.

A third option being considered was that the existing facility might extend the placement until early 2024. The child attended respite and it was also possible that the person who provided the respite could be approached to provide some interim care while another placement was being sourced but that was not really a realistic possibility.

The solicitor for the father said that there had been an interagency meeting in November and the day-to-day care and supervision was drastically different to what the social worker understood to be provided. There were concerns about the lack of appropriate supervision in this placement. The difficulty was in relation to how the child was being supervised rather than an actual need for more staff to be provided.

The social worker said it had been her understanding that the child had one-to-one staff interaction, and this had been in the signed agreement with the unit. However, in reality the staff in the house were not specifically with her. The reason for her having one-on-one specialist care was due to concerns about another child.

The judge asked how long this practice had been going on and she said the child had been in that place for two years. The first time it had emerged that the arrangement was different from what she had understood was at the recent meeting. Initially she had had one-to-one supervision but that had stopped and they did not know when.

The judge asked how much money was being spent on the placement and the social worker said €360,000 per year. She also said that the lease was up on the house, and the provider was looking to move back to another location where they had another house.

The funding currently was provided on a 50:50 basis by the HSE and the CFA. The social worker said they would not know about funding until the date of the end of the placement and there was a plan in place for the future.

GAL evidence

The GAL said that there had been a concern in relation to the interaction of a particular resident with this child, but that child had been since discharged from the facility. She said that there had been concerns over the child’s welfare but she had been reassured that there was one-to-one care being provided for her and she had never doubted it. It was only at the recent meeting that the manager had said she did not have one-to-one care.

The child considered a risk to the child in question had been discharged and the other children in the placement were not a risk to her. The GAL said that every move, including respite, impacts children. The child could not communicate but her body language spoke volumes and when she had seen her the previous week she had been relaxed.

The judge adjourned the review concerning the residential placement but said that the matter needed to come back before the court to get an update on the placements and on funding.


When the case came back for further review the court was told the child had been moved early to the facility near her family that had disability and therapeutic facilities.