Child with complex needs did not meet threshold under joint protocol between CFA and HSE – 2024vol1#59

A judge in a rural court dealt with the case of a child in a residential unit, who was due to be discharged from care after six months upon reaching adulthood. While a recent assessment recommended that the child needed ongoing support as a young adult, the child’s case was not accepted by the joint protocol between the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Child and Family Agency (CFA). A further assessment was planned to ascertain if the child had a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), as this could assist the child in reaching the threshold for the joint protocol.

The child’s parents were present in court and represented by a solicitor. They were very worried because the child had expressed a wish to take her own life. The judge listed the matter for a date four weeks later for a further review regarding the assessment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the joint protocol.

The lawyer for the guardian ad litem (GAL) told the court that a recent assessment recommended that the child would need support as a young adult. However, she had not been accepted as meeting the criteria under the joint protocol. The purpose of the joint protocol was to describe how the HSE and the CFA would work together to provide a pathway to meet the needs of children with a complex disability.

The social worker informed the judge that the child’s behaviour continued to be a cause of concern. She had made inappropriate use of her mobile phone.

The child’s parents’ solicitor said that it was astounding that the child was not accepted for the joint protocol. The lawyer for the CFA said that the child’s current diagnosis of a mild general learning difficulty was not a disability. The GAL’s lawyer described the child’s disabilities as complex. The social worker said that a speech and language assessment was also planned.

The judge said that the assessment for ASD should be the first issue to be dealt with. The social worker told the court that the child had been in contact with an unknown person on her mobile phone, which led her to being up all night, not eating properly and not attending school. The child’s father had taken her to the Gardaí and handed in her phone for an investigation. The child had since been given another phone as she would be an adult in six months’ time. The lawyer for the GAL said that the child’s capacity for making decisions would need to be assessed.

The social worker stated that sometimes what the CFA regarded as complex needs were not regarded as complex by the HSE. She was of the opinion that supported accommodation might be the next option for the child.

The judge asked how the child’s capacity issue would be addressed. The lawyer for the CFA replied that the capacity would be assessed when the child turned 18 and if necessary, an application would then be made to the Circuit Court under the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act (ADMA). The lawyer for the GAL explained that the joint protocol was introduced before the commencement of the ADMA and might now need to be revised. The judge said that clarity was needed on the ASD assessment, which could in turn inform the joint protocol issue.

Judge [to parents]: “I wish I could say to you that your situation is unique. It’s not.”

The parents’ solicitor asked the judge to consider an early review of the situation as their child was on “suicide watch” having told the school staff of her intention to use a knife to harm herself.

The judge listed the matter for review on a date four weeks later to consider the outcome of the ASD assessment, the joint protocol and other services.