Court hears of a “spectacular example of statutory agencies not working together” in case of autistic teenager – 2024vol1#56

The guardian ad litem (GAL) for a boy with autism and speech and language difficulties brought a Section 47 application to Dublin District court to advance the provision of services and ensure he had an appropriate placement. The HSE were joined as a notice party to the proceedings as they needed to review the service provider’s assessment and identify any services they could provide for the teenager who would soon turn 18.

The court also granted an application from the GAL to lift the in camera rule to allow reports and assessments be sent to the Ombudsman for Children.

The court was told that the teenager had refused to engage with the HSE’s Children’s Disability Network Team (CDNT) as he did not understand the services being provided. The court heard that the National Learning Network had also been provided with an assessment in accordance with Section 29 and 31 of the Child Care Act 1991.

The application before the court on this day was to ask the court to lift the in camera rule to allow the service provider’s assessment to be shared with the Ombudsman for Children together with the CDNT response. The court was told that previous documents had been provided to the Ombudsman. The mother and the HSE representative did not object to the lifting of the in camera rule.

The court heard that the teenager was also awaiting a response in respect of the mental health services that would be made available to him. The HSE said that they had no instructions regarding the letter from the mental health team.

The CDNT had identified services that the teenager must engage with on a voluntary basis. It had also included a paragraph regarding “catchment areas”.

The judge said this was a “fob off” from the HSE and that it “beggars belief”. He said it was unacceptable, the reality was he was not residing in the catchment area, the “usual line”.

Social worker evidence

The social worker said that there was a lack of clarity regarding catchment area. She said she was told different stories regarding the location/catchment area depending on who she spoke to, it was quite frustrating. The service provider’s assessment was clear – the teenager needed speech and language therapy. He had had no interventions and it was now nine months before he turned 18 and no services had been identified for him.

The social worker said that the letter indicated that he needed direct intervention, the staff in the unit were working with him but not the professionals. The teenager’s feedback was that he wanted help. He did engage with the assessment though he found it difficult to do so. He needed support from disability services. She said autism impacts him and impacts his socialisation skills. There was limited indirect work that the staff in this residential unit could do with him. She said that they had been to joint protocol meetings and joint forum meetings, and they were seeking help but no supports had been provided and he was about to turn 18. His placement had previously broken down in the middle of last year. Oversight was needed to support him.

The judge said that this was a vulnerable young man who had had a lot of change in the last year, who was willing and eager to get support. He appreciated that the teenager had not wanted to engage initially at the start of 2023 but that was just one meeting and one year on there was no progress.

The judge said that the letter from CDNT referred to the catchment area and it seemed that the issue was that the teenager’s parents were from Dublin and the teenager was placed in the Midlands and that the social work team needed clarity on the address. “Is the catchment area based on where the parents or the teenager was living?”

The social worker said that the assessment was done privately and the only service that the teenager had been provided with was psychological educational support. The letter had been addressed to “to whom it may concern”. The social worker said they had spent so much time trying to get supports and so much time in court and it was truly frustrating. Any services that had been suggested in the assessment of need were not of benefit to the teenager. It was necessary to know what supports he would have at 18 and for his aftercare.

GAL’s evidence

The GAL confirmed that the social worker had given in-depth information in relation to the efforts that had been made for the teenager. The GAL shared the frustration and said that the social worker had made considerable efforts and was frustrated at every turn in relation to those efforts. The GAL said this was a “spectacular example of statutory agencies not working together” where they were still talking about catchment areas.

They were receiving different messages from different people, getting instructions was a nightmare and they were still no further along. The child had received a diagnosis at the age of five, he had had a chaotic disruptive life in his family and had never received any interventions. She said he was in an SEN placement previously which had deteriorated, there had been no response from CAMHS mental health and no supports were put in place.

The GAL said that the teenager had received a place in the current residential placement, and he had a lovely relationship with the social worker and was building a relationship with the staff. She said he was a bit more trusting and a bit more positive and the staff were working with him holistically.

He was now months away from him turning 18, he would need a lot of supports, there was no clarification as to how he would be supported, it was so frustrating. She said the key issue was how to get the statutory agencies to work together. They could not match services with need, the CFA had done a substantial amount of work but they needed HSE supports and clinical interventions.

She explained that the section 47 ask of the court was to direct the lifting of the in-camera rule to allow the reports to be sent to the Ombudsman for Children with the goal and hope that a co-ordinated plan could be made for the young man in aftercare. He had put a lot of trust in the social worker and the GAL.

She said the CDNT team had closed the file after just one meeting. They had said to the teenager, “you are now 16, if you don’t engage, we’ll close the file and no services will be provided”. It was not in any shape or form good enough. She said that they wanted to send the assessment report to the national learning network.

The judge said that it was nine months before the youth turned 18, he was aware of the assessment and the response of the CDNT, the letter was extraordinary.

The GAL said initially they were told that the HSE had no expertise, that they should get an assessment of need done and then the HSE would review. She said a full reassessment was done to update the needs and that was made clear.


The judge said the HSE was essentially abdicating responsibility. He said the teenager required recommendations on the supports and he needed the support services that he requires. The GAL said that the HSE said they had no expertise and were in no way capable of doing the assessment and had no expertise to fulfil the services. She referred to yet another joint protocol meeting that was to take place later that month.

The judge said the author of the report needed to come to court to provide clarification on the teenager. He said it was very frustrating and challenging that he seemed to be a lovely young person who was vulnerable and shy, and he needed support in navigating and coping with independent living and did not have a support or response from the statutory agency.

The judge granted the GAL’s section 47 application to lift the in-camera rule to allow the copies of the assessments and reports to be sent to the Ombudsman for Children, the response from the CDNT team also to be released to the Ombudsman and the letter, including the assessment, sent to the National Learning Network. He said the response from the HSE was wholly unsatisfactory and did not address the issues and provided no clarity and then threw in a paragraph regarding catchment. He said a witness summons should issue for the author of the letter to be in court before Easter.

He adjourned the case for two weeks to allow the author of the letter to attend court. He granted liberty to relist the matter in the meantime and he said that he was not to be told on the next day that nobody was available from the HSE to attend the meeting. The court needed clarity on the situation.