District Court appoints guardian ad litem in voluntary care arrangement – 2019vol2#52

The District Court was told that the parents of a teenage boy in voluntary care were opposing an application for an interim care order sought by the Child and Family Agency. The parents proposed that the voluntary arrangement already in place be maintained and that the child would have the same protections as under an order. The court decided to appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) and the judge said that she was not making a final decision on the voluntary arrangement. She adjourned the applications before the court giving the parties liberty to re-enter the matter if there were any difficulties with the voluntary arrangement.

The court was told that the teenager was currently in care pursuant to a voluntary placement under section 4 of the Child Care Act 1991 and that the mother was supportive of it being a long-term arrangement. The barrister for the mother told the court that she had no intention of ending the voluntary care agreement but that she did not want an interim care order in place and she was opposing the CFA’s application on the basis that it was not necessary or proportionate.

The barrister for the mother made a number of submissions to the court outlining the similarities and differences between voluntary arrangements and orders made under section 17 and section 18 of the Child Care Act 1991.

Barrister for mother: “He has all the same protections as section 17 and 18.  There are all the same obligations and he has the same entitlement to after care review.”

The barrister said that part of the proposal the mother was putting to the court was that the child did not have the same protections under the Child Care Act as in a voluntary arrangement. The first difference was that no GAL is appointed and the second difference was that there is less court oversight in voluntary care, but the mother was suggesting that the court could fix dates for review of his after-care so that the court retained oversight. The barrister suggested that the court could adjourn the section 18 application until just before the teenager turned 18 and the court could then order a GAL be reappointed for those reviews.

Barrister for mother: “He has all of the protections that are the same but it obviates the need for a contested hearing, where matters in dispute can only serve to damage the relationship with the social workers.”

The barrister for the father told the court that he was supporting the proposal the mother had made. The teenager had recently moved to a different residential placement in another county and the application for the interim care order was made only ten days after he moved. The father was of the view that the teenager was not given an opportunity to settle into the new placement. The court was told that in the new placement the teenager was working much better and there had not been any significant events and the father was contesting the application for the interim care order.

Barrister for the father: “There is a real concern that if there is an interim care order it will pitch the social workers and parents against each other in an adversarial process. He needs all the people working for him working together.”

The solicitor for the CFA told the court that the appointment of a GAL would be a beneficial move in this case.

Judge: “My mind was going in that direction as the child has a constitutional protection to have his views before the court.”

The solicitor for the CFA said that a voluntary care arrangement required a high degree of transparency and cooperation between the parties. Decisions had to be based on the teenager’s best interests, including decisions of where to place him. The solicitor said that the parents’ engagement with the CFA had previously involved threats to remove the teenager from his placement and that “threats hanging over matters, hang over the voluntary care arrangement.”

The barrister for the father told the court that the suggestion that there had been threats to remove the teenager was not accepted. She said that there had been one threat to remove the teenager but that it was not in the context of wanting to get access to him but in relation to an assault on the teenager. The barrister said that the parents had not been notified of the assault, he had not got any medical treatment and they were concerned. The court was told that the individual responsible had since been removed from the placement and that the father had instructed her that he “has no intention to undermine” the arrangement.

The judge said that both parents acknowledged that the teenager was in need of care and she was minded in the circumstances to appoint a GAL to the child pursuant to section 26 to represent the “independent voice” of the child. The court adjourned the application for the interim care order but said that it was not a commitment to continue to agree to a voluntary arrangement. The judge said that if the matter changed at any time the parties could re-enter the matter.

As the GAL would need to do work and meet the young person the court listed the matter again in two weeks’ time.

Judge: “I am adjourning all applications and not making any decision on the submissions made. The submissions were very articulate and persuasive and it will assist the working relationship between the social worker and the parents but it has to be a clean situation, open and no threats to each other as we can’t have that situation with a voluntary agreement. Liberty to CFA to re-enter if there is any difficulty with the voluntary arrangement.”