Dublin District Court directs the CFA to prepare a detailed care plan for a vulnerable teenager who had had large number of emergency placements – 2023vol2#32

A Dublin District Court judge told the Child and Family Agency (CFA) that a social worker’s report was not the same as a detailed care plan. He directed the CFA to prepare a detailed written care plan, specifically addressing the accommodation, educational and therapeutic needs of a vulnerable teenager, and that the plan be circulated to the parties before the matter came before him again in seven days’ time.

The case had been before the judge the previous week at which time two separate section 47 applications had been before the court, one on behalf of the mother and another on behalf of the teenager’s guardian ad litem (GAL). Both applications were still live before the court on this occasion.

Section 47 brought by the mother

The application brought on behalf of the teenager’s mother sought two reliefs: a) that the court should convene an inquiry into the teenager’s previous placements and b) that the CFA would provide an appropriate placement for the teenager.

In respect of the first relief sought, the mother’s solicitor told the court that although the teenager had endured a significant number of previous placements, no complete chronology or history of the teenager’s placements had been made available by the CFA to the mother or indeed even to the GAL. He asked the court to convene an inquiry because it was a significant concern that the teenager had endured such a large number of care arrangements and that this had only come to the court’s attention as a result of this section 47 application.

In respect of the second relief sought, the mother’s solicitor said that the teenager was temporarily residing with her mother by way of an emergency placement but that this was not meeting her needs. However, he acknowledged that the section 47 application to be made on behalf of the GAL, which was seeking a detailed care plan in respect of the teenager’s needs, was more nuanced and that if the court decided to make such a direction instead, this would be appropriate. If the court did decide to make such a direction, he asked that his application in respect of the teenager’s placement would be adjourned to the next review date to ensure that the CFA fully complied with any such direction.

The CFA’s solicitor asked whether the court had the authority to convene an inquiry as sought by the mother’s solicitor. The mother’s solicitor referred to an unpublished decision of the High Court that had found a District Court judge to have had jurisdiction to convene such an inquiry and said that the court’s jurisdiction under section 47 was very broad.

The GAL’s solicitor said that in his opinion the welfare of the child was paramount and that such an inquiry would be appropriate. He too believed that the court was not in any way inhibited in conducting such an inquiry.

The judge said that while he was satisfied that the court had the jurisdiction to convene an inquiry as requested, he was not convinced of the benefit of doing so at this stage. He felt that directions being sought by the GAL’s solicitor would be more appropriate and, therefore, he was not going to convene an inquiry at this time.

In respect of the lack of a detailed chronology of the teenager’s placements, the CFA’s solicitor said that the CFA was not withholding any information but that other matters had taken priority. She said that the principal social worker and the allocated social worker had both been on leave but that there had been a multidisciplinary meeting the previous day which the GAL had attended, and the GAL had been satisfied that significant progress had been made to put home supports in place until such time as a suitable placement became available. She said that the information sought could be provided within the next day or two.

The mother’s solicitor welcomed the news that the information would be provided but reiterated her concern that the information had been outstanding for a long time and in that regard, he intended to ask the court to make a finding that the CFA had failed in its statutory obligations to the teenager. He emphasised that the teenager was in the care of the CFA and it was entirely the CFA’s responsibility to find a suitable placement for her.

Section 47 brought by GAL

The solicitor for the GAL then made his section 47 application. He said that the CFA was fully aware of the teenager’s crisis situation for more than a month now. This very vulnerable teenager was in voluntary care and the current arrangements with the teenager’s mother were supposed to have been a special emergency stop gap.

He said that the teenager had had several emergency care placements since the start of the year, yet the GAL did not know of all of the placements and while the teenager was residing with her mother at the time, this was not the purpose of the voluntary care agreement.

His application on behalf of the GAL was to receive a detailed written care plan addressing the educational needs, therapeutic needs and placement provision for this teenager. He said that despite the CFA promising the court the previous week that it would provide this information to the GAL, it had not been forthcoming.

He said that in her report dated one month previously, the GAL had annexed a series of detailed questions to be answered by the CFA. However, she had received no response to these questions. Some documentation had only been provided to the GAL after the section 47 application had been lodged, even though the documentation had been available prior to the GAL’s application. The information in the documents had been three weeks old when provided to the GAL and had not been updated since. This was a deficiency of the CFA. The CFA claimed that this was the teenager’s care plan, but the documents did not meet the requirements of a proper care plan.

The GAL’s solicitor was seeking the court’s direction that the CFA would provide a meaningful care plan. He said that there was no education plan in place and the teenager had not been in education for approximately 20 months. There was a requirement for therapeutic intervention, he argued. The CFA had told the court previously that the funding for such interventions had been approved, but it appeared that the approval for the funding had only taken place the day after the court hearing. The GAL’s solicitor said that he did not understand how the court could have been told that those assets were available when the proper procurement process had not taken place.

He added that the GAL did not share the social work team’s confidence around the plan. For example, there had been no risk assessment for this very young, vulnerable teenager who was known to be engaging with high-risk individuals. The CFA was obliged to provide a risk assessment. The GAL was asking the court to direct the CFA to provide an active and live care plan. The GAL did not believe that the CFA was fulfilling its statutory commitments to this teenager.

The GAL’s solicitor said that the CFA had told court two weeks ago that it needed time, then it asked the court for more time last week. But he said the GAL still did not have the information she had requested and that without this information, she was unable to defend the teenager’s rights.

The CFA’s solicitor vigorously denied the suggestion that the reports were out of date. She said that the reports set out a process that had not changed and was therefore not out of date. She said that the court was well aware that there was a crisis in finding suitable placements and that the CFA was taking steps to address this. She said that there was no hiding the fact that the CFA just did not have a placement for this teenager.

She accepted that the CFA did not have a written care plan, but said that it did have the social worker’s report and there had been the multidisciplinary meeting the previous day. She said that the GAL had been present at this meeting and was fully aware of what was being planned. She said “the bones of a plan are in place and are being acted on”. The plan included a CAMHS referral which was happening. Funding had been approved for therapeutic services, but the CFA thought that CAMHS might be in a better position to identify and provide the appropriate therapeutic services.

At the meeting it had been agreed that the teenager was safer at home. CFA staff were available to the mother and the teenager on a daily basis to help keep the teenager on the straight and narrow. Contact had been made with a school principal who had a place available for the teenager but the principal had warned the CFA that, having been absent for so long, the teenager might struggle to integrate at the school. The CFA was, therefore, considering other options also.

The CFA’s solicitor acknowledged that the teenager was currently sharing a room with her sister at home and that she was proving to be quite disruptive to her sister. The CFA was in the process of looking for new accommodation to address this. She said that the teenager’s case was one of a few that were discussed weekly and that was being reported on to senior management.

The risks to the teenager appeared to have decreased slightly since she had returned home. As a result, it was now likely that she might not meet the threshold for being referred to special care. However, the solicitor said that the CFA was not taking that option off the table. The teenager’s case had been referred to the CFA’s Assessment Consultation Therapy Service (ACTS) which could provide specific therapies to meet this young person’s needs.  This, the solicitor told the court, was the bones of the plan and it could be put in writing for the following week. The CFA was doing its best for the teenager, but as the meeting had only taken place the previous day, the social workers had prioritised making the required referrals rather than formalising the plan on paper.

The judge told the CFA’s solicitor that a social worker’s report was not a care plan. The GAL had requested a detailed written care plan over three weeks before but she had still not received one. The CFA’s solicitor told the court that the CFA would put the plan outlined in the format required for a care plan.

The solicitor for the GAL emphasised to the court that the GAL did not want a generic care plan, she wanted a plan that specifically addressed this teenager’s needs. It would not be sufficient to simply reformat the social worker’s report into that of a care plan. The CFA had already determined that the teenager had mental health needs that would be best addressed in a residential care setting. Yet she was still living at home even though this had been deemed inadequate by the CFA.

The judge said that he appreciated that the teenager presented a challenging case and he was familiar with the difficulties in obtaining suitable placements. However, having considered the section 47 application on behalf of the GAL, he agreed that the detailed care plan being sought, to include detailed plans regarding the teenager’s accommodation, educational and therapeutic needs, was necessary.

He directed that the matter be put back by one week and that the detailed care plan being sought by the GAL was to be circulated to all of the parties by close of business on the day prior to the next court review date.