ECO for 8-year-old born and reared in direct provision centre – 2013vol3#3

An emergency care order was granted in for an eight-year-old child asylum-seeker living in a direct provision centre, where she had been born. She was later reunited with her mother. In making orders in the case the judge commented that the child had spent her entire life in direct provision, which “seemed inappropriate”.

Her mother, also an asylum-seeker, was in the process of being involuntarily admitted into a psychiatric hospital under Section 5 of the Mental Health Act. The woman’s mental health state had been of concern for some time, she had been in hospital before and had stopped taking her medication.

Initially her admission was to be voluntary, but then she locked herself into a room with the child, refusing to let her go. Her anxiety became more heightened and the child had become frightened.
The court heard there was no other parent or guardian in the State who could take care of the child.

“The mother was at risk to herself and possibly the child if she was to stay there,” said the Garda who intervened in the case. Section 12 of the Child Care Act was invoked by An Garda Síochána, and the child was taken away with the social workers, while the mother was transferred to the hospital by the Gardaí. “She didn’t care much about the child’s well-being … we had to handcuff her, we were worried she was going to run away,” said the Garda.

She had not made any threats against herself or the child, but was agitated, she was “ranting and raving,” said a second Garda. “She was unsteady in her mind, straight away we thought the child would be at risk from the actions of the mother when we were present, so we invoked the Section 12.”

The social worker had been contacted by the public health nurse (PHN), as the consultant psychiatrist was considering admission of the mother into a psychiatric hospital and alternative arrangements were needed for the child. The mother’s mental health had recently deteriorated, she had stopped taking her medication and was having delusions that people were conspiring against her, that she and her child would be found dead in the flat. They decided to contact the Gardaí as the mother did not have the capacity to consent to the child being taken into care. The psychiatrist felt she should be in a psychiatric facility for a period so she could get better.

The family was known to the HSE, said the HSE solicitor. They had been referred late last year by the PHN in relation to the mother’s mental health, there had also been a referral from the child’s school in relation to concerns about the mother’s ability to meet the child’s needs due to her mental health issues. The child had been referred to Barnardos where she was receiving emotional support and attending a summer project. She would now be placed in a foster home in the local area for as long as was needed and would be able to continue attending Barnardos.

The judge granted the emergency care order for reasons of “immediate and serious risk to the child, due to recent deterioration in mother’s mental health, involuntary detention and no family members available to help.”

When the case returned to court a few months later the HSE said there was a planned phased reunification of the child with her mother. She had recommenced her medication and her mental health had greatly improved. A psychiatrist had begun working with her during the last two weeks of her programme. The mother was also going through the process of applying for residency status but continued to live in direct provision, where the child, who was now eight, had been born.

The social worker told the court that the child had been given information on understanding mental illness, so she could comprehend what had happened to her mother. She was still accessing the support service in Barnardos, which did not require funding. They walked to it from the direct provision centre. The social work department were also looking at accessing community supports for the family that would be free, as well as some after-school activities that could provide a meal for the child.

She said the HSE would take into account the food the child and parent would like to eat as they had no access to cooking facilities in direct provision and could only eat what they were given. A family support service of two sessions per week had been proposed, but was not yet allocated. The HSE solicitor said there would be no difficulty putting that support service in place.

The judge asked how much money the mother was in receipt of in direct provision. “€28.70, with the dependent child,” said the solicitor for mother.

The judge asked if the after-school activities were cost neutral. “If you play football you need equipment and gear, if you go to a youth club you are asked to make a donation of a few euros a week.” Any activities that the child was to access had “to be cost nil in this situation,” he told the social worker. If the plan and cost base of the activities did not come through the judge said there would be liberty to apply. He assumed the family support worker would be allocated before final reunification took place.

The judge said: “I am struck in this case by the fact the child has resided her entire life in direct provision and the mother has been in it for that time. Eight years speaks volumes, it seems to be inappropriate, these are matters that are outside the remit of this court, matters perhaps for the Ombudsman, I’m not sure if their remit runs to direct provision.

“Section 3 (of the 1991 Child Care Act) extends to children in direct provision, even if there is a deficit of care that results from the child being in direct provision,” continued the judge. The guardian was to remain appointed until the expiry date of the interim care order and was to be informed about whatever provisions were made.

The HSE solicitor asked the judge for the existing direction regarding medical treatment for child be continued.