GAL “firmly of the view” that a post-adoption aftercare allowance needed – 2019vol2#38

During a care review in respect of two teenagers in care, the District Court heard that the adoption of one of the children had been proposed. The child had put herself forward for adoption. The CFA had organised a meeting with the Adoption Authority of Ireland to progress the matter as the child would turn 18 in six months’ time.

The Adoption Authority had adjourned an application for an adoption order, under section 53 of the Adoption Act 2010 (as amended) and had stated that it would make the adoption order if the High Court authorised it under section 54(2) (Orders by High Court authorising the Adoption Authority to make adoption orders for children whose parents fail in their duty towards them).

The CFA solicitor told the court that it was envisaged the child would be adopted. The main issue arising was what aftercare allowance would the child be entitled to if the adoption order was granted.

The CFA sought to list the application in three months’ time. The GAL was “firmly of the view” that a post-adoption aftercare allowance should be made available. The solicitor for the GAL pointed out the current policy position was that a care allowance would not be permitted if the child was adopted.  The GAL wanted to find out who was making the final decision in relation to this issue and whether there was an appeals process. The court heard that at that point the parties were satisfied to postpone the hearing for three months.

Judge: “In relation to financial supports, is an aftercare allowance policy driven?

CFA Solicitor: “It is.”

Judge: “The child ceases to be the responsibility of the State [after adoption] and therefore it is no longer available.”

CFA Solicitor: “The legal relationship changes so the care order is moot.”

The judge noted that if the CFA was to proceed it would have to be done within six months when the teenager would turn 18 years of age.

The judge adjourned the matter for three months on consent. The GAL was to establish whether aftercare allowance post-adoption would be available.

Three months later

When the case resumed three months the social worker, the CFA solicitor, the GAL and her counsel were in court. The mother did not attend the proceedings.

The District Court heard two aftercare reviews in respect of the girl and her teenage brother. In relation to the boy, the court heard that his foster care placement had broken down due to difficulties. He was absconding and engaging in arguments in the home. The child, who had complex needs and was taking medication regularly, was now in a residential unit. The social worker was working with the foster carers and staff in the residential unit to address his difficulties.

The court heard that the child, who “did not want to be in trouble or be perceived to be bold”, was working as hard as he could to address these issues. “He is doing his best,” said the social worker. In relation to a timeframe to return to the foster carers, the social worker said that it was difficult to estimate because the situation could escalate. It was a balancing act in terms of progressing. The social worker said that it could take three to six months at least.

Judge: “Is the plan that he will continue to attend school?”

Social worker: “Unfortunately he did not return to school.”

Judge: “Does he need an assessment?”

Social Worker: “A mental health assessment had already been done.”

The court heard that there was no sign that the maternal or the paternal side of the family would get involved. The aftercare review in respect of the boy was adjourned for three months.

In relation to his 17-year-old sister, the social worker said that she was doing very well. The adoption application was due in the High Court in the next few weeks. She was doing exceptionally well. “Adoption is what she wants,” said the social worker.

The court heard that the Adoption Authority of Ireland had already approved the application and the matter was due in the High Court in four weeks. “All going well she would be adopted,” said the social worker. The teenager, who had not seen her biological family in the last few years, was a very bright child and very well settled. The judge said: “This is a very good story.” When the judge asked if the two siblings had access to each other, the social worker said that they did not at the moment. Neither party had indicated that they wanted to see each other.

In relation to the aftercare plan, the GAL had advocated for an aftercare allowance to be paid to the teenager after adoption. The CFA solicitor sought an adjournment of the application under section 47 of the Child Care Act 1991. Such a payment had been previously allowed on a discretionary basis. The court heard that the Area Manager and service director had made an application, which included on what grounds the aftercare payment was sought. There was an appeal process in existence should the payment be refused.

“I do not have any agreement that [the aftercare allowance] will be paid. There is an internal appeal process that should take place,” said the CFA solicitor.

The judge said that she would like to see the adoption through and noted that the aftercare allowance was usually granted if the child was in full time education.

Counsel for the GAL pointed out to the judge that the difficulty was that there had been no reply to the aftercare allowance application for almost eight weeks. Given that the teenager would turn 18 in few weeks, it was a concern. If the CFA refused to grant the aftercare payment, you would have the oddity of one child receiving State financial support and the other given different treatment.

The judge agreed and adjourned the section 47 application until the date of the adoption application hearing. The judge noted that the internal appeal process would have been exhausted by then and there would be no prejudice to the teenager given that she would not turn 18 until few weeks later. “The matter can be dealt with then,” the judge added.

Counsel for the GAL asked the judge whether the adoption order would have any effect in the circumstances of the case. The judge said that “the application came prior to the adoption one so I do not think it will be important.” The matter could be finalised that day.

The judge said to the GAL: “I have your application and reports. There are of huge assistance to the court.”

Following the adoption order

When the case resumed the solicitor for the CFA told the court that the High Court had granted the adoption order in respect of the teenager in long-term care, following a section 54 order dispensing with the consent of the parents. The order was due to become effective 28 days later.

In relation to the aftercare allowance, an internal appeal took place following the initial refusal. On a discretionary basis, the CFA had finally agreed that the teenager would receive the standard aftercare payment of €300 a week subject to her remaining in full time education. The discretionary measure would be reviewed in one year.

Counsel for the GAL said that the decision was very much welcomed. It was a concern that the teenager would receive the after-care allowance in the same way than any other children who would not have been adopted. “We are very grateful to the CFA,” counsel added.

Judge: “It is a very good story altogether. She has great potential and she will have no difficulty remaining in education.” The judge was satisfied that the aftercare review was completed and wish the teenager the very best in her future endeavours.