High Court hears of problems of drug use by children in special care – 2021vol2#13

Teenage boy positive for heroin and cannabis

A special care order was made in respect of a teenage boy due to serious issues with drug abuse. This was the young person’s third time in secure care. On admission to special care the child was positive for heroin and cannabis. Cannabis use had been an issue for the young person before but not heroin and he was refusing to engage with therapeutic services and had reported that he was “too smart to become addicted to drugs”. The process of engagement was described as complex.

After the three months in special care an extension of the order was made for a further three months. The young person was reported to be doing well and there was no self-harm. Prior to the expiry of the special care order the CFA made an application to the court to discharge the order, which was acceded to by the judge, though opposed by the mother as she had continued concern about drug use.

A third special care order was subsequently made in respect of the child due to his continued issues with drug abuse. The court was told that the mother had been agitating for some time for the child to be returned to special care, including a section 47 application in the District Court. The guardian ad litem had been appointed to the child for a number of years in both special care proceedings and the District Court and requested a full assessment of his needs and suggested the exploration of an available place at an adolescent residential addiction treatment centre.

The judge said that “of all the cases so far this is the one that I would have a high alert approach to” and that the “young man was crying out for help” where he had expressed a desire to end it all and he was severely addicted and was in need of supports. The judge described it as a “very concerning case, a matter of life and death… it is critical”.

Second time in special care for boy also before children’s criminal court

A special care order was made in respect of another teenage boy, in the care of the CFA since he was a baby, who had a difficult history with both parents being chaotic drug users. This was the young person’s second time in special care. When he was a young teenager the boy had previously spent approximately four months in special care due to substance abuse and exploitation in the drug trade.

The young person had a number of matters before the children’s criminal court. The CFA were unable to contact the parents. The young person was deemed to require special care due to his involvement in “the criminal underworld” and he was “gathering convictions at an alarming rate”. The judge said that for his age his involvement in criminality was a huge concern. There was still time to change the young person’s trajectory and his career path for the better but it required the making of the special care order.

At the first review hearing the judge highlighted the child’s lack of the most basic knowledge and the need for progress on his literacy and numeracy skills. There were a number of matters before the criminal court, but the Gardai had indicated that to go to Oberstown would be a disaster for him.

A step-down placement was identified which involved a “high risk transition” and after approximately seven months in special care an application was made to discharge the special care order. At a subsequent discharge review hearing the court was told that there may be a possible re-referral of the young person in to special care.

Teenage boy needed detoxification when admitted to special care

Another teenage boy was brought into special care as he had a significant drug history and was considered to be a “serious drug user” even at his age. The young person required a detoxification from drugs on admission to special care. The mother had requested a step-down placement outside of Dublin as she was concerned he would have access to narcotics, but there was a difficulty if the placement was in a rural area as to how he would access the required supports.

The judge noted that the case threw up the issues of allowing placements to occur where it would be transitioning a young person back to an environment where the availability of drugs was prevalent. The young person was transitioned out of special care after approximately three months.

A few months later a new application for special care was made in respect of this young person as his “substance abuse has escalated completely out of control” to a dangerous level and it was deemed to be “absolutely necessary to get him back into special care if he has any prospect of surviving”.

At the review of the order the mother emphasised again the need for a placement outside of Dublin, given his past, as it was too close to possible drug use. The judge agreed that the CFA needed to look at step-down placements and their location and suitability as there was no point placing children with drug problems in the midst of drug suppliers and drug addicts. The judge said that he appreciated the difficulty the CFA had in trying to source placements for troubled teenagers and was asking that they redouble their efforts.

Judge: “I’m like a stuck record but I intend to be like a stuck records until something is done but it has to be done.”

An application was made for an extension of the order but the judge was concerned about “almost rubber stamping” the CFA approach to extensions and he was not satisfied to make the order for the three months sought and he only made an extension order of six weeks and one day.

The young person transitioned successfully to his step-down placement with his previous foster carers. The court and the guardian ad litem had hoped that he would engage with a residential drug treatment centre but he did not wish to attend at that time but said maybe he would in the future.