High Court judge refuses application to move teenager from secure unit – 2017vol2#13

A High Court judge refused an application in the Minors’ Review List to move a teenage boy (Child A) from one secure care unit to another. When the application was made the judge said she had “no doubt that the application to move [A] is to facilitate [B]”. An application was also due to be made that morning in relation to a Child B to move him into the same secure care unit that A would be moved out of.

[A court report regarding Child B is in this volume of reports and is titled “No appropriate placement for sexually exploited teenager”.]

The judge was told that Child A had not engaged with the staff in his unit or with his social worker for two weeks and that he was sleeping all day and up all night. “He is not engaging with the team in [his secure care unit],” said counsel for the CFA and the social work team sought to move him to a new secure care unit.

However the judge pointed out that Child A had not undergone any forensic assessment or psychiatric assessment as part of his therapeutic plan within his current unit, that his mood could be due to depression and an assessment should be sought now. The teenager was very talented at football and had been offered a position on a team. If he were to be moved to a new secure care unit he would have to settle in there and undergo his assessments there instead.

She told the parties that if the forensic and psychiatric assessments had taken place with a treatment plan and then a lack of progress had occurred, perhaps one might envisage an application to change his unit but “to me this is all done in haste”.

The social worker told the court that Child A had informed her that two of his siblings who had also been in the care system had “got out early by not engaging” and she felt that he was doing the same in order to get out of secure care. She said that although she had been surprised at the proposal to move A to the other secure care unit, a benefit that could be derived from the move was that the social work team cared about him too much to take his non-engagement and wanted to try something else.

“Will it not send a message out that he is being given up on?” asked the judge and she remarked that A was at his lowest without an assessment to see what treatment he required. It was only in the last two weeks that there had been “an about turn” and there was no guarantee that A would engage with the staff in the other secure care unit, it was all speculative.

The judge asked counsel for the CFA “if the pressure to get [Child B] in wasn’t there would there be pressure to move [Child A]?”

Counsel for the CFA asked the social worker what the advantages of the proposed move for Child A were. She said that A would feel he was being listened to and it demonstrated that they were not giving up on him. The risk was that “he feels he is just being moved somewhere else and that he’ll have to form new relationships and he would struggle with that.”

Counsel for the GAL told the court that the GAL had found the planning for A chaotic and felt that the application to move him to another secure care unit would not have arisen if the application was not being made in the [Child B] matter. However the GAL had been very apprehensive about how it was working out for A in his secure care unit and felt that it was “worth trying” the second proposed unit.

Counsel for the GAL was also counsel for the GAL in the Child B matter.

The judge said no one knew how A would react to being moved: “What happens if there’s an adverse reaction? Everybody agrees he requires psychiatric assessment, I would be most surprised if he is up all night and does not at least need to trial some treatment.”

Counsel for the CFA sought to assure the judge about the move stating it was not a move against the best welfare of the A and there was unchallenged evidence before her such as the lack of engagement of the child over the last two weeks. Prior to that there had also been concerns about his transition plan. The universal assessment was that he was not fit for discharge from a secure care unit but it was difficult to assert at present a therapeutic benefit to him in his current unit beyond confinement. The care could be better delivered in another placement.

“It’s all speculation at best,” replied the judge. “You refer to your unchallenged evidence. It’s being challenged by me and the social worker has very honestly given me her views that it could have positive and equally negative and devastating benefits for the child.”

“I’m making the application on the basis of the formal evidence,” said counsel for the CFA.

“I’m very concerned about the nature of the application and it is novel during my tenure on this list, it was brought in haste. The court should never be asked to ballast the child’s best interests as against those of another. This application would not be made but for the fact for one reason only, the application for another child to go into special care.

“I would have no difficulties if this had been brought if all the treatment avenues had been exhausted, there is no doubt he had disengaged, but the reason behind that has not been explored. He had not been forensically or psychiatrically assessed.

“It would have taken place at a minimum before a change in his placement or treatment plan, I am most concerned. I have to put aside the other case and deal with it on its merits. The evidence [in this case] is based on speculation and supposition. Nobody can speculate how a move of this nature could affect this child. No doubt there are benefits but equally it could devastate him.

“But to take this case alone on its merits I am satisfied that I have to refuse this application until all attempts are made to treat this child in this placement without further delays. I hope all of the appropriate assessments will now take place as a matter of urgency as identified. If in due course all the relevant medical staff have exhausted all avenues [it can return]. I do not think such an application should be brought to this court with that in the background, moving one child to facilitate another.”

Counsel for the CFA then requested that the matter be listed For Mention the following morning, the judge informed him that if he wished to bring the matter further that was a matter for himself, she told him he had liberty to apply and agreed to extend the detention order for a period of one week.

The application to place Child B into secure care was not subsequently made.