Interim care order extended, trafficked teenager permitted to travel to visit her dying mother, care order later made – 2024vol1#18

An interim care order (ICO) was extended and the court granted an ex parte application from the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to allow the teenager, who had arrived unaccompanied in Ireland, to return to her home country to see her mother who was seriously ill in a coma and who doctors said was dying.

The court granted permission to the CFA to allow the minor to travel. She was to be accompanied by the allocated social worker. The court heard that the minor was suffering with her mental health. The CFA solicitor said that funding had been agreed for the minor to travel in the company of two members of the social work team and her foster mother. The court said the teenager should also be accompanied by the current allocated social worker.

The CFA solicitor said that the teenager had only come to the attention of the CFA following the invocation of section 12 by the gardaí following sexual abuse allegations. The social worker said she had a great relationship with her foster mother and would not go anywhere without her. She had been through a level of trauma but was doing well. She was catching up on medical and dental appointments and was on an antibiotic for an STD. The court was told she had her child-in-care review and she was happy to be here now.

The social worker said that disclosures had been made to the GAL and the teenager had told her that she had been further exploited by a man who had brought her to Ireland and she had been engaged in sexual acts with him and other men, brought to night clubs in her home country and that there was a level of exploitation and abuse.

When the social worker spoke with the teenager regarding education she said she did not want to attend secondary school but wanted to attend an English school. The social worker said she was finding it difficult to source an appropriate school/college given her age as she was too young for the adult colleges.

In addition to the health concerns of her mother the teenager had suicidal ideation and had previously spoken about cutting her wrists, jumping off a bridge or balcony if her mother died.

The social worker told the court what the intended travel plans were and that it was intended to spend one or two nights in her home country. A further complication was that there were no direct flights at this particular time of the year.

The GAL gave evidence and told the court that it was hoped that the current allocated social worker would travel with the teenager. She said the man who had brought the teenager to Ireland was in custody for assaulting the foster carer and he was also being investigated for sexual abuse and exploitation allegations.

The social worker confirmed that she had been in touch with the police and with the international social work services and was making contact with the local social work services in the home country regarding the travel. The court pointed out that it had no jurisdiction if the teenager decided she wanted to stay and not return to Ireland.

The court granted the extension of the ICO and noted the teenager had been in care since the autumn. He noted there was no legal guardian in Ireland. He approved the ex parte application to allow the teenager to travel and said the social worker and foster carer should travel with her.

Subsequent hearing

When this case came back before the court later the CFA sought a care order for the teenager until she reached 18. Her mother had since died and the court heard the girl’s father had died when she was young.

The social worker was called to give evidence and she told the court that the child had initially entered care following an incident where section 12 had been invoked on foot of a referral to the gardaí concerning allegations that the teenager had been sexually abused and physically abused by a “boyfriend”. As it was clear that there was no guardian in Ireland the section 12 was invoked by the gardaí.

The teenager was initially in an emergency placement following which both an emergency care order and an interim care order were sought. The person who reported the concerns was now the girl’s foster carer and the teenager had been with her since being placed with her a number of months previously.

The social worker confirmed that the placement was long term matched and there was a very positive relationship between the two of them. The social worker said the teenager was very hyper vigilant and needed a lot of reassurance from her carer. The teenager had also suffered neglect. The carer was from Eastern Europe and the social worker said the teenager had broken English.

The social worker was asked to outline what supports were in place regarding the sexual and physical abuse and she said that when the teenager first came into care she was offered a referral to a sexual abuse centre and offered therapeutic support and also general medical care. The teenager was very uncomfortable with it and denied she needed that support as did her mother at the time.

It was agreed that a referral would take place in early 2024 and the teenager was put on antibiotics for an STD. Due to her age she was falling between two stools as she was not old enough for adult services and too old for children’s services.

It was the belief she was trafficked here to Ireland and had been subjected to both domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The social worker said the main domestic violence services in Ireland would not accept a referral for someone under 18 and that was the case for trafficking services also. She said the GAL had flagged this again.

The social worker had been liaising with a youth advocatcy worker to obtain some supports. In addition, she was liaising with the medical social worker in another hospital. Further referrals had been made to CAMHS and the teenager had also started counselling.

The teenager had recently made some disclosures and she was receiving support in relation to that. She had received dental treatment. She had had no idea that she needed to brush her teeth. The social worker said she was now in good routine and was attending the dentist regularly.

In relation to her education the social worker said she had left school in first or second year, she spoke little about school and had not enjoyed school. Supports had been sought to get her some courses. She did not want to attend mainstream school so the social worker was engaging with Youthreach and she said the teenager had commenced one-to-one English classes.

The social worker provided an update to the court on the time they had spent in the girl’s home country with her mother who was dying. She said they were there three full days and there had been very few relations with an interest in caring for the girl in this country. The social worker said the teenager had a younger sibling and she maintained video and phone contact with her. She spent a lot of time with her when they were there for the funeral.

The social worker confirmed that there was no legal guardian in either Ireland or her own country to care for the teenager and in her professional opinion a care order was needed.

The guardian ad litem (GAL) was then called to give evidence and she had prepared a report for the court. She said the teenager now needed stability and care. The GAL had seen her recently and she was very happy in her placement and was very settled. She said the teenager could present as younger than she was. She was very close to her foster parents and did not want to let her foster mother out of her sight. The foster mother had gone above and beyond for her.

The GAL said the teenager was doing some dance classes and wanted to do others, she was doing English classes and was doing better with her communication and now had a grasp of English.

The GAL was agreeable to the case coming back for review in two months’ time.

The GAL said key for the teenager would be that she made good choices around any relationships and she was still a draw to poor ones. She said there was a fear of prostitution and that she might have been given to men to have sex with at nightclubs, and might have been brought there by her mother.

The GAL said a care order was in her best interests. The GAL felt some in-house Tusla therapy teams might be able to help with supports and perhaps a psychologist could provide support.

She said the teenager was worried about her sister. She said they were also looking into financial/pension entitlements following her mother’s death. The court needed to have significant oversight in relation to both the full care order and aftercare.

The GAL said the foster carer worked part-time and was of limited means and she said the carer wanted to take the teenager away on a holiday and consideration needed to be given regarding the enhanced payment.

The judge said he was satisfied based on the evidence that the threshold for the care order was met. He said the teenager required care and protection and that no guardian was available in the State. A care order was appropriate and an order until she reached 18 years of age was proportionate.

He set a review date for two months’ time to review the therapeutic interventions and the aftercare plan and said that the CFA should encourage sibling contact and this case should remain on the CFA agenda. The GAL was not to be discharged and he noted the placement was long term matched.