The Dublin Metropolitan District Court granted an extension of the interim care order for a teenage boy after he was arrested for stealing a car to go joy-riding and to visit his sister and friends.
The hearing of the application was delayed as the boy and his social worker were currently appearing before the Children Court in respect of the car theft and the boy’s criminal solicitor had requested priority.
The CFA’s solicitor informed the court that the boy’s father usually attended the court hearings and had previously contested all of the care applications made in respect of his son. However, it was noted that he was not present in court on this occasion nor was he present at the Children Court. The boy’s mother was also not in court.
Both parents had legal representation. However, neither the father’s nor the mother’s solicitor had received any instructions from their respective clients and so the application by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to extend the interim care order for the boy was uncontested.
The solicitor for the CFA asked the boy’s social worker to provide the court with an update on the boy’s progress. The social worker stated that the boy had been placed in a residential unit and that he was attending school daily and studying for the Applied Leaving Certificate. She noted that the boy also attended weekly therapy sessions as part of his programme. The social worker stated that the boy had had a part-time work experience job but that he was no longer employed in that job as a result of the car theft incident.
The social worker explained that the boy stole the manager’s car and drove it back to his home area. He went to his father’s house to check on his sister, then he went joy-riding with friends. He initially slept in the car with a friend but then went to his father’s place. He then went out joyriding again until he was arrested by the Gardai.
The social worker noted that this was not the first time that the boy had been engaged in criminal activity. The boy was previously before the Children Court for stealing a laptop the previous year and he was currently on probation.
The social worker indicated that the court had granted a supervision order for the boy’s sister in summer 2022. She noted that the father led him to believe that the supervision order had been put in place as a result of his sister’s behaviour after she had “mitched” school on one or two occasions. However, this was not accurate; in fact, the teacher who gave evidence to the Court had had significant concerns regarding the father’s parenting, indications of physical abuse, poor hygiene, bringing incorrect books to school, and non-attendance at school. The boy was very upset and confused by the father’s version of events. It was noted that the father had breached in camera rule in respect of the sister’s case in giving his son this information. The social worker also stated that the misrepresentation was a form of emotional abuse of the boy by his father.
In response to the judge’s question as to why the boy stole the car, the social worker responded that she believed that the boy was concerned about his sister. However, the social worker also felt that the boy wanted to see his friends. The social worker stated that the boy seemed to be triggered by seeing car keys.
She indicated that the boy was making some small progress in that regard in that he was becoming more self-aware. He recently went home from school in order to avoid taking unattended car keys. He requested the staff at his residential unit to tell the school principal to lock all car keys away so that he would not be triggered to take them.
When asked by the judge what it was that caused the boy’s triggering, the social worker replied that part of it was because his friends felt it was cool and put pictures up on social media, but she also said that the boy felt numb and that he took cars to get the adrenaline rush, just to help him feel. She noted that the residential unit had a strict security protocol in place regarding keys, with daily checks to ensure that the keys remain in place. She also stated that the residential unit was alarmed and that it had closed gates etc.
The boy was now engaged in another programme once a week and that this was being counted towards his work experience.
The social worker stated that the boy had also made some progress as part of the Garda Siochana/Road Safety Authority “Wrecked” programme. This programme helps to highlight to participants the risks associated with joy riding and unsafe driving practices. The programme involves people who have been in car wrecks and shows how their injuries have affected their lives.
The social worker noted that when she first met the boy, he believed that such car wrecks would never happen to him as he was a good driver. However, she said he was much less likely to say this now. She said that she saw some progress with the boy. The last car that he stole was returned to its owner in perfect condition and it appeared that he had not engaged in high risk driving.
The judge questioned the social worker about the views of the father. The social worker stated that the father had visited the boy on two occasions. However, there had been some difficulties on each occasion. On one occasion, the father took the wrong train and a staff member had to collect him by car to facilitate the meeting.
However, during the drive the staff member found the behaviour of the father towards the boy’s sister to be so negative that she was obliged to stop the car at the side of the road. The social worker stated that staff members have refused to drive the father and now taxis are being used to facilitate the visits with his son.
The father had not been to visit his son in five months and had not engaged with social workers. The social worker said that she had sent text messages to him but the father had used abusive language in response. He had refused to engage with staff at the residential unit and had stated that he will only engage with his son. The boy stated that his father had told him he would be at court today but he was not present at either this court hearing or at the Children Court hearing. The social worker also highlighted the fact that the father did not alert the Gardai to the fact that his son had turned up at home.
The boy had told the social worker that he wanted to return home, but the social worker felt that it was more because he was concerned about his sister than because of any relationship with his father. The father wanted his son to come home to help pay for heating costs and also because the father had no time to take his sister to the park etc.
The social worker noted that the boy’s mother was not in a position to engage at the moment. However, she stated that the mother was happy with her son’s placement. The social worker stated that the boy would like to see his mother but noted that she was not in a position to see him at present. She added that the mother wanted to be kept up to date with the boy’s progress.
The solicitor for the boy’s father asked the social worker why the boy had gone to his father’s house when he did not usually want to stay there. The social worker said that she believed that the boy had wanted to check on his sister and also wanted an opportunity to meet friends.
The judge asked for the views of the guardian ad litem (GAL). The GAL was not present in court but his solicitor stated that his instructions were that the GAL supported the application.
The judge stated that, taking into account the opposition of the father, but also the father’s behaviour and recent disengagement, he was satisfied that the threshold had been met and he granted an extension of the interim order for four weeks. It was noted that hearing dates for full care order applications in relation to both the boy and his sister were set for mid-December 2022.
The solicitor for the GAL told the court that the GAL was very concerned about the breaches of the in camera rule by the father and the emotional abuse being inflicted on the boy by the father in that regard. The solicitor stated that he was not looking for the court’s direction at this time, but noted that it was having a serious impact on the boy.
The judge noted that the breach of the in camera rule raised the issue of contempt of court and that the CFA might look into this if it continued.
The solicitor for the CFA agreed that they shared the judge’s concerns.