Interim care order for boy from war-torn country after supervision order not complied with – 2024vol1#7

Dublin District Court made an interim care order for a teenage boy after a supervision order was not complied with for a number of months. The family had come from a war-torn country.

The teenage boy had moved to Ireland with his mother and a family friend several months earlier and they were accommodated in a hotel together. The court heard that the boy was sleeping on the floor of the hotel, wetting himself, not practising proper hygiene, not eating properly and had numerous emergency room visits. His clothes were not washed regularly, and he did not wear appropriate clothing. The family refused to eat at the hotel, but instead ate at a local religious charity. A supervision order had been made.

Supervision order

The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said that the boy had requested to be legally represented and joined to the proceedings. The solicitor said that the interim care order was not being pursued at that time as matters had not deteriorated any further since before Christmas, but the mother still did not engage. The solicitor said that he was hopeful that the appointment of an advocate for the mother would have a positive impact on her engagement.

The judge noted that the advocate had only recently been appointed therefore she had not had an opportunity to meet with the mother. The court noted that the social worker made three appointments to meet the mother but the mother did not attend. The judge was very concerned there was no engagement from the mother and said that in circumstances where an advocate was appointed, they would give the mother one last chance. The judge also requested that the social worker speak with the boy through an interpreter.

Judge: “I am not having this. There are difficulties with this boy, he needs to engage. The last day we were here we took some time to set up meetings with mom and the social worker and clear dates were given. I note that mom said that she would ensure she engaged with the social worker and the court is very concerned to see that has not happened.”

The mother’s barrister said that a meeting took place between the mother and the social worker that morning.

The mother’s barrister said he had explained to the mother that a meeting between the mother, the boy and the social worker was scheduled for that week at Tusla’s office. He also said that the mother’s solicitor offered the mother and the boy a lift to the meeting.

The solicitor for the GAL said that the court could see from the evidence that the supervision order was frustrated in its operation. He said that meetings in Tusla’s offices did not meet the standards required for a supervision order as it required that the social worker meet the boy within the family setting. He said that the boy’s needs had not changed, but that in fact the boy’s situation was more alarming than previously thought.

A letter from the boy was handed to the judge. The judge read the letter and said that she were very concerned.

The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said that the dynamic of the relationship between the boy, his mother and her friend was very concerning.

Judge: “There is a real problem with [boy], and there is an influence on him. He is a child, he is not an adult, and as such, it is not a matter for him to insist on certain things. It is for his mom and only his mom. I read the GAL’s report and the social worker’s report with enormous concern because when I made the order in December, I made it very clear that he was only staying home with a supervision order because it was agreed that he and his mom would engage with the social workers and that the social worker could visit. Now, today, I am told that hasn’t happened.”

The judge said she understood that the family was having difficulties, that they were in a strange country and they did not speak the language, but there was a court order in place that must be complied with. She said if the court order was not complied with then the CFA could make a different application to the court, and it was possible that the boy may then not live at home for a period of time.

The judge said that there was nothing she could do about the mother’s friend’s behaviour because he was not a party to the proceedings, but noted that the mother’s friend’s influence on the boy was not good. She reiterated that the boy was sleeping on the floor, not going to school, not eating, and not going to the toilet properly, and that the mother’s friend needed to understand that these proceedings had nothing to do with him.


Interim Care Order

When the matter came back to court the mother’s barrister made an application for the judge to recuse herself from the case on the basis that the judge had granted the supervision order and his client was concerned that the judge might have pre-judged the matter. He said that although an interim care order (ICO) had not been pursued on the last date, it appeared that a view had already been formed in relation to an ICO.

The judge had said that it was her view that an ICO was more appropriate than a supervision order and had questioned why an ICO was not being pursued. The barrister said that considering the comments made and the concerns expressed by the court on the previous date that another court should hear the application for the ICO.

The solicitor for the CFA said that the CFA was opposing this application. He said that the court had said that if the matter did not improve by the next date, and matters continued to deteriorate then the threshold for an ICO would be met. The CFA had not been pursuing an ICO as there were no placements available. The court was not prejudiced, only stating the obvious. It was open to the court to flag that non-compliance with an order could result in an ICO being granted.

The GAL’s solicitor said that there were two applications before the court, including the interim care order. The boy only remained home on the condition his mother engaged but she had not engaged. He said that he appreciated that the mother was in a strange country, but a court order was in place and if that was not complied with then the CFA could pursue the ICO. The threshold for the SO and the ICO was almost the same, but with a SO the child is not removed. The court had to have the boy’s best interests as its primary concern, and the boy’s best interest was served by the continuity of the court.

As the GAL’s solicitor was speaking the boy rushed into court waving his arms and raising his voice. The judge introduced herself and said that she would like to speak with him for a moment and asked him to sit in the witness box. She told him that he might not agree with what the adults decided, but that the job for the adults was to make decisions that were in his best interest.

She told him that he was not an adult but a child. She explained to the boy who all of the people in the room were and that the court proceedings were all about him and that all of the people in the room wanted what was best for him and to ensure that the law was complied with. The judge said that she was happy to hear what he had to say but advised him there was no role for him in the proceedings as his voice would be heard through his GAL.

The boy said that he could not sleep properly and he felt that no one was listening to him. He said that he told the GAL this and the judge told him that the GAL told Tusla everything he said. The judge then asked the boy to leave the court.

The GAL’s solicitor said that the court had given the mother significant chances to improve her engagement with the CFA.

The judge then refused the application to recuse herself.

Judge: “My only concern is the child, he is a child, my second concern is for his mother and her role as [the boy’s] mother. My clear recollection from the hearing is that the GAL was not allowed in therefore the supervision order is not being complied with. Your client’s concerns are misplaced. In light of the intervention that just occurred it is more urgent that the matter be dealt with today. My notes say that at some point in the future the court may hear [the boy’s] views. I did not close the door on it completely. I’m not going to recuse myself from hearing this matter today as someone has to hear it.

“We have to have some control. There cannot be a free for all. The difficulties in this case are huge. There is the malign influence of a third party. That is not right, not in [the boy’s] best interest. This cannot go on, he is not in school and he is not doing well physically. I am aware that in the background the mother is in difficulty as she is not allowed to think for herself.”

The GAL’s solicitor said that the GAL supported an interim care order (ICO), but she did not support the boy being received into care at that time as there was no appropriate placement available. He said that if the court made an ICO, then the GAL would argue that it was disproportionate to execute the order at that time. The placement had to be a placement that would give the boy some opportunity.

The mother’s barrister said, in explaining the mother’s lack of engagement, that the mother did want to meet with the social work team, but her phone was taken from her by the third party so she could not contact them.

The judge said that the family friend was dangerous to both the mother and son. She said that the mother could not continue to come into court and make all kinds of applications when she was continuing in the relationship and not doing what was necessary for her child. She said that appointing a solicitor for the boy may take the sting out of the proceedings if it could be done quickly.

The solicitor for the GAL said that a minor can have direct legal representation on a single point, but not on the broad spectrum of the application. Children have been given the opportunity to have independent legal advice but not representation.

The social worker said that there was no engagement from the mother and son. She said that the boy did not shower, his clothes were dirty and his mother would narrate the conversation in the background. She said that the family was not happy with their accommodation. The family’s doctor had advocated for two weeks to get the family into a hotel when they did not have anywhere to live.

The solicitor said that all the families from this country were asked to pay a contribution, but the family refused and they had been asked to leave the hotel. They were then accommodated at a different hotel outside the city centre, but they were unhappy with this location. She said that the family had been given many opportunities.

When the mother was unable to collect her social welfare payments the staff in the second hotel even offered to bring the mother to the post office to collect them but she refused. The family spent a lot of time in the city centre, eating their meals there and attending church. The CFA tried very hard to engage with the family but found they could not have a conversation with the mother when the boy and the family friend were present.

The CFA was very concerned about the lack of engagement. Since the last court date the social workers had tried to meet the mother. The meeting was scheduled but then the advocate called to say that the mother had not confirmed the appointment so the advocate would not attend the meeting. Later that day the boy and the family friend attended her office. They were verbally hostile and intimidating, she did not feel comfortable speaking with them so she gave the boy an appointment to speak with her team leader. The boy did not attend the meeting at the scheduled time, but several hours later the entire family showed up.

The social worker was no longer in the office as she had another appointment, and it was explained to the family that the meeting was for the boy and not the entire family. The family were quite dishevelled, and the third party sat in the corner and told the mother and boy what to say. The social worker said that she met the boy three times on his own and said that he was like a different child when not in the presence of his mother and the third party.

CFA solicitor: “Do you think he is experiencing abuse?”

Social worker: “We are quite concerned about coercive control. [The third party] incited [the boy] to be aggressive towards me and HSE staff. I am concerned he is not allowed to wash himself or take care of his personal hygiene, not allowed to spend time with friends etc.”

The social worker said that the CFA wanted to have conversations with the mother about the boy’s difficulties and not have the conversations revolve around the family’s unhappiness with their accommodation. She said it was proportionate to seek an ICO as the CFA had exhausted every avenue. She said that a CFA residential placement was available until a more appropriate placement could be found.

CFA’s solicitor: “As a professional do you think someone will be able to work with him? You had an unpleasant confrontation outside of court this afternoon and this is your last day on this case.” [This incident had resulted in the Gardaí intervening]

Social worker: “Yes, he is a very different child when not in the company of [third party], but since the court started, he has become aggressive.”

The mother’s barrister asked the social worker if the boy ever expressed a view that his needs, such as access to food, were not being provided, or that he was prevented from practising good personal hygiene. She said the boy never said that he was hungry, but he was very unkempt, and he smelled strongly of body odour and urine.

The mother’s barrister said that it was the boy’s view that they did not have suitable accommodation. He said that the mother was in a vulnerable situation, she was in a foreign country and had language difficulties and had recently lost her own mother and a sister. He asked the social worker whether the mother expressed any concerns to her.

The social worker said that the mother’s concerns were mainly about accommodation, but she did say once that she thought her son was quite depressed. She said that she believed the mother loved her son and wanted what was best for him, but the third party was undermining her relationship with her son.

The mother’s barrister acknowledged that the social worker experienced a very unfortunate circumstance that morning [when the boy confronted her]. He asked her how she thought the CFA would execute an ICO given the boy’s behaviour and whether it would be necessary to issue a warrant. He said that the court would have to find that the threshold for an ICO was met and that it was proportionate, and said it would not be in the boy’s best interest to be taken away from people who love him by gardaí. The social worker disagreed that an ICO would not be proportionate and hoped that the gardaí would support the CFA.

The mother’s barrister said that the boy appeared to hold very strong views and putting him in care might be damaging to him. The mother said if he were taken into care the boy had said that he would go on a hunger strike. The social worker said that she could not reply to a hypothetical situation but believed that the threat of a hunger strike came from the third party and not the boy. She said that although the boy’s behaviour was very challenging, she did not feel threatened when she met him on his own.

Mother’s evidence

The mother said that prior to coming to Ireland she and her mother cared for the boy, and he was very sad when his grandmother died. He had had eight years of schooling, but his ninth year was broken by war. His health was very good, and he had friends and he was involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities. The family would go on holidays and visit his aunt and her children. When the war began, the boy did not want to go out and he spent all of his time in his room playing on his computer. The mother said that she thought her son might be depressed but he did not take medication for depression.

The mother said that the third party was a family friend and not her lover. She had known him for over twenty years. He was very religious and had spent a lot of time in their home country in churches and monasteries. She said that he regularly visited the family and also brought her son to church. She said that the main reason they wanted to leave their current accommodation was because they attend church service in the city centre.

She said that her son used to sleep in the bed in the hotel room, but the mattress was not good and when her son soiled the bed, he became stressed and refused to sleep in the bed. She encouraged her son to wash and change his clothes and said that his clothes were clean. He did not wear a coat because he did not feel the cold.

The mother’s barrister asked her why her son has not attended school despite being in the country for over six months. The mother said that her son did not sleep well so he was unable to wake up to attend school. She said in respect of attending meetings with social workers that her son did not want to attend. Her own phone was taken from her by the third party, so she had no way to communicate with the social worker.

The mother’s barrister said that the mother gave instructions that her son was to have his own lawyer. The mother said that her son’s rights were violated, and no one listened to what he wanted. If her son was taken into care, he would think that his mother failed to protect him, and he could stop eating. She said that the third party was not a bad influence but tried to protect her and her son as they were unable to protect themselves. The third party helped with the boy’s depression. She said that he was a man of strong faith who wanted her son to become a believer.

The judge thanked the mother for giving evidence and told her that she listened very carefully to what she said. She acknowledged that the mother was new to this country and said that the mother might not be aware that there is a shortage of accommodation and no matter how much they wanted to move it might just not be possible. The judge also said that the third party appeared to enable the boy’s behaviour which did not help the mother’s situation.

Judge: “I listened to what you have to say about your son going to live elsewhere, but tell me is it possible that in this country his depression could be helped?”

Mother: “It is possible. If the conditions were to meet his expectations, but I don’t think so as he is over emotional and he always tries to prove his point.”

The judge said that the boy attended court and told the court what he wanted and referred to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even though he behaved like an adult he was not an adult, and he must be protected. She told the mother that if she had cooperated with the CFA things might not have gone so far.

Mother: “We don’t have accommodation so what can we do?”

Judge: “This is not about accommodation. They can help him with school, depression.”

GAL evidence

The GAL said that the boy’s needs were not being met, as he slept on the floor and wet himself. She acknowledged that life in Ireland was challenging for the boy. A teenage boy should not smell of body odour and urine. She said that outside of court the boy became very agitated in the presence of the third party. The boy was hyper-alert and shifted from side to side. When the gardaí tried to remove the boy the third party watched and recorded the event instead of intervening and trying to calm the boy down. She said that the boy was handcuffed and arrested.

She said that it was clear that the third party exerted a negative influence over the boy and the mother was therefore unable to ensure that her son’s needs were being met. The boy was emotionally abused and there was a total disregard for his hygiene with no structure to his day. She said that the boy might appear articulate, but it was clear that he was unable to explain himself through his own words. When the boy spoke with the GAL he referred to the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child but could not explain what he was referring to. The boy said that he had nightmares about Tusla and wanted to be re-accommodated in another hotel.

GAL “I support the application for an ICO. I never thought I would sit here and say that a special emergency arrangement is best for a child, but here I am. He was brought to a garda station today when we are here trying to keep him safe.”

The GAL acknowledged that there may be a risk in transferring the boy into care and a warrant might have to be issued as the boy would not attend to be taken into care. She said if there was no intervention now the CFA would lose the opportunity to help him.

The mother’s barrister said that when the CFA initially applied for the ICO the GAL only supported a supervision order because there were no suitable placements available and was asked what happened that changed her mind. He said that all parties have seen how the boy responded to persons in authority and that taking him into care via a warrant would have a disproportionate effect on him. The GAL responded, “Is it really disproportionate? How else are we going to get him into care?”

The judge said that in the circumstances she was satisfied that the threshold for an ICO was met. For any child of any age, but particularly a teenage boy, it was not good for him not to be clean, to not dress in clean clothes, sleep in a bed, go to school, or be concerned with adult things. She said that there were lots of things wrong in Ireland, such as not enough accommodation, but there were a lot of things that are done well.

“We try to ensure that children are being taken care of such as education and health care and if people come here from another country they might as well avail of the services available in Ireland.” She said that the boy should learn English and go to school. She acknowledged that the mother was traumatised and that the mother believed the third party was helping, but it appeared that the third party’s sole purpose was to get better accommodation and he used the child for that purpose.

The judge issued a warrant under the Child Care Act for the boy to be arrested and then released into the care of the CFA. She said that the gardaí would transport the boy then a social worker would assist in the transition. Access would be facilitated between the mother and son but the third party would not be permitted to attend. The order also specified that the location of the boy’s placement would not be disclosed to the mother. The judge also said that religion seems to be very important to the boy, and requested that access to a church be facilitated.