Interim care order for boy soon to be 18 extended amid concerns about drug use and suicide threats – 2023vol1#29

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) brought an application to extend an existing interim care order (ICO) up to the age of majority for a teenager currently in care. Updated reports had been handed into court on behalf of the social workers and the guardian ad litem (GAL). The parents of the boy were in court and the court was informed that it had been the mother who had contacted the social worker in summer 2021 regarding her concerns about the boy’s suicide threats and apparent drug use.

The teenager was arrested in the days before Christmas 2022. He was later charged with criminal offences related to drugs but was released. He was due to liaise with the juvenile diversion programme.

The mother’s lawyer told the court she was extremely concerned that it took the care home five days to inform her and the boy’s father of the fact that he had been arrested and the way in which they were informed, via text, was completely inadequate. The parents had had to make inquiries themselves in relation to the matter and no reasonable explanation had been provided. The parents were the legal guardians of the boy and found the whole manner in which they were treated as disrespectful.

The parents’ lawyer said that there was a wider issue at play in that the teenager had been arrested three times for similar offences and the parents flagged this as an issue previously. The parents had informed the social work team and the care home of these prior instances and the care home minimised the issues and the social work team denied it. The parents felt that there were no consequences for the teenager for his actions.

The teenager had come to the attention of the authorities in the past. The parents took exception to the fact that the message they received from the care home seemed to minimise that he had been found in possession of drugs.

The social worker told the court that they could not compel the teenager to take part in counselling or to undergo treatment.

The parents’ concern was that once the teenager turned 18 the drug use would move from being a care and welfare issue to being a criminal justice issue. Once the teenager turned 18 he would no longer have an allocated social worker or a GAL. In addition, he did not know where he would live once he turned 18.

The court was informed that the teenager had shared these fears with the GAL. The parents said that they had not been able to protect the teenager and they also had to protect their other children. On this basis the parents had agreed that the teenager be received into care.

The court was informed that the GAL had been notified of the teenager’s arrest and had told the care home to notify the parents.

The court heard that an aftercare plan had been flagged previously in court and that it was being flagged again. The aftercare plan set out what the GAL’s recommendations were but there had been no progress as to what was to happen when the teenager turned 18.

The GAL asked that the CFA put a funding application in and to set out the reasons for any refusal and the appeals process. The alternatives once the teenager turned 18 were either private rented accommodation or student accommodation, no formal placement was sorted out. The CFA were to look for funding in three months’ time. It was emphasised to the court that the teenager needed security on this issue.

The social worker gave evidence in relation to her engagements with the teenager and said there were ongoing discussions with the teenager in respect of drugs and the risks involved. The social worker said the teenager would remain in his current placement for up to three months after turning 18. She said an apology would issue to the parents for the way in which they were informed about the December incident.

The parents’ lawyer asked the social worker whether discussions had taken place with the teenager regarding the criminal justice risks to his continued drug use, pointing out that while now he was part of the juvenile system after turning 18 he would be dealt with as an adult. It was put to the social worker that the teenager had no insight as to the wider consequences if he were to receive an adult conviction. It was further put to the social worker that the parents felt the care home were far too lax, that there were no rules or boundaries and no consequences.

The social worker said that possessions would not be taken away as a punishment – that any sanctions or consequences would be in relation to damage to the property of the care home. They looked more at how best to help the teenager, to get insights as to the out of line behaviour and seek to have a working relationship with the teenager. The social worker said the teenager had apologised and had taken ownership of his behaviour.

The lawyer for the parents said that the lax attitude to eliminating/reducing drug use would not cut it under the criminal justice system.

The social worker said the teenager could be affected by having periods of uncertainty in his life and he was open to putting information into his aftercare plan. The social worker said she was not part of the aftercare team but that she would like the teenager to have certainty after the three months. She said the teenager had taken positive steps towards re-engaging with the education system.

The judge asked the social worker if there were any sanctions in the care home for drug use. The social worker said that if drug paraphernalia was found it would be taken from the person and that they would be spoken to.

The interim care order was extended and the judge requested that the person who was to write the aftercare plan be in court on the next occasion.