Interim care order for unaccompanied minor extended in virtual hearing – 2020vol2#12

An extension of an interim care order (ICO) was granted on a virtual remote hearing in the Dublin District Court during the summer of 2020. Remote hearings were set up in response to the Covid-19 restrictions and were part of a pilot virtual hearing programme set up by the Courts Service.

The ICO extension was the first extension after the granting of the initial ICO for an unaccompanied minor who had possibly been the subject of trafficking. Her social worker told the court that the teenage girl [A] was currently staying in a residential centre and following a request to a private fostering agency two potential placements had come up. The social worker was hoping to visit those placements with A next week and have the teenager moved to a foster family by the end of the summer.

For now, there had been no progress in contacting A’s family, although A had been given a smartphone and encouraged to use it to trace her family. She had told the department that she had a contact number for an uncle but that she was unable to get through to him on it.

As a separated child, A would be seeking asylum (an application for international protection). The International Protection Office (IPO) was now carrying out preliminary interviews prior to taking applications again after being closed for the last couple of months due to Covid-19. The social worker confirmed that there was a Garda Siochana investigation into a trafficking allegation however the detective had informed the social work department that they did not have enough information to proceed and therefore needed more information from A. For now, the social worker was hoping that A would come forward with some more information during the asylum application.

Her social worker told the court that she was trying to ascertain if the teenager had come through another EU country on her way to Ireland. However, A had stated that she had not done so and had used connecting flights without going into any other EU country.

The social worker informed the court that A’s fingerprints would be taken in the IPO office for the purpose of establishing her identity, and those fingerprints would come up in the system if she had already tried to get into another EU country.

The barrister for the guardian ad litem (GAL) told the court that the GAL welcomed the progress being made in terms of the asylum process. A had expressed her wish to live with a foster family and had told the GAL she would love to settle in with a family in Ireland. With regards to education, the barrister for the GAL told the court that education was one of the main factors they needed to consider and A would attend a programme that would prepare her for what it is like to attend a mainstream school in Ireland. The GAL had been in contact with the director of the programme and the plan was that A would attend that programme first and following on from there she would go into mainstream school a year below her age group in order to give her a chance to get used to the classroom environment and subjects.

With regards to her cultural and religious identity, so far she had had easy access to mosque facilities although there was no mosque in the area of one of the potential foster placements. However, that would all be discussed before any decisions would be made and prayer at a mosque could be facilitated monthly.

The court was asked to make the extension to the ICO subject to Article 20* as the social work team were as yet unsure of whether she had come through another country prior to arrival in Ireland.

The judge said that he was quite satisfied that A’s concerns were being considered and were being sensitively dealt with by the CFA. He said he was also satisfied that in circumstances where A had arrived into Ireland recently and where there was the concern of trafficking of a vulnerable young person that the order was required. The child also needed to be in the care of the state with regards to medical care as she was too young to give her consent if medical care was required and there was the concern that she would suffer harm and neglect if no order was made.

Furthermore, her parents had neglected in their duty by leaving their daughter [the court did not state where or when her parents had left A]. The application for the ICO had been made on notice to the parents [the court did not give any details with regards to how this had been done] and the directions that had been previously made at the initial ICO were continued.

The court asked the GAL to pass his good wishes onto A, he remarked that she seemed to be doing very well in the care of the state and he wished her all the very best.

*Article 20 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – Equality before the law.