Interim care orders extended for two weeks for two boys where court heard of threats and pressure from father to engage in criminality; one child speaks to judge – 2024vol1#11

A judge in Dublin District Court extended interim care orders for two teenage boys from an ethnic minority, where one of them came to court seeking to speak to the judge about his urgent desire to go to the UK to live with a maternal aunt. He was afraid of his father. The parents were not present in court and no evidence was given on their behalf.

Social worker evidence on A

The social worker from the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said it was in the best interests of child A to meet with the judge to express his wishes and feelings. He had a ethnic minority identity and wanted to travel to the UK and stay there with his maternal aunt. Child A wished to put forward why he felt so strongly about this.

Both the GAL and the social worker had been to visit the aunt’s house in the UK. It was clear she wanted the best for him, was very supportive of him and he had an excellent relationship and strong bond with her. He was willing to listen to his aunt and he was behaving himself as his aunt had told him to do.

While they were there the aunt showed both the guardian ad litem (GAL) and the social worker a number of items that she had bought, and she told them had been in contact with both a doctor and a college in the UK on behalf of the boy. The aunt had him at the centre of her heart. The social worker said child A understood why he could not be in his mother’s care as his mother was under the influence of drugs and there were safety concerns relating to his father.

She said child A’s father had provided verbal consent initially for child A to travel to the UK but the child did not want his father to know where he would be living. During a three-way call the previous day child A had become dysregulated and he told his aunt that his father was objecting without knowing who it was. His aunt agreed for her identification to be made known to his father. The father claimed that the aunt was not child A’s mother’s sister and changed his stance about A being able to travel to the UK.

Child A said there was threats to his life and that it was very clear that he did not want his father to know of his whereabouts. Child A had spoken about people having “a hit out on him” because he would know too much about the criminality his father was involved in.

The boy had become very dysregulated and said a number of people had been following him. The CFA was concerned about staff. The Gardaí had been called, things had escalated and the door of the unit was locked. There were a number of reports of valid threats about his father having a hit out on him and he had a concern for his other sibling. There was increased pressure from the father on child A to carry out criminality. He did not want a life of criminality. He had a medical issue and he wanted to settle down. He said any contact with his father would lead to a road of criminality. The Gardaí believed that those threats were credible and very valid and the child’s mother had echoed the opinion that the threats were valid.

The social worker outlined an incident where the child had reported that his sibling (B) had had a firearm and he disposed of it for him. Child A would take on a parenting role in relation to his sibling.

The social worker said that the plan was to engage further with the father about the CFA’s wish that the child move to the UK. The social worker said that they might consider a section 47 application to dispense with the father’s consent if further discussions led nowhere. Child A was currently in a special emergency arrangement where there was a one-to-one staff ratio in a two-bedroom flat with no other children.

GAL evidence

The GAL also said it was in the child’s best interests to meet the judge. She said he was at the highest risk management level and he wanted to go to the UK that day. He had told her that his life was at risk. He had recently moved from a commuting county to Dublin. The GAL had said that the threats being made were valid, according to the Gardaí. The GAL said that there was allegations that someone had tried to get child A into the boot of a car.

The GAL told the court that the maternal aunt in the UK had six children of her own and that child A had told her he wanted to settle down and get married. Child B however would not engage with child A’s concerns. The children’s mother said child B saw himself as a gangster. There were conflicting rights between the father and child A.

The GAL said that child A needed a single occupancy unit given the significant risk. She said the special emergency arrangement (SEA) was not suitable but the Gardaí had said they would be able to respond quicker than in another area. It was possible that the boy might have to move again. The court needed to make a short order and the aunt would attend court if the CFA could support her.

The GAL said based on the information provided to date she was of the opinion that the move was appropriate given the risks, but they were not able to do an in-depth review as time was of the essence. They did not have time to wait 16 weeks for the assessment to be completed. The GAL said another visit to the UK would be needed and for a team’s call to discuss a number of issues with the potential foster carer. The GAL said she would support the application. The judge said she would meet child A in the court.

The court rose to allow the meeting to take place.

Social worker evidence on B

When the court returned the judge said she wanted to hear from the social worker in relation to child B. The court was told that child be was still in a commuting county where he stayed for periods of time but he also left care regularly.

The social worker child B was completely different to child A she said. Child A was able to vocalise whereas child B was a closed book, very difficult to engage and he did not want to discuss any concerns. She said he had dismissed concerns, he had a façade, he was smirking and laughing and did not see himself as a person being at risk.

She said Child A would know a lot more as he had lived with the father for a longer period, he would have had more exposure to criminality. Child B was very defensive when asked if he needed a weapon when he was out and about.

The social worker said she had discussed return to school with child B and they were currently looking into a place in the county. The aunt in the UK said she would consider child B going to the UK. There was a clear bond between the two siblings. They would consider a UK move for a child B once child A was settled. There was a potential for child B to have a life of criminality. What was more worrying was that child B was not opening up and was very difficult to engage with.

Judge’s comments

The judge asked had the agency considered special care and the social worker said they did not think the children would meet the threshold. She said that the risk was a risk posed by other individuals and the children were not a risk to themselves. She said both children answered their phones to the staff when they were out in the community, and although they had periods of leaving their placements they did return.

The judge asked if there was any contact with any minority ethnic-specific services, the social worker said the CFA were open to exploring such contact.

The judge said this was a deeply troubling and complex case which was very fluid in that a week previously the parents were consenting to the boys’ move to the UK, which had now been set back by the father’s objection. The court said it had deep concerns for the two boys and was concerned about the safety of both of them. The court said they would make a two-week order with a for-mention date for the following week.

The judge said the court needed the greatest possible oversight.

The CFA solicitor said that there were competing issues in relation to special care, perhaps it would meet the threshold on certain elements but not overall. The two boys had challenging behaviours but were working with the social work team and child B had been absolutely clear that he was staying nowhere unless it was in Dublin or a nearby county, although that could not be guaranteed.

The judge said she had heard the significance of the case and was satisfied that the threshold was met. She said the court should maintain the maximum possible oversight and she extended the interim care order for a period of two weeks. Given the urgency of the need for a placement she would list the case for mention in two weeks’ time.