This is the second volume of reports from child care hearings, involving cases where the HSE is seeking to take children into care or supervise them in their homes. It includes two, involving English children, where the High Court has asked the English courts to take over the proceedings.

The cases come from all parts of the country, including Dublin. However, the areas from which the cases come are not identified in order to ensure that the families involved cannot be identified.

Once again, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and mental illness feature in many of the cases. Physical and sexual abuse arises in some of the cases, as does non-accidental injury, where a child suffers injury at the hands of a parent or carer.

Many of the cases reported here describe one or two hearings in a lengthy process where the case returns to court repeatedly for updates from the HSE on the situation of the child and the family. The HSE may have obtained a Supervision Order from the court, enabling it to visit the family and monitor its compliance with certain directions of the court. These can include avoidance of alcohol while in the home, ensuring the children are made ready for school and brought there, that homework is done and that meals are prepared regularly.

Other hearings may concern applications for or renewals of Interim Care Orders, a temporary measure taking the child into care until such time as a more permanent arrangement is made, either in care or back in the child’s home. A child is taken into long-term care under a full Care Order, where the HSE assumes parental responsibility for the child who normally goes to foster carers.

These may either be relatives or non-relative foster parents. While the law provides for a Care Order for a child until he or she reaches the age of 18, in practice in many courts Care Orders are made for much shorter periods. They are reviewed periodically, and the reports published here include examples of Care Order reviews.

During this process the courts are sometimes critical of the care the child is receiving from the HSE and the steps it has taken to meet their needs. For example, in one case the court only made a Full Care Order for five months because it was not satisfied that an adequate care plan had been drawn up for the child. In another case the court ordered the HSE to provide a special needs assistant (SNA) for a child in order to help him integrate into his school, and in yet another the court ordered the HSE to provide speech and language therapy “forthwith” for a child who needed it.

Some cases show very positive outcomes for the children. In one reported here a 10-year-old boy’s behaviour was so disturbing he was sent to a residential centre. His progress there was such that after about two years he was able to go to a foster family, he was doing well in school and his parents and the foster family were cooperating in helping him. In another case a Care Order for a teenage boy was discharged and he went home under a Supervision Order that required his step-father not to assault or otherwise mistreat him.

What emerges from the cases published so far is that care proceedings involving children can continue for a considerable period of time, and are never completely final. Even when a full Care Order is made, it should be reviewed by the court and it is also open to the parents to return to court and seek the discharge of the order if the circumstances change to the extent that the reasons for the original order no longer exist.

If you are affected by any of the issues mentioned in the reports published here, or wish to know what services are available to children in care and leaving care, contact Empowering Young People in Care (EPIC) at the link below: