Judge calls for law change to allow child in care stay at home – 2013vol4#13

A District Court said the law should be amended, as it had been in the UK, to allow a child in care to stay with his or her parents. This followed evidence about a teenager {A} who was the subject of a full Care Order and had been missing in care from his private residential unit. He had absconded so often the unit had told the HSE they could no longer keep a place for him. Although he had been approved for secure care (special care), there was no current placement available.

The team leader told the court that a warrant had been out for the teenager because he had been missing for seven days. He was found in his mother’s attic. A pattern had developed where he kept absconding and would either be found in his mother’s house or on the road.

There were currently 16 children on the list for secure care. The team leader said he had contacted private residential units, which would be a temporary alternative, and he was also pursuing options in the UK for a secure placement.

The boy’s current placement was ending tomorrow. Child A was placing the other young men in the residential unit at risk, therefore the unit had given one week’s notice to the HSE for him to leave, rather than two.

The GAL solicitor asked him if any steps had been taken to pin the teenager’s phone.

Team leader: The guards are reluctant to do that unless it is a life or death situation.

GAL solicitor: Where he is now?

TL: I couldn’t say for sure, but I think his mother’s house. He was last in his placement yesterday for a couple of hours.

The team leader said he was trying to extend his current placement by one more night, the situation was changing day by day, he was making all the enquiries he could.

The judge asked within whose remit was it to answer questions regarding admission and waiting lists, who could assist the court with regard to the care of the child?

The Secure Care Committee, said the team leader, who had indicated to him there was no place available. His application had been accepted for secure care, the last time they were in court there were 14 on the waiting list, now there were 16.

Judge: It’s getting worse and you don’t know where he is on the list?

TL: It is decided upon in terms of need.

The team leader had no timeline, he could find out about step-down times for children in secure care to see if a placement was coming up, however no child was being discharged at the moment because he had already asked. He had to find an immediate placement for A in a secure unit to prevent him from absconding.

In the last week A had spent more time out of his placement than in it. The team leader had made attempts to engage with the teenager’s mother, but she would not open the door to him and had failed to turn up for her appointment during the week.

TL: He spends most of his time at home.

Judge: Is there any merit in considering leaving him at home?

The team leader was prepared to consider it, the mother was not engaging and she was a chronic drug user herself, so it was difficult to assess the situation.

The mother arrived into court, she had no legal representation and had to obtain a current legal aid certificate. She told the judge she was currently stable on her methadone and had attended a clinic.

If it was reasonable what the HSE were looking for she should be paying attention to what they were asking, the judge told the mother.

If she was to make an application to discharge the Care Order [in the future], the court would have to see what has changed in the meantime, he said.

After discussions, the mother agreed to co-operate with the HSE and An Garda Síochána for any handover situation regarding her child. She would call the HSE when he came to or left the house, or if he contacted her and told her where he was.

The judge said he would try and strike a balance of not wasting the team leader’s time writing reports and coming to court every week. There were 16 on the list, five or six children were in the same situation, with no identification of the timescale when a bed would become available.

There had to be some response to this, continued the judge, but the case had to come in every week to be effective. He could direct they had to have a bed for him, but he could not produce one and he accepted the team leader was doing the best he could. The case was put back in for mention the following day.

The mother said she wanted him to stay with her tomorrow because she would be worried sick.

“The Act needs to be amended like it was in the UK to allow for a child in care to stay with its parents,” the judge said.