The District Court extended an interim care order for five children, and further directed the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to immediately identify an appropriate, long-term and regulated placement for three of the children.
The application to extend the interim care orders for all five children was not being opposed by the parents. The mother’s solicitor said she had not been able to get an instruction from her client, but on previous occasions she had always consented. She said she had ongoing concerns in relation to her client’s presentation. She was “very much trying to face her problems,” but also understood she was not in a position to care for her children at present. Although the father was known and had been served with the proceedings, the court was told he did not generally attend any of the court hearings.
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said the GAL was consenting to the extensions, and had a further application under section 47 of the Child Care Act, 1991, in respect of three of the children’s placements. The court said it would deal with this after.
The CFA solicitor said that Child A was in secondary school and was doing very well in his placement. He was enrolled in sports and was engaging well in school.
Child B was also in secondary school, but he struggled with a number of behavioural issues. He was placed in a special arrangement, but this was due to end soon. A new placement had recently been identified in another county, but the issue was that he would have to move from his current school, where he was doing very well. The anticipated new placement was therefore conditional on an appropriate school being identified for him.
Child C had moved placement multiple times since coming into care. Most recently, he been in a short-term placement, but this had ended in May. He was then moved to another short-term placement where he remained, but this was due to end in two days’ time. The CFA solicitor said a plan had been put in place whereby C would move to a further foster placement for a period of 10 days. An urgent referral had been made to the private placement team to ascertain whether a residential placement might be available, but the response was that nothing was currently available.
Child D was in a similar position. He had moved placement seven times and was currently residing in a long-term placement, but the CFA had recently received confirmation that it was coming to an end in 28 days. An application had been made to the central referral committee to identify a new long-term placement, and a further referral had also been made to Fostering First Ireland, but nothing was available.
Child E was an infant. He was noted to be doing very well in his foster placement and was very happy there. He had regular access with his grandmother and loved seeing her. He was progressing well generally and his placement was not at risk of ending.
The parties agreed the threshold continued to exist to extend the interim care orders in respect of all five children. The court said it would extend the orders for each of the children for a further period of 28 days.
The court moved on to the application under section 47 of the Child Care Act, 1991.
The solicitor for the GAL confirmed she was seeking a direction in relation to B, C and D, that the CFA immediately identify an appropriate, long-term and regulated placement for all three children, which was suitable to their needs, and that the children be placed there without delay. She sought a further direction that the CFA adopt the GAL’s roadmap for the children.
The solicitor explained the reason it was necessary to seek the court’s direction was “not because of any wrongdoing by the social work department, but because these children need proper placements which meet their significant needs.” She said nothing would change unless the relevant directions were made by the court. The children needed to “thrive and prosper in care,” and they could not do this unless suitable placements were identified in which they could feel “safe and secure.”
The court said it would like to hear from the GAL regarding the placement issue.
The GAL said B was currently in an unregulated placement, but was doing quite well there. B had one of the “most concerning presentations” when he came into care initially. The children had come from a “very chaotic” home life, but B had probably struggled the most. He said his parents had blamed him for everything that was happening in their relationship, and he felt “everything was his fault.” B had come a long way since then and had started to settle into a good routine, particularly in school, so it was very unfortunate that his placement was due to end and he would likely have to move school.
C was in his fourth placement and was about to be moved again. The GAL described him as a “quiet child with significant needs.” She said he was “quietly expressing his needs,” and had some behavioural issues which required support.
D was in his second placement and was also displaying behavioural issues. He was struggling to regulate his emotions, and had multiple triggers. His carers were managing these behaviours as best they could, but a 28 day notice to end his placement had been served and a suitable alternative placement had not been identified.
The GAL said directions were required as “we need to challenge the processes that confine the social work department.” She said that while it was a fact that there was a serious lack of placements, this did not mean that absolutely none existed.
She said: “None of this is easy, but whatever needs to be changed it must be changed to allow the children to get the stability they require… I am not saying the system isn’t responding, it has responded in the past, but there has been a total mis-match in terms of the children’s requirements and fundamental needs.”
Having heard the submissions, the judge said she accepted the unchallenged evidence of the GAL and noted the agreement of the parties that the issue of the children’s placements was paramount. She accepted that the social work team had done “everything possible to advance the situation,” and that it was “no reflection on them or their work,” but the difficulty was the processes in place. Ultimately, the court was required to take into account the best interests of the children. The placement settings for B, C and D were of particular concern to the court. Stability was a key factor for each of the children and this was lacking.
The court directed that the CFA immediately identify an appropriate, long-term and regulated placement to meet all of the needs of the children, and that following this the children would be placed there without delay. A further direction was made that the CFA adopt the GAL roadmap, which included a stipulation that the residential placement and fostering teams meet to discuss the issues, and that a residential unit be explored for B and D.
The judge said: “I appreciate there are difficulties for the CFA, but this is in the best interests of the children and that is what I have to consider.”