Judge directs CFA to pay full aftercare allowance to young person thought by CFA to be vulnerable – 2024vol1#66

An application was brought by the guardian ad litem (GAL) of a young man in care about to turn 18, that the CFA was not in compliance with its own policy on aftercare and should pay a full allowance to the teenager.

The CFA aftercare team had decided that the teenager did not qualify for the full after care allowance because of a mild learning difficulty, which was unproven. The judge found “as a finding of fact” that the CFA were not in compliance with their own policies, which had been provided to the court and found no evidence of vulnerability.

The CFA accounts manager was called to give evidence. Copies of the financial support and aftercare policy had been provided to the court and an aftercare needs assessment had also been handed in.

The manager was asked to detail what the aftercare payment was for. She said it was to support education, accommodation and rent, including bills and social life. She said she was of the opinion that they were compliant with the policy.

She was asked if the teenager had any vulnerabilities and she said he had learning difficulties and there were concerns he was on the autism spectrum. She said he would not engage with the assessment and she felt that he would be subject to exploitation if he received the full amount of €500. She said she had fears of the teenager being exploited by his peers and also by his family.

She was asked if he was socially robust and she said he was quiet but driven. She said he had indicated he wanted to do an apprenticeship. His tools would be paid for as part of the scheme.

In relation to the aftercare plan she said he would remain in his current placement to mid-2024, until he had completed his Leaving Certificate. He was receiving a €220 allowance and that would be topped up to €300. He did not pay bills or rent.

The CFA solicitor said to her that the GAL had previously given evidence and had pointed out that if he had student accommodation for 12 months the CFA would pay upfront and that he would receive €200 which would be reduced by €100 as a contribution to the accommodation.

The accounts manager said it was the intention to review the situation in June 2024 to ensure he wanted to undertake the apprenticeship and that the review would be in line with policy. As an apprentice he would receive €220, the same as Youthreach. He also had the option of getting a part-time job. She agreed that the review in June would be to see if he could manage the allowance and that they would continue to top up his pay to €300.

On cross examination she was asked how many children were eligible for the aftercare payment and she said 250.

Asked how many times had she met the teenager, she said it was not her role to meet him and she never had. She had met the social worker and the team leader for aftercare who had both met him. In terms of vulnerability the teenager had a slight learning difficulty. The aftercare plan said mild intellectual disability.

She said that there was a query of autism by the teenager himself, CAMHS felt he had autism but that could not be confirmed as the teenager had not been able to participate in the assessment. She insisted he was vulnerable and open to exploitation and €500 was a lot of money.

She was asked why she was opposing the GAL’s section s47 application on the decision being compliant with CFA policy. She said she felt she was compliant with the policy. It was put to her that her opinion was based on the vulnerability of the teenager due to a query of autism.

The accounts manager was referred to the policy document and it was pointed out to her that the aftercare payment was not means tested but that by the CFA decreasing the amount that was eligible to be paid they were in fact means testing the payment.

The accounts manager was however insistent that the teenager was open to being exploited. She said they were open to reviewing the matter again in mid-2024.

She was asked if the deduction was a national policy and she said no, it was based on the teenager’s vulnerability. She said it was not a universal approach, it was dependent on circumstances. It was put to her that it depended on the area rather than on the vulnerability.

The judge asked the witness a number of questions:

“When was the decision made not to pay?” She said “When the aftercare plan was completed.”

“Who made the decision?” She said she had.

The judge said that when the plan came before the court the previous October there was no mention of any vulnerabilities or possible exploitation. She said there had been other meetings and the aftercare plan could have been clearer. He asked the accounts manager on what basis the decision had been made and she said in relation to possible exploitation and vulnerabilities.

The judge said the assessment of need made no reference to any vulnerability. The accounts manager said things change quickly. She said she had not been completely sure of the plan for the teenager, if he was going to stay in his placement or move elsewhere.

The judge said he did not see any vulnerabilities. He said that there was no compelling evidence of vulnerability. He said the manager had not met with the teenager and had not complied with the policy and that it appeared that there were different approaches in place in different parts of the country. He said the report from Youthreach said that the teenager was doing well and had excellent skills. He said that there was no evidence regarding any vulnerability or any exploitation. He said that there was no basis for differentiating him from others.

The judge said that he had heard the evidence of both the GAL and the accounts manager. A lot of documentation had been provided to the court. He said the aftercare plan envisaged the youth would move to the capital and to student accommodation for an apprenticeship.

He said the decision not to pay the full amount was not in compliance with the policy and that he did not see the concerns based on evidence. He made the order as per the section 47 application declaring that the CFA were not in compliance with their own policy. He made an order lifting the in camera rule generally to allow information to be provided and said the findings of the court could be given to the young person.