Judge directs meeting to decide funding of high security fence in foster home of very vulnerable young child- 2022vol2#43

A judge in a provincial city was very critical of the fact that a high, special security fence had not yet been erected on the boundary of the family home of foster carers of two children. The foster carers are caring for Child A of senior post-primary age and Child B of primary school age.

The court heard A was making great progress both at home and in a new school. B had special needs and was a flight risk who required security fencing to prevent her endangering herself if she got out of the house. The judge was very dissatisfied that no progress had been made on the question of the funding protocol for the fence and directed that a date for the meeting be fixed as a matter of urgency.

The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court that A was using an electronic device for communication. This method of communication was to be developed for him in his school. He had recently been transferred to a special school as he had not been in receipt of any services from his local network disability team due to staffing issues. He had had recent physical health checks, was reported to be sleeping well and had no behavioural issues.

The judge said that taking A’s age into account the aftercare plan should be looked at. The lawyer for the guardian ad litem (GAL) reported that A was in an excellent school placement and in an excellent foster home. He informed the judge that A was getting on really well and that the foster carers were investigating the possibility of caring for him into the future and past his eighteenth birthday.

The social worker for B, who was also in the same foster placement, told the court that a specialist occupational therapy assessment report for B recommended a sensory room and also the erection of a special, high security fence to prevent B from escaping from the house. The judge expressed surprise that this fence had not already been organised as the matter had been in court a number of times previously.

The social worker outlined the procedure for organising funding for expensive items such as the security fence, which would cost in the region of €70,000. There was a joint protocol between the CFA and the HSE, where each party paid a percentage of the cost. The judge stated that this matter had been before the court three months previously and had been adjourned to a date two months previously. She stressed the absolute urgency of the matter, which involved a young child with disabilities, who was in care. The foster carers’ home was surrounded by acres of thick forestry and should the child escape from the house, it would be almost impossible to find her. Even a helicopter search team would encounter difficulties searching for a small child in such a terrain.

The GAL for B described witnessing B escaping from the house on her recent visit there. B had climbed onto a toy kitchen and climbed out of the window.

GAL: “You can’t take your eyes off her for one minute.”

The lawyer for the GAL said that a meeting had taken place a month ago but that B’s urgent necessity for the fence was not discussed. He said he was now urgently requesting that a date be set for the meeting so that a decision on the fence could be made. The social worker said that the very detailed occupational therapy assessment report made it difficult to obtain the three quotations of prices necessary for the joint protocol. There was also a difficulty because the quotations were only valid for a three-month period.

The judge stated that she was not prepared to let this matter go on. The CFA and HSE had already had a month to deal with it. The social workers were doing their very best but there was now a danger that this excellent placement for B might break down.

Judge: “These foster carers are doing a great job with two difficult children.”

The lawyer for the GAL said that the CFA had obtained three quotations and had looked to the HSE for a percentage of the funding but the matter had never been progressed.

The judge made a direction that the meeting was to be organised as a matter of urgency and that she was to be informed of the date and time of the meeting.

Judge: “The gravity and urgency of the matter is to be reported forthwith to [the CEO of the CFA] and in particular is to be furnished with the occupational therapy report, the costings, the social workers’ reports and the GAL’s report.”

The judge said that she regretted that the GAL had to witness B escaping from the house. The GAL replied that the matter was “most concerning” and that if B’s placement broke down, the cost of a fence “would be dwarfed by that of a residential placement”.

The judge listed the matter to be brought back before her as a matter of urgency after three days.