A judge in Dublin District Court directed that a letter be sent to the Comptroller and Auditor General to highlight certain issues that had arisen with the current standard government contract to providers of residential placements.
The teenager at the centre of the case was being moved to a new residential placement. The allocated social worker confirmed to the court that the placement was available for a minimum of 18 months. The social worker told the court that the Child and Family Agency (CFA) had agreed to put this fact in writing to the boy’s guardian ad litem (GAL).
The social worker said that the GAL had also had a concern about staffing and that while she did not have the details for the court at the time, she could confirm that there was a commitment to provide for additional staff. The social worker said that the new residential placement would allow the current access arrangements to continue and that the boy would continue to attend the same school.
The GAL’s lawyer said that the GAL’s concern regarding the duration of the placement had arisen in circumstances where she had understood that the placement might be extended beyond 18 months but that it was clear from HIQA that the placement would be for a maximum of 18 months. The GAL was concerned that this would mean that no further extensions would be possible. It was for that reason that the GAL had sought the commitment from the CFA in writing that the placement would be for a minimum of 18 months.
The CFA’s lawyer explained to the court that the contract for the placement was for a period of 18 months with a possibility to extend beyond this time. However, the standard placement contract had a termination clause that allowed either party to terminate the contract with three months’ notice.
She said that this was not in the best interests of children and that this is what they had wanted to bring to the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General. She said that this clause had dire consequences for children – the fact that a placement might be terminated and children uprooted at three months’ notice.
She said that the CFA had been inspected by the Comptroller and Auditor General and that they had had issues with the previous practice by the CFA of block booking of, and paying for, beds by the agency whether or not they were used. This had led to a change of practice whereby the agency now booked the service but only paid for that service if the beds had actually been used.
She said that it was understandable, therefore, that if one was a service provider that the three-month termination clause would be very important. She explained that the Comptroller and Auditor General needed to understand this. She confirmed to the judge that she and the GAL’s legal representative would agree on a form of wording that would convey this message in a letter to the Comptroller and Auditor General. He directed that the letter be sent when finalised.