Judge directs urgent appointment of aftercare worker for child due to leave care system – 2023vol1#57

A judge in a rural town made a direction that an aftercare worker be appointed as a matter of urgency for a child who would shortly be 18 years old. The child was suffering anxiety due to her recent disclosure of a sexual abuse allegation. She was also stressed by the uncertainty of not knowing who her aftercare worker would be. She had been diagnosed as having complex special needs but was not in receipt of any services from a Children’s Disability Network Team and remained on their waiting list.

Her social worker informed the court that the girl had changed placement six months previously and that there had been a recent deterioration in the relationship with the foster family. She had made a very serious disclosure of sexual abuse, which allegedly happened four years earlier when she was in the care of her mother. She had become very anxious and angry towards the foster family, who had contacted the Gardaí and reported the allegation. She had used a live social media channel to portray her anger at her foster family for referring the allegation. This caused a tense atmosphere in the foster home but the situation had improved in recent times.

The social worker reported that the girl was studying for the Leaving Certificate Applied examination and hoped to study in a third level college. She recently achieved very high marks in her school assessments. The Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) had applied, without success to date, for the provision of assistive technology for her and this should prove very helpful as she would be able to bring the laptop on to her third level college. She would be able to reside with the foster family until after her 18th birthday, after which time she hoped to live independently.

The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) asked if a referral had been made for her under the joint protocol. The social worker explained that where children in care have been diagnosed with a range of moderate disabilities, the Health Services Executive (HSE) and the CFA communicated so that the complex needs could be fully supported. This girl had been referred under the joint protocol as she had complex needs, including autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia and a physical condition which necessitated a block of occupational therapy sessions. In addition, she had gender identity issues. The social worker said that it would be the responsibility of her GP to order any hormonal therapies deemed necessary.

The lawyer for the CFA asked about the referral to Children’s Disability Services. The social worker replied that a referral had been made for A but that she remained on the waiting list and had received no services. She said she had contacted the service again to see if there was a possibility that the referral could now be passed onto the adult section of the disability service due to her current age. She said that her guardian ad litem (GAL) was supporting the application for transfer to the adult disability service.

The social worker reported that the monthly visits with her mother and sister were now progressing well and the relationship between them had improved. Her father had not attempted to contact her and she did not want to contact him.

The lawyer for the CFA asked if an aftercare worker had been allocated as she was due to reach her 18th birthday shortly. The social worker replied that an aftercare worker was due to be allocated one week later. The child-in-care review meeting was scheduled to be held in the following three weeks and funding for continuation with her psychotherapist was due to be applied for then.

The lawyer for the GAL stressed the urgency of the application for the continuing funding of the psychotherapist due to the age of the child and also due to the lack of any involvement from the HSE. She asked the social worker if she was confident that there would be an update on the joint protocol and the application to the adult disability services and the social worker replied that she would do her best.

The GAL told the court that the girl had given a very credible account of the sexual abuse allegation. She added that she was struggling emotionally due to her fears about how the allegation might affect her relationship with her mother and sister. The GAL stressed the importance for her to be able to speak with her psychotherapist about the allegation and the ongoing need for continuing psychotherapy after she reached her 18th birthday. The GAL recommended that the aftercare worker be allocated as a matter of urgency as this was a cause of anxiety for the girl. She said that she was excited about her proposed move to third level education next year and that the foster parents would assist her in applications for the relevant college grant.

The GAL suggested that the aftercare plan would need to be updated and that it was “a little vague”. The plan had been completed prior to her allegation. Also her plans for third level education had not been finalised at the time the plan was drawn up and she was now more decided about her future education plans.

The judge made a direction that the aftercare worker be appointed urgently. He also added that it was his expectation that all the meetings between the professionals involved in the girl’s care would have to take place urgently due to her age. He listed the matter for a date one week later so that the court could be advised of the name of the aftercare worker that had been allocated.