Judge hears boy’s allegations he was subjected to bad experiences in foster placement – 2024vol1#54

A judge in a provincial city court invited a child soon to turn 18 (A) to come to court and meet with her. She spoke with him later in the afternoon and advised him what actions he needed to take. He told the judge that he had very bad experiences when he was a younger child in care and made allegations against his former foster mother. The judge said she believed he was telling the truth and she promised to write a letter of complaint about the matter. She adjourned the case to facilitate actions to take place before A reached his 18th birthday.

When the case began the lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) informed the judge that the social worker was not present as she was in fear of the boy after he made threats of violence against her and she did not feel safe coming to court. The threats included a threat to “slash the face” of the social worker.

The judge said that she herself had been subjected to threats to her safety from time to time but that it was important to go ahead with the case, that there would be security in the court room and a garda was present. The matter was listed for the early afternoon and A was invited into the courtroom along with his guardian ad litem (GAL). The social worker was not present and the boy’s parents waited for him outside the courtroom.

The judge told A that she wanted to have a chat with him as he had felt that nobody was listening to him. She remarked that life had been hard for him. She said she heard that he was a good rapper. She told him that his drug use, which was increasing, was affecting the people around him.

A described his experience in the detoxification centre as strange, he said had left the centre using harder drugs than when he went in. He said that he had gone in to the centre with a plan to get help but he was put on three tablets three times a day and it felt like a relapse to him. The judge suggested an alternative centre not far from his home, which she believed to be very good. The boy said that he was prepared to attend that centre as it was in a suitable location and accessible to him.

Judge: “it’s one thing to say that but are you actually going to go?”

A explained that he was going to attend, that his files and PPS details had already been transferred there. The judge confirmed with A that he was prepared to work with his aftercare worker. He told the judge that he was living with his mother and her friend and was very happy there. When the judge asked about his level of drug use, A replied that his mother was clean for over a year and while there was still some drug use in the house, it was not constant and was “only cannabis” with his friends.

The judge pointed out that there was a communications problem as she said that she considered cannabis to be a drug.

A: “An alcoholic is still an alcoholic without drink. I am still an addict. The only way to get off [drugs] is to keep reducing it continuously until it’s gone.”

The judge asked the boy about his medical condition and he replied that he was a diabetic. He said that his Mam was “on top of the problem” and would not allow him food without checking that he had first taken his insulin. The judge enquired about how he intended to travel to the treatment centre and he replied that his mother’s friend was driving his mother regularly for her treatment so he would have transport.

The judge asked him what his future plans for his life were as he was due to reach his 18th birthday soon. A assured the judge that he planned to attend [an educational centre] and complete his exams and had made arrangements to meet the person in charge and discuss his plans and the aftercare allowance.

The young man told the judge about his bad experiences previously while he was in care and much younger. He alleged that his foster mother used to “lash out” at another foster child in her care, that she had used objects to hit children and had hit him on one occasion with a frying pan. At that time his social worker had promised him he would only be staying there for two weeks but he was there for a considerably longer time. He said that it led to aggressive behaviour when he used to lash out at everyone, slam doors and cry. He said that his foster mother shook him and said: “I put food on your table.” He said he cried all night after that episode. The judge asked the boy if the foster mother had a husband. He replied that there had been a photograph of a man on the fridge and that when he asked who it was, the foster mother said that the man was dead.

The judge asked him if his social worker knew he was very unhappy. He replied that they had known that for years and he had written to the CFA but that his foster mother was always looking over his shoulder and had pulled the landline out of the wall on one occasion. He told the judge that the foster mother had once thrown a plastic washing basket at another foster child. He said he tried not to dwell on it.

A: “The past is the past but it must be talked about.”

He also described trouble he had had with another foster child who borrowed his new jacket on one occasion and had returned it in a dishevelled state and thrown it at him. This had made him extremely angry and he said he had assaulted him.

The judge said she was sorry to hear about A’s experiences in the foster placement. She said she planned to write a letter of complaint about the foster mother. The judge assured the boy that she was satisfied he was telling the truth about the events in the foster home. The GAL informed the judge that the foster mother had since been de-listed and that there was ongoing litigation involving her.

The GAL said he had known A for four years and had become very fond of him and admired him. He had written a letter for A after the previous court date as he felt that he was not listening to all matters and he needed to realise that he could be homeless if he did not improve and take heed of the advice of those trying to help him. The GAL said that the boy had been so upset by the letter that he had self-harmed.

A informed the judge that his aggression was always there. The judge said he needed to learn some coping mechanisms like deep breathing or going to the gym. The boy told the judge he planned to do some boxing and body-building as those were available close to his home. The GAL said that the aftercare worker was willing to work with A after he had reached his 18th birthday. The judge stressed to the boy that it was vital that he engaged with the process and asked him if there was anything else he wished to say to the court.

The judge adjourned the matter for a week to allow time to liaise with the social worker and aftercare worker to ensure as much as possible was set up for the boy before his birthday. Then the judge left her desk and came down to where A was sitting in the court, held out her hand and shook his hand. He seemed surprised and very moved by this gesture. The judge reminded him that the people working with him were saying they were in fear of him but that she could see a good improvement since his last court date.