Judge highly critical of sudden termination of vulnerable youth’s placement by a private placement provider- 2022vol2#40

A judge in a provincial city court was highly critical of the actions of a private placement provider who had immediately discharged a vulnerable child from its care with only 24 hours’ notice. Allegations had been made against the male child, Child A, who is of senior post-primary school age, by a female child in the placement, Child B. The judge was extremely concerned that A, who was subject to bail conditions and had an excellent probation report, was discharged with so little notice by the private placement provider. The result was that A was currently in a seven-day emergency placement and the Child and Family Agency (CFA) was applying for an extension of an additional seven days while a new placement was sourced.

A’s social worker informed the judge that following an allegation made against A by B, A was immediately discharged by the private placement provider and placed in an emergency placement elsewhere in the country. A had refused to go to the emergency placement and went to his home instead and spent a night with his parents. On the subsequent day, A had agreed to go to the emergency placement. The judge enquired if the Gardaí had been notified of A’s change of address as he was subject to bail conditions. The social worker replied that the Gardaí had been notified but had decided to leave A at his parents’ home for the night.

The judge asked about the allegations made against A. She asked if it was experimentation by two young people or if it was more than that. The social worker informed the judge that A’s version of the incident was different to that of B. The judge reminded the CFA that it had a duty of care regarding A and that she was concerned that what had happened leading to A’s immediate discharge may have been experimentation. She was very concerned that the private provider had “acted as judge and jury” and had decided which young person should have been allowed to stay in the placement and which person had to leave. The lawyer for the CFA said that the guardian ad litem (GAL) for B had given a strong indication to the private provider as to which child should leave the placement.

The judge said she was shocked that A was sent out of his home to an unfamiliar placement at 24 hours’ notice. The lawyer for A’s parents reported that as a consequence of the placement termination, A was now out of education and that he had specifically requested to meet with the judge. The judge said she would meet with A but that she had no placement for him and that the court was very unhappy with this situation. She added that there had been no Garda investigation into the allegation, nor were there any indecent assault charges being investigated. A successful placement for A was disrupted by the private placement provider. The lawyer for the CFA said that there had been “strong pressure from [Child B]’s GAL, which had left the placement management in a difficult situation”.

The judge said that this was a very sad situation as A had settled down so well and was doing all that was asked of him in the placement. The judge enquired who was going to write and inform the Chief Executive Officer of the CFA about the situation as she believed it was necessary that he be informed about the difficulties with trying to find suitable placements. A had been cut off from his education and his peer group. When the lawyer for the parents said that the court did not have jurisdiction to tell private providers what to do, the judge said that what had happened was “effectively a breach of the court’s order”. The lawyer for CFA said that it had complied with the court’s directions but that there had been a “history of contact” between B’s mother and A. The judge said it was important that she be informed in more detail about these communications.

Judge: “[The CFA’s CEO] needs to be informed that an urgent placement needs to be found following 24 hours’ notice…the whole situation is volatile…I need to be able to tell [A] something positive”.

The judge adjourned the matter for one week. She repeated that she was very concerned that the private placement provider had over-ridden the court order for A. She directed that the GAL was to be present in court to give a breakdown of the details of what pressure was put on the private provider. The matter was listed for a day one week later.