Judge to speak to girl who kept absconding from care – 2015vol1#19

A Care Order for a girl in her late teens was extended for a month in a provincial city, during which the District judge said he would arrange to speak to the girl. She was represented by a solicitor in the hearing.

The girl was in a residential unit and wanted to return home, her solicitor said. The Child and Family Agency wanted to extend the Care Order. The girl’s mother was opposing the extension of the order and also wanted her to return home, as she felt she was not being kept safe in care.

The social worker said the child’s behaviour was erratic, and could be described as out of control. She had very little respect for herself and mixed with undesirable people, getting herself into trouble. It was obvious she had been reared well and had great potential. She had great social skills and was well-mannered, but had addiction issues. She needed structure.

“We have applied for a Special Care Order and it has been granted, but each time the committee meets we’re told there is no place,” the social worker said. “She will be 18 in June. Our biggest concern is after-care. She seems unable to think that far ahead. She seemed to be in shock that she would have to look after herself with shopping, cooking, laundry, etc.”

The social worker said that the team felt it would be better for the girl to be in a residential unit, with directions to be back at a certain time, and tied in to addiction services, than at home. The risks at home included the fact that she had a fractious relationship with her mother. “Her parents love her to bits. They have raised her well in many respects. But she had disclosed physical abuse. She would be a difficult young person to maintain.”

She said when the girl went home at Christmas for an access visit she did not return as agreed and was missing for nine days. Her parents did not believe she was missing because she was with friends. She acknowledged using heroin during this time.

The parents’ solicitor said that the mother maintained a lot of what the girl said, as reported in the psychological report, was not true. The parents were unaware she was smoking heroin. “When did this start? When she was in the care of the CFA?”

The social worker said she did not know. She acknowledged that the girl absconded frequently and had acquired criminal charges while absconding from care. She agreed she had also been in a road traffic accident.

“The CFA can’t keep her safe. Would you agree?” the solicitor asked.

“”I’m not saying she’s safe. But if she is [in the residential unit] with court directions we will know when she does not keep the rules. If she is at home there are no ground rules, no 24/7 care with Garda support or a probation officer.”

Parents’ solicitor: “Essentially you are looking to the supervision of the criminal courts?”

Social worker: “Yes, that is what we are hoping for.”

Solicitor: “My client is saying she is not safe where she is so there should not be an extension of the Care Order.”

The child’s solicitor said: “There were 15 ‘missing from care’ [episodes] in six weeks, some for a number of days.”

Social worker: “I can’t disagree.”

Child’s solicitor: “She breached her bail conditions at least weekly.”

Social worker: “We are hoping that in the criminal court there will be a probation bond, a probation officer appointed, etc.

“She seems to veer towards very, very serious risk-taking. The people she veers towards are engaging in very anti-social behaviour. They include older men. We accept it is quite likely she will end up in [this provincial city] when she is 18. Everything I’m saying is I hope she will improve, I hope it will turn out well. If she stays where she is she will have a therapeutic team 24/7. I would hope she would engage with the services. We have a very short time to do intensive work before she turns 18.”

The judge said the girl persistently made allegations, starting in 2011. She self-referred to the social services in October 2013, claiming her parents were intoxicated and physically abusive. “What sort of relationship does she have with her parents if she is making such allegations and they are not true?”

Social worker: “I’d describe it as fractious.”

Judge: “The [short-term] order expired last year. The parents said everything was sorted. Then criminal charges arose after she was home for two days. She was missing from her parents’ house for five days, drinking, engaging in sex, smoking cannabis, all at the age of 14 or 15. Yet her parents didn’t see the problem.”

The girl’s father told the court he had a fractious relationship with his mother. “She put a lot of these ideas into the child’s mind. My mother is mentally unstable. She is the cause of all this. As for being missing for five days – she was not missing, she was staying with her grandmother.”

The girl’s mother said that there had been difficulties with her from a young age. Her behaviour was assessed in primary school, when she was eight or nine. In secondary school she was assessed again and diagnosed with borderline ADD and ADHD. “She started mixing with the wrong crowd in school. They were into drugs and being away from home, especially one friend who is now in care.

“This was very attractive to her. She began to run away a lot. She did very, very well in her Junior Cert, but her behaviour was very, very difficult at home. We got an appointment in the hospital and she was diagnosed again with ADD and put on medication for it. We were meeting with the social workers as well and with drug and alcohol support. I took support from anywhere I could get it.

“I am not minimising the problems, but the circle seemed to be getting too big, and I focused on the hospital and the [addiction] centre. At Christmas we had a lovely day and then she walked out the door.”

Asked about the contents of the psychological report, she said: “I don’t know why she’s doing that. I think she’s completely exaggerating her cocaine and heroin use. There’s about seven paragraphs there that’s just not true.

“As for her coming home, I know it will be hard, but I feel there will be more control over her if she is at home and engaging with after-care services.”

Judge: “You’re saying you have a relationship with your daughter that is quite emotionally stressful and you can manage better than the good people who have studied and have experience of dealing with children like her?”

Mother: “I’m dealing with her all my life. She’ll be back to me when she’s 18 anyway. As for the professionals – she’s never there.”

Judge: “Even with their experience and their detachment, they’re not doing great. I don’t see how anyone who’s had lies told about them, had so much disappointment, and any conscientious parent would look at their own behaviour and ask themselves ‘did I do something wrong?’ If I can’t be sure you’ll do better I have to make the order. No-one can say she’s done very well where she is.”

Father: “What we have at home is that we love her unconditionally.”

Judge: “Love is not enough. Do you feel that with the history you have of emotional entanglement you can do better than the professionals?”

Father: “If you had a child who was handicapped, you would have no experience but you would learn. You love you own. You’d do anything to make things better.”

Judge: “I haven’t heard from her. Is there any point in hearing from her before I conclude? I have to offer her the opportunity to be heard. As it stands I am inclined to extend the order for a month.”

He extended the order for this period, and asked to see the girl.