In early 2023, the absence of appropriate education was discussed in the case of a young teenager, A, who had complex needs and who was the respondent in an ongoing application for wardship by the Child and Family Agency (CFA).
The boy had been in his placement under a voluntary care agreement arising out of behavioural issues at home, but his mother had sought to take him home. In January this year the CFA issued an originating summons in respect of minor wardship. His mother was informed of this at a meeting with all of the professionals involved. Currently the young teenager is under interim wardship orders in a disability placement and a full hearing is expected to take place.
The boy had been a resident for 12 months in a Health Service Executive (HSE) children’s disability placement and had had no form of education during that time. It was the mother’s contention that home schooling should have been in place for the previous year if no alternative means of special needs education was available. The guardian ad litem’s (GAL) report, which was addressed in court by his barrister, stated there was no interim educational plan for A despite the fact that referrals had been made. The GAL was recommending that a more creative approach be taken towards A’s education, including looking at home tuition.
The boy had been the subject of a voluntary care order 12 months’ previously, having lived with his mother until that time. The court heard that the young teenager had been consistent on declining family access and had told the court that he wished to stay in his residential placement rather than return home.
The court also heard that the boy had communication issues and complex needs due to ASD, ADHD and an intellectual disability. “Looking at the position of the reporting today,” said the barrister for the GAL, “he appears to be engaging in property damage rather than physical aggressions and continues to let the team know when he is afraid. He continues to enjoy listening to music, baking, painting and went to the shops on a few occasions in the last month.”
The court heard that significant challenges remained for the teenager, who did not have a current school placement and was on waiting lists. Further applications had also been made to named schools. Overall he appeared to maintain good general health.
The most significant reporting by the GAL was that he had continuously expressed the wish to return to school, to stay in his placement and was continuing to refuse to have family contact. A had become dysregulated when the GAL had attempted to show him cards from his siblings and had subsequently carried out some property damage. His GAL, who was also a social worker, had noted that overall there was a significant deterioration in his presentation.
The GAL was also recommending that a referral to a child sexual abuse (CSA) assessment and therapeutic clinic should be made. The teenager had little involvement in community life, was largely non-verbal and further assessments were required in relation to his trauma and fears and worries in relation to family contact.
His mother had expressed significant concerns around his care planning as he was in the placement for a year without care timelines. The barrister for the GAL told the court that communication had been problematic between the residential placement and A’s mother and two-way support between his mother and the professionals was essential. The GAL was recommending an effective communications plan between the residential placement, the HSE, the CFA and A’s mother of collaborative communication. In the meantime, the GAL was supporting the ongoing placement and protection of the boy in care. A neurocognitive assessment regarding language and understanding had been recommended by his psychologist as well as part of a neuropsychological, educational and access review.
The barrister for the HSE confirmed that an application for a special needs organiser (SENO) was in train as well as funding for (CSA) assessment and therapeutic clinic, home-schooling and an interagency meeting was also scheduled for the following month.
The barrister for the mother told the court that the central issues of the case were not being adequately addressed, especially in the absence of a special needs organiser.
The judge remarked that there were “pressing issues yet to be addressed satisfactorily. It is fair to say that there is an inadequate provision of education and the question of access requires further work, his will and preference is not to have family access and that plainly must have much weight but [the barrister for the mother] submits there is a lack of clarity being done about what might bring about access. It’s not entirely clear what therapeutic assistance is being provided to him. It emerges from the GAL’s report that a more effective communication strategy is needed.
“He continues to be very happy and feel safe and very settled in [his placement], it seems to me, that without directing criticism at anyone, it would be extremely helpful and necessary for adequate educational provision [to be in place] by next court date, this is plainly essential, as well as reporting as to what steps are being taken to try and assist family access.”
Two months later
When the case returned to the High Court for review two months’ later, a barrister for the father made an application to join him to the proceedings. The court heard that the barrister for the HSE had been instructed that the child’s father was not in the state which was why he had not been joined to the proceedings. “Apologies to father for not having being joined at the outset,” said the HSE barrister.
The barrister for the mother told the court that he had a number of matters to raise. He stated that it was his client’s wish for her son to be returned to live with her at home, “she has several children at home, she has a nurturing home environment, the CFA has confirmed that it is closing its file in relation to the mother, it has no child protection concerns in relation to her although there is an ongoing investigation in relation to a third party.”
The barrister said that there were no grounds to argue against the child being returned to his mother and that there were a number of welfare concerns in circumstances where the child was in the care of the HSE. The first concern was access; family access could not take place “as the HSE has no plan, that is a pressing concern from my client’s point of view.” A’s mother had not had in-person access with her son in six months. The barrister for the mother said that it was in A’s interests for access to be established, “subject to his perspective.”
With regards to the teenager’s education, the barrister for the mother then stated that there was “nothing in the files which show any sort of educational provision in place for [him], the court needs to take substantive steps for his educational placement.” He added that the GAL had outlined education as a pressing concern and A himself had been outlining his desire for a school placement. “In my respectful submission while he is in the care of the HSE it is incumbent of them to supply it while A is in [his placement].”
The third category was the issue of a medical review. The mother’s barrister stated that she was not consenting to her son being administered a particular medication, which he named. He added that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) had had concerns regarding his medication previously and historically.
The final heading under which he had submissions was in relation to communication by the residential placement and HSE professionals with the child’s mother. The barrister told the court that it was “the responsibility of the HSE to outline how it intends to established communication protocols with her, in order that she can engage in decision making for [her son] and engage her parental rights.” He had instructions to bring a substantive application in respect of those matters at the next court date and he sought liberty to bring a motion for the next date the matter was before the court.
The barrister for the child’s father told the court that his father had not seen him in five years. “He was never consulted about the wardship applications, or voluntary care applications, he has been trying to find out where his son was for a number of years” from the HSE but had not been provided with any information. His barrister said that he had been enquiring for nine months via email to Tusla/the CFA and the HSE as to where his child was.
The barrister for the father said that the CFA had told him it was a matter for the HSE, and that a senior social worker for the CFA had told him that A was in the care of the HSE but no contact details were given to him. The barrister also stated that A’s father had an ongoing access application before the District Court since mid-2021. His father had seen some of the allegations by A and some of his siblings regarding a third party and some of his siblings, he was very concerned and wanted to know the status of those allegations. He was also very concerned that his son was not in school and he had not consented to the medication that A was prescribed.
The judge granted relief for the father to be joined as a party to the proceedings. The barrister for the GAL said that the GAL had suggested various proposals to solve communications difficulties between A’s mother and the professionals. The child was clearly saying “No Mum, stay in [the residential placement], but he did autonomously call his mum”. The GAL was very clear that “some kind of educational plan” was needed over the summer period. The young teenager had asked about school and a school bag, however, he was still “ambiguous about mum.”
The barrister for the HSE told the court that two professionals’ meetings regarding access would be taking place within the next month and during that time the issue regarding education would be addressed in correspondence.
The barrister for the HSE remarked that there were many children in care without court involvement but the main reason for court involvement in this case was regarding the issue of A’s mother wanting to remove her child from his residential placement.
The barrister also stated “It is not strictly accurate to say ‘in the care of the HSE’, the child is in the HSE disability placement funded by the HSE, the mother gave undertakings not to remove the child recently and did not originally consent to the court order, it is not as though the HSE is not in favour of A having an educational placement.” The barrister concluded by saying that the child was not in the care of the HSE as in the care of the State within the terminology of the Child Care Act 1991.
The court told the practitioners that in relation to the position regarding A’s mother, her barrister had made it clear in his submissions that she would be requesting the return home of her son, emphasising that her son had gone into voluntary care due to challenging behaviours. The court said the GAL had emphasised more needed to be done regarding the communications protocol and a tangible plan for access.
The GAL acknowledged that A had expressed interest in family contact, which was “somewhat of a shift”. The judge said that he expected the teenager to be supported and encouraged in relation to family access. Education was another issue in which tangible progress needed to be made; there was no question for anyone not wanting an appropriate educational provision.
“There needs to be creativity around the question of education the court would expect meaningful efforts to address the education deficit, this court doesn’t have a role in spending other’s money but education is clearly needed in some fashion.”
The judge set a date for a further review and told the parties that he hoped some progress could be made by then.
One month later
When the case returned one month later, the barrister for the HSE sought an adjournment on agreement by all the parties. He told the court that a detailed set of motion papers from the barrister for the mother had been received the day previously and time was needed to take instructions on them. The case was adjourned for a month. The father was in attendance in person and the judge remarked that it was very appropriate that he was present and part of the proceedings.
The case continues.