Large number of cases re-entered in Dublin District Court because no allocated social worker – 2024vol1#63

In a series of hearings, a large number of different cases were re-entered in the Dublin District Court where the court had become aware of the fact that children who were the subject of section 18 care orders had had no allocated social worker for an extended period of time. The cases had not been re-entered by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) as they had been directed to do so the court re-entered the matters of its own accord.

Hearing regarding 24 cases

In one hearing relating to 24 cases, the Dublin District Court judge said that the court had been left in the unsatisfactory position that it had to re-enter the matters of its own volition despite the fact that all of the section 18 care orders had default directions requiring the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to re-enter a case automatically in the event that no social worker was allocated for a period of time. The judge said that this was an essential safeguard to ensure that the children who were in the care of the State received the proper care and support and services that they required.

The judge said that all 24 cases had been reported to him as having no allocated social worker since some time in the 2022 and they were all from one Dublin district only. He said that there was a huge level of trust placed in the CFA and it was very concerning and unsatisfactory that none of the 24 cases had been re-entered by the CFA.

The judge reserved the court’s position regarding the CFA’s inaction but he said that all of the cases would remain before the court for the foreseeable future. The judge re-entered each of the 24 cases listed and adjourned them to various dates within the following two to four weeks.

In each case, he directed that a letter be provided to the court signed by the Principal Social Worker, the Area Manager and the Regional Chief Officer explaining why the case had not been re-entered by the CFA and stating who had made the decision not to re-enter the case before the court.

He also directed the CFA to ensure that the parents of the children were notified of the next date their child’s/children’s case was before the court and, where relevantd he appointed or reappointed guardian ad litems (GALs) to the children involved.

Hearing regarding 80 cases

In a subsequent hearing, the Chief Regional Officer of the CFA gave evidence in respect of more than 80 cases identified by the court where children in care have not been allocated a social worker. The cases were re-entered due to the CFA’s non-compliance with the directions in the care orders.

In one case, two children had not been allocated a social worker since 2022. The judge said that the court’s direction was that the case was to be re-entered if the children had no social worker in excess of six weeks. The children did not have a social worker for approximately two years and the CFA failed to re-enter the matter.

Judge: “In 2012 President Horgan directed that the case was to be re-entered if the child was without a social worker for a period of six weeks. This case has not had a social worker since 2022 with no satisfactory explanation.”

The judge said that the case should have been re-entered in 2022 with a GAL appointed. He said that this was another case where the CFA failed to supply what the court had ordered and said that it was an appalling and disgraceful situation. He said that the District Court was of local and limited jurisdiction, but the decisions made under the Child Care Act were one of the most serious orders to be made. The court was there to safeguard the children and one of those safeguards was to ensure that a child taken into care was allocated a social worker. When the Chief Regional Officer became aware that children had not been allocated a social worker she organised a meeting to ensure a specific action plan but did not re-enter the cases.

The judge said that the court required a national response in writing from the CFA addressing the issue of children in care not being allocated a social worker. In one social work department the CFA failed to comply with court orders as far back as ten to twelve years. He asked: “What is the management’s response to the risk posed to these children and what is being done at a national level?”

In another case, the child, the subject of a special care order, was left without an allocated social worker. In a further case, the court made directions which included a number of safeguards, and the CFA did not abide by those directions.

Judge: “The position of the court is unacceptable, for whatever reason the CFA failed to comply with directions in many care orders going back numerous years. The District Court has limited jurisdiction and the court places trust in the CFA to ensure that if the circumstances of the children change then the matter is brought back before the court. That the agency failed to comply with the court’s directions is a serious breach of trust of the court.

“There are three judges sitting five days a week and here we are today, and the court has to re-enter the matter because the agency has failed to comply. The confidence in the agency is seriously undermined. Furthermore, no explanation has been provided as to why the order was not complied with and that needs to be clarified.”