The Dublin District Court heard that a new residential placement had been found for a troubled teenager, but her guardian ad litem expressed concerns about its location close to other family members.
This followed an earlier hearing where the judge had issued a direction that, unless a suitable placement was found to the satisfaction of the GAL, the Chief Executive of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) was to attend court on the next hearing to explain why the CFA was unable to meet its obligations in respect of providing and/or sourcing residential care units for children with complex needs. The guardian ad litem (GAL) had brought the section 47 application 10 days before seeking directions of the court in circumstances where the teenager’s current residential placement was due to end in few days’ time and a suitable new placement had not been identified by the CFA. The judge granted the Section 47 application and issued the direction.
At the earlier hearing the GAL’s solicitor told the court that she had had to seek similar directions from the court approximately seven months before when the girl had been placed in an unregulated unit. At that time, on foot of the court’s directions, a regulated placement had been sourced for the girl. Unfortunately, the private providers of that regulated placement had now informed the CFA that it would not renew the contract for the placement when it expired in one month’s time and as a result, a further placement was required.
The solicitor told the court that the girl had been in more than 20 placements already. She asked if the CFA could use a little creativity to bring forward her aftercare placement arrangements, which would come into effect in about four months’ time when the girl turned 18 years of age, in order to reduce the need for her to move again in the interim period.
The solicitor said that the CFA had mentioned a single occupancy aftercare unit that was not currently registered to take under 18-year-olds and wondered if it would be possible for it to be registered for the few months until the girl turned 18 years of age. She also noted that the CFA had referred the girl’s placement requirements to the relevant local committee but that she had understood that her referral would go to all of Dublin and Leinster.
The solicitor for the CFA said that there were two issues to be dealt with – the girl’s immediate placement needs and her aftercare placement needs. She said that the CFA had sourced a placement for the girl for the immediate term (in three weeks’ time) but that it was a semi-independent unit and not a single occupancy unit. It was expected that another placement would become available in November but the CFA did not have confirmation of this yet.
She said that an aftercare placement would only be possible after the girl turned 18 years of age. A number of private providers of placements had been listed in the social workers report that would be able to offer an aftercare placement once the girl turned 18 years of age, but that it was up to the private provider whether they wished to apply to take placements for teenagers under 18 years of age. The provider that had been approached was not willing to undertake the inspection process required to take in teenagers under 18 years of age.
She said that the CFA were open to looking creatively at linking the pre- and post- 18 placement options, but that the only option available at present was the semi-independent placement. She added that the CFA had referred the girl for an ordinary placement with 24-hr care for the intervening period. However, she said that the girl had been refused placements by private providers previously.
The judge told the CFA’s solicitor that it was unacceptable for the CFA to say “what can we do?” and to try to contract out of its responsibilities. It was the CFA’s business model to use private providers and the responsibility for the girl’s care remained with the CFA.
The solicitor for the CFA confirmed that the girl’s case had been referred to the committee with responsibility for assessments in Dublin and Leinster but that there was no availability at present. It had also referred her case to Dublin North East. However, there were no places available at present with this panel either. In fact, there was no children’s panel to which the girl had not been referred.
The judge then heard from the girl’s allocated social worker. She confirmed the placement situation and said that CFA was trying its utmost but that it was a question of resources. The judge acknowledged this.
The solicitor for the GAL asked the judge if he would issue section 47 directions to the CFA in respect of the girl’s placement and that in the event those directions were not complied with within a specified time, one or more members of senior management at the CFA would attend court to provide an update on the situation. The judge said that he did not wish to hear from middle management at the CFA.
The judge directed that unless the matter of the girl’s placement was resolved to the satisfaction of the GAL before the next hearing date, the Chief Executive of the CFA would be required to give evidence to the court explaining why the CFA could not meet its obligations to provide the young girl with a suitable registered placement.
The matter was adjourned for 11 days, with liberty to apply, on notice to the GAL, in the event that “a miracle occurred” and that a suitable placement was found for the girl. The judge gave the solicitor for the GAL liberty to apply for a witness summons should it be required but added that he would consider it an affront to the court if the Chief Executive was not prepared to attend voluntarily.
When the case came back to court the CFA’s solicitor told the court that a new residential placement had been found for the teenager in a northern county and she was due to move in a few days’ time. There would be no gap between the placements. She said that an aftercare placement in an apartment had also been found for the teenager in the Dublin region for when she turned 18.
The solicitor for the GAL told the court that technically the CFA had complied with the section 47 directions of the court. However, she said that the residential placement found was not in an appropriate location and that, morally and ethically, she was very disappointed that this was the best the CFA could do.
The GAL said that the teenager’s siblings were located near to the new placement and they were doing very well there. The GAL was very concerned that the presence of the teenager in the same area would change this dynamic. In particular, she said that there were major concerns that the teenager’s mother, an active drug user, would come to the area which could be detrimental to the other siblings.
The GAL said that the new placement was run by the same service provider as the current placement and she could not understand how it was that the service provider could not look after the teenager in the current placement but could do so in the new one. How would the service provider meet the teenager’s needs now when they could not do so previously?
The GAL said that she only heard about the aftercare placement for the teenager that day and that she would have to look into it in the coming days. She noted that the new placement was a new unit and she asked whether it had been formally registered.
The judge said to the CFA’s solicitor that there was a suggestion of “mealy mouthiness” on the part of the Agency that the teenager was not able to stay in her current placement. He reiterated the concern that the presence of the teenager in this new placement might negatively impact her siblings who were in the same area.
The solicitor for the CFA said that as the placement was a new unit it was not yet registered, but it had been agreed that the placement would be registered. She said that it was a decision of the service provider, not the CFA, to end the teenager’s current placement and it was not for want of trying to prevent this on the part of the CFA social workers that it had happened. However, the judge replied that this was not an excuse the court was willing to entertain. The CFA was paying the service provider for its services and this was a case of “the tail wagging the dog”.
The solicitor for the GAL asked the court to adjourn the matter in order to keep the section 47 application live.
The judge agreed to adjourn the matter for a further week and directed the CFA to provide all information to the GAL about the new unit and its pending registration. He also directed the CFA to address the GAL’s concerns regarding the siblings located nearby.