No appropriate placement for boy with challenging behaviour facing criminal charges – 2024vol1#41

The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told Dublin District Court it had been unable to find an appropriate placement for a teenage boy with challenging behaviour, who had gone through a significant number of placements in the last two years and was currently in an unregulated placement.

The matter was before the court in circumstances where the judge previously dealing with it had made a direction that the CFA provide an appropriate placement which would meet the teenager’s specific needs. She said a stay had been sought on the direction at the time but it had been refused. The CFA was now seeking to make a renewed application for a stay pursuant to section 22 of the Child Care Act, 1991, in circumstances where there was no available placement that met the description within the court-ordered direction.

The court was told the last few years had not gone well for the boy. His foster placement had broken down in circumstances where the parents had separated, and since that time he had gone through multiple placements. He had been in bespoke units, unregulated placements, and more recently he had spent a number of months in various hotels. He was currently living in a one-bedroom apartment.

His mother was in prison serving a life sentence and had been there his whole life. His father was deceased. He had suffered a lot of trauma and his behaviour was challenging, which had made it difficult to care for him. Consideration had been given to whether special care was appropriate but the special care committee had determined it was not. Instead, a recommendation was made that the teenager be placed in a trauma-focused placement.

The CFA solicitor said there had been “huge challenges” in trying to deliver an appropriate service to the boy. The CFA was experiencing ongoing difficulties in circumstances where there were staff shortages due to a number of issues including assaults in the placements.

The issue of this court’s jurisdiction was raised by the GAL barrister, who had sought a direction from the court previously. The barrister said the GAL had sought and been granted a direction that the CFA provide an appropriate placement for the teenager which met his specific needs. He said that as the direction had not formed part of a wider application for a care order, it was not captured by section 22. This section gave the court of its own motion the power to vary or discharge a condition which was attached to a care order or supervision order only.

He went on to say that as per the GAL’s updated report, there had been no substantial change in her view that would lead to any improvement in the situation for the teenager. There was a very extensive history of placement breakdown and it had been noted on the last court date that in the last 26 months the boy had been in 30 different placements, which were often very inappropriate.

An internal CFA assessment had considered that the teenager did not meet the criteria for special care and two further referrals by the GAL after this had also been refused. The options recommended by the special care committee were that the boy either be referred for drug treatment or the focus shift to aftercare planning for him. It had been stressed on the last court date that a special case should be made for the teenager given his background. There was a “very narrow window of opportunity” as he was going to age out in a number of months.

The court was told that on the last date it had been suggested that the teenager could be re-directed away from a number of risks if an appropriate placement was provided. The barrister said it was in those circumstances that the court had decided that a special case would be made for the teenager, so any further delay “eats into the very narrow window we have here.”

The judge said he was “uneasy” looking at the order on file and the jurisdiction issue. He said another judge had already considered and refused the CFA’s application for a stay and he was now being asked to re-consider it. He suggested the matter should go back before the same judge in the circumstances.

In reply, the CFA solicitor asked the judge to interpret section 22 in a purposive way as the teenager was a child in care and this was the main consideration. She said the teenager was currently living in a one-bedroom apartment where there were two care staff available for him. He was about to start a course through a work incentive and had become better at realising that there were consequences for his behaviour. She said his grandmother had been instrumental in this regard. There had been no physical assaults in the last four to five weeks which was “quite a contrast” from the previous position.

The CFA was working towards his current placement meeting his needs pursuant to the court direction. There was also a focus on getting the teenager to engage with his aftercare planning. The solicitor said she was asking the court to allow the CFA the opportunity to comply with its statutory obligations by granting the stay.

Having heard the parties’ submissions, the judge said he considered it was more appropriate to adjourn the matter back to the previous judge who had dealt with it. The matter was put back for one week to facilitate this.

Subsequent hearing

When the case was before the court again, two months later, the court heard that it had been hoped that his future had somewhat resolved but in fact there had been another placement breakdown and he was in emergency accommodation and had actually spent the previous night in a hotel. The CFA was trying to identity another service for him for aftercare and two referrals had been sent out.

In addition, the course he had been going to do had also broken down and there were charges before the Children Court, and the CFA was trying to get bench warrants dealt with.

The solicitor for the GAL told the court that the child had been in care since he was a baby and the history was very difficult. Since late 2021 there had been a number of placement breakdowns. An arrangement with a voluntary residential care provider had been made but that had broken down after only one week. The solicitor for the GAL said the teenager wanted to move on his own terms and that in order to get this he exhibited fear and aggression. He said the psychiatric assessment indicated he needed a single occupancy placement.

The solicitor for the GAL said further efforts needed to be made to get him a single occupancy placement. He acknowledged the efforts that had been made and appreciated them but again reiterated that a single occupancy placement was what was required.

The teenager’s mother was present in court, having been produced from prison. Her solicitor said that the mother was very disappointed and upset as she had high hopes for his progress.

The mother was aware he was turning 18 in a few months’ time and that a plan for aftercare needed to be put in place. She was committed to doing her best to encourage her son and to do whatever was necessary. She said she had only seen him once in the last nine months but they spoke every day. She said she would like to see him.

The social work report stated that the teenager was not open to any psychological therapy.

The grandmother said she was supportive but she was not able to mind him.

The mother’s solicitor said her client was having difficulty in getting access with her son in the prison. The court said for now it was making a recommendation but could in future make a direction to the prison.

The aftercare review was adjourned for two weeks at which time an update should be provided on the special emergency arrangement. The court noted the serious concerns of the GAL, the concerns of the CFA and the efforts being made. The link worker was also to liaise with the mother and prison and if necessary the solicitor for the mother could bring a formal Section 37 application for access. The court said any updates in the meantime should be shared and the judge adjourned the case for two weeks.