No appropriate placement for sexually exploited teenager following months of High Court hearings. – 2017vol2#14

In June 2016 a High Court judge heard during the Minors’ Review List that a young man who was in secure care since late 2015 and sitting his Junior Cert would be transitioning out of the unit into a residential placement. However although the placement had been found and was appropriate the teenager did not want to live there. The court heard that he had been sexually exploited by adults before his admission into secure care and this step down placement was located away from where this had taken place.

The following month the court heard that although the teenager (A) was now discharged out of secure care his behaviour was getting worse, he was missing in care and drinking and there were concerns he was being sexually exploited. He was not happy where he was staying and the placement did not want to keep him there. The guardian ad litem (GAL) was seeking a bespoke placement and the judge acknowledged that there could be no stability for the child until there was progress with a suitable placement.

By February 2017 A was once again in secure care in a “therapeutic placement had been designed to get the minor ready to go back into the community,” counsel for the CFA told the court. The child may have an emerging identity matter which needed to be managed in the appropriate way and planning for the step-down placement was the key issue. A non-detention placement with appropriate services was needed.

Currently his movements out of the placement had been stopped but all the parties felt it was important to reinstate them as suspending them was anti-therapeutic. The barrister for the GAL told the court that the guardian ad litem was seeking a shared care arrangement and informed the court that his negative behaviours were continuing and self-harm had increased. His mother felt that he was doing no better in State care than at home.

By late March 2017 the court heard that limited progress was being made for A in secure care. The GAL was still seeking a bespoke placement and parallel planning. The barrister for the mother told the court that A had now spent eight months in secure care with his third month in the second phase, his mother was frustrated and felt he would be better off at home. The barrister pointed out that secure care should be up to “six months as a maximum”, the child had descended into criminality. His mother now wished to be assessed for his care through a parenting capacity assessment.

In April the court received a psychological report which summarised A’s state of mind. It said that he wanted to be in secure care and summed up his motivation in relation to that. The child had an underlying sense that he could not trust anyone and looked to divide people when he did not know who to approach. He had told the psychologist he would destroy a step-down placement.

The GAL told the court that A had indicated his wish was to return home.

Counsel for the mother told the court that his mother wanted him to return home, there was an overall concern at his lack of progress and the barrister pointed out that A could “not get on board with anything because nothing was organised”. The language in the social worker’s report was a “placement needs to be sourced, is going to be sourced.” The language used is “always in the future” remarked the barrister, the mother needed proper information at this point.

In July the court heard that A had two sets of therapeutic clinicians and a psychological report provided good insights into his present mental health circumstances. A parenting capacity assessment was being carried out of the child’s mother. A residential placement with a private service provider was being assessed but it currently needed a larger compliment of staff and there were already five applications for the placement it had.

Counsel for the GAL told the court that A had been on single separation in his unit due to a number of serious sexual exploitation concerns. The GAL report noted that A was the victim, not the offender.

The judge asked for parallel planning to continue.

By the end of the month the court heard that A had been absconding from home as well as his secure care unit, he was not taking direction and had locked his mother out of the house. A placement at home was not going to work. Counsel for the GAL told the court that it was incumbent on the CFA for the next stage in his care to make it clear what would be provided for him and that while a detention order was necessary so was his progress.

The barrister for the mother told the court that A was being told repeatedly that a step down placement was coming for it then to fall apart. She said his behaviour continued to get “worse and worse”, the parenting capacity assessment had been delayed but there was a tentative one which showed concerns about the mother’s parenting given A’s behaviour. While there was a lack of clarity as to what was happening, A had expressed an interest in a split between a residential placement and home. However his mother had said that this would not work because of his tactic to play people against each other.

When the case came into court in early October, the court heard that A was five weeks out of secure care and not engaging in his 24 hour care package. The three residential placements had not worked, one of them had not been set up properly and the specifications were not received in time to salvage it. There was a question of substance misuse and he was not complying with the curfew. A package of supports in the home was necessary as well as a creative package of respite.

Counsel for the GAL told the court that A was at home since mid-August although he was under a Full Care order and while the mother was “doing her level best, there is a Care Order for a reason, she is crying out for help, he wants respite, the social worker made it clear there would be respite and yet it isn’t there”. The barrister sought liberty to bring a motion that if the issue was not resolved in four weeks’ time, the placement at home could be broken down soon. A was missing on a daily basis and there were concerns about sexual exploitation and drugs which were “the very concerns which led to him going into care, as [the psychologist] said it will spiral out of control if appropriate steps are not taken.”

The judge remarked that “if there was ever a case where essential supports were required it is this case. I’ve no hesitation on keeping it in the list, if matters spiral out of control he will end up in secure care again.”

By November the court heard that A had threatened to kill his mother who was fearful of him, the placement was breaking down at home and the teenager had told his GAL that he was “using far more drugs than people think.” He was asking to go back into secure care. Counsel for the GAL told the court that circumstances were deteriorating rapidly. Counsel for the CFA told the court that the Gardai were monitoring his engagement with an adult male. Respite had been set up for the weekend.

The following week the court heard that A was on his way to court because he wanted to meet with the judge, he was very strong in his views and wanted to go back to secure care.

The judge felt it was perhaps a little premature to meet with him and asked was it appropriate. She did not want to indicate she would not meet him, she agreed to meet him on the understanding that she would not have answers for him during their meeting. It later transpired that after A met with the judge he absconded and when the case returned the following week in the Minors’ List the court heard that the CFA did not know where he was and that he had indicated he had no intention of returning home.

The judge pointed out that he had absconded the previous week when he came to court and had been missing in care for a full week. The barrister for the GAL told the judge that he had already absconded previous to meeting the judge: “My understanding is that he returned from absconsion to see you and then having seen you returned to absconsion.”

“I do not want any child brought to court unless the appropriate protocols are followed and unless the appropriate risk assessment is carried out,” said the judge in response. She had not been informed prior to meeting with A that no risk assessment had been carried out. “The purpose for the visit was for absconsion,” she said.

Counsel for the GAL responded that a therapeutic placement must be sourced for the teenager and that the “GAL has been saying this all along, it has to be set out what they will do to sort out his therapeutic placement”.

Although by the following week the court heard that A had been recovered the previous day by the Gardai, he had absconded again and was missing in care. “We have a suspicion that this young person may be in the company of a male adult,” said counsel for the CFA.

The GAL was asking the court for a further period in secure care to stabilise him but stated in her report that A required a placement with trained residential care placement skills. He had been violent at home to his mother and she was supporting the appeal by the CFA to place him in secure care.

Counsel for the CFA told the court that Section 5 of the Child Care Act 1991 placed a mandatory obligation on the CFA to place him in care. “He was discharged to a non-detention setting and insisted on going home and would wreck another placement. Now the CFA have to discharge their civic duty, he needs to be reassessed to see what his condition is and then get it right.”

The following week the court heard that the CFA were going to resubmit the application for secure care with new material, his welfare had moved on and the court had an obligation to vindicate the welfare interests of A under the Constitution. The CFA had looked at all available placements under the public system, nothing was available and they had also looked at the short term private system, but again nothing was suitable. A solution had to be found and the child wanted to go back to secure care. Sexual exploitation had been confirmed and he was equally clear about his drug use.

The judge said the appeal to the secure care National Admissions and Discharge Committee had to be regarded as an urgent application and the court regarded it as urgent, it was a very serious case.

By mid-December 2017 the CFA were awaiting the decision of the National Admissions and Discharge Committee as to whether the teenager would be approved for a third admission into secure care. At that time his situation was untenable, said counsel for the GAL, A was living between his Mum’s and a friend’s caravan (that friend was also a young person in care and the caravan had been purchased for him to be near his parents). Everyone in the professional core group as well as A agreed that secure care was the most suitable place for him.

However prior to the Christmas break the court was told that the appeal to secure care had not succeeded because he had been there already and could not be detained solely for the purpose of detention. Therefore a placement out of the jurisdiction, which was also a secure care high support unit with onsite education, was now being considered.

However the barrister for the GAL pointed out that the secure care committee had not yet given their final decision, they had “set further hoops to jump through” such as a therapeutic plan. ACTS had said already said it was the best and only option and it had a therapeutic rationale. Such a plan could easily be done in half an hour and the secure care unit in Ireland knew best what his needs were rather than an out of state placement. It was incumbent on the CFA to set out the therapeutic plan for secure care as well as that for the step-down placement which should be a single occupancy therapeutic placement. ACTS could furnish the therapeutic plan.

A short period in secure care was being suggested to give time to allow the sourcing of a placement. The judge reiterated how urgent the case was and directed a decision to be made on the matters by January 11th 2018 when the court resumed after Christmas. The CFA agreed to the provision of a therapeutic plan and long term plan directions.

When the case returned in January 2018 the court heard that A had been approved for a placement in secure care however there was currently no bed available for him and he was 10th on the list but 8th in priority.

The court also heard that the GAL was open to an out of state placement but would want to be persuaded that it was the best option, ACTS felt secure care was the best option but A was “desperate to go to any placement, he wants to get off the streets, there’s a deterioration of self-care skills which suggests a mounting level of crisis”.

The judge was concerned about the therapeutic long term benefit of returning the teenager to a secure care unit for a third time. She required the CFA to have positive information on whether out of state could produce better results and to have instructions on the matter.

The following week the court heard that explorations were still being made with the unit in the UK. Counsel for the CFA said there may be availability and an application had to be made properly through Brussels II. The option of finding a secure care placement in Ireland had been exhausted. A was currently ranked eight out of 10 children on the waiting list for secure care making it a non-realistic prospect of accommodating him within the jurisdiction.

There were criminal proceedings currently for A because he was in breach of conditions attached to his bail one of which was residing at home. The view of the CFA was that this was a welfare issue and not a criminal justice one.

Counsel for the GAL told the court that “things are really coming to a head,” that the teenager was under a Care Order but living at home, absconding and being picked up by the guards and then being brought to the District Court for a breach of bail conditions. A’s liberty was therefore at risk “due to the failure of the CFA in providing him a placement, it may now be necessary to issue proceedings specifically in relation to failure of statutory duty”.

Furthermore A had never been given a step-down placement and after his second time in secure care had been sent back to his mother’s in circumstances where a Care Order had been made. While all the professionals agreed he needed secure care the GAL felt A was better placed in Ireland and would need to see what the placement out of state could offer that a placement in Ireland could not.

The judge said that it was clearly a wholly unsatisfactory situation where the risks were increasing every week and she asked to see correspondence regarding the out of state secure care placement option and all necessary documents on affidavit the following week.