No bed for very vulnerable girl under special care order; allegation she had been raped while in care, fear of sexual exploitation; Judge: “This is the worst case I have ever come across.” – 2024vol1#70

In the District Court the guardian ad litem (GAL) for a teenage girl in the care of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) since she was three asked for a serious case review where a special care order had been made for her, but she was one of 10 children waiting for a secure special care bed. It had been alleged the teenager had been raped whilst in the care of the CFA. There were also beliefs that the teenager was being sexually trafficked throughout the country. The case came back before the court on over ten occasions, but the girl was still without a special care bed.

GAL evidence

The GAL informed the court that there had been a deterioration of events since the last time the matter had been in court. The girl had been missing in care. While the GAL said that the girl was back at her placement the day of this court hearing she did not think that the girl would remain in the placement. It was a private residential arrangement. She said that the girl needed special care.

The GAL informed the court that she had received a phone call from the girl at 11pm at night where she did not know where she was. The GAL reported the girl had said she was cold and hungry. It had transpired that the girl was in the centre of a metropolitan city, despite her placement being two hours away.

The GAL collected the girl, fed her, and arranged a pickup meeting with staff from the residential unit halfway between the city and the placement. This handover took place at approximately 1am in the morning. The GAL said the girl had begged her to collect her and there was no-one available to. The GAL said there were no words to describe the girl’s plight and despair.

The only framework that would keep this girl safe was special care. The GAL said that she was doubtful if the girl would be admitted into special care as there were no special care beds available and the GAL had heard anecdotally that 10 children were the subject of special care orders and had no beds. She said it was her understanding the list of children who had special care orders but were not in special care was reviewed weekly. It had been hoped that two children would be discharged from special care but she had now been informed this was unlikely.

She said the girl was regularly contacting, consorting, and absconding with other children and was at a substantial risk of danger. She said this risk was often coming from other third parties with ill intent. “She is no trouble, she is not aggressive and is compliant, but she needs a place where she can be contained and detained. If she were detained, she would not be aggressive.”

The GAL said that there had been two or three episodes where she had been collected by males and the GAL believed she was being sexually exploited. There had been disclosures of abuse made in her previous foster home. Although the girl was near the age of majority, she had the cognition and functioning of a 10-year child. She believed the girl had been coerced into making inappropriate videos for the males she was associating with. The GAL repeated that it was beyond despair and there were no words. The girl should be in special care and while there was no bed the CFA had a statutory duty to keep her safe.

The GAL said the situation was shocking and it required a local, regional, and national response. She said that it was disappointing there was no-one present from the CFA who could give a response as to the plan that would be put in place to keep this girl safe. The GAL said that it was coming up to the weekend and she wanted to know what the CFA would do to keep her safe until Monday.

The judge noted that the social worker from the CFA was not present in court and said he wanted the social worker to attend to update the court. He stated that he would sit all day and night if he had to, to ensure that there was a safety plan in place for this girl for the weekend and advised the solicitor for the CFA to inform the social workers of this. The court adjourned for lunch and in the afternoon the social worker and team leader attended.


Social worker evidence

The social worker said the girl had gone missing and absconded several times. The social worker said she had devised a safety plan to try to keep the teenager safe over the weekend. She had tried to arrange a weekend away with the girl, but it had not been possible because there was insufficient staff. She had arranged activities for the whole of the weekend that would keep the girl occupied. These included horse riding, and trips to the countryside where there was a reduced chance of the girl absconding as there would be no public transport.

The manager of the unit where the girl was staying had been fully involved with the safety plan. She said she had arranged a staffing ratio of two to one for the weekend, which was two members of staff for the teenager during the day. At night, the ratio would be one-to-one. The residential unit was having alarms fitted on the girl’s door and windows and on other windows in the house. She said the staff would do half-hourly checks once she had settled at night. The social worker said the staff could not restrict the girls’ liberty.

The social worker acknowledged there had been inappropriate phone use by the girl. She said that they had purchased a new phone for the girl that had an attached parent phone. This permitted the parent phone to view all activity on the girl’s phone. The girl’s phone also had a global position system (GPS) so they would be able to track the girl’s whereabouts. These features could only be turned off on the parent phone.

She said that she hoped the girl would hand over the phone that she was currently using in preference for the new phone. She acknowledged these restrictions would not restrict pornographic material. She acknowledged the girl had shared inappropriate material on her phone.

The social worker said it was hoped to set up a Revolut account for the girl so that if she did go missing, she would have access to some funds for emergency use. This information would also be transmitted to the parent phone so they would be able to track the girl through this feature also.

The girl had also been referred to the Youth Advocate Programme (YAP) for a specific worker to be available for the girl. It was hoped this worker would be able to work out of hours, to provide even more support to the girl.

She said that there had been problems with the out-of-hours social work service. When the girl had called the out-of-hours service, she had been told to present herself to the nearest Garda station. Because the girl had travelled so far from where she was resident the out-of-hours service that was called had no information about the girl. The social worker was asked if a specific out-of-hours worker could or would be assigned to the girl and she replied that was unlikely, as the out of hours service could be in a different locality. She said the out-of-hours service are different teams in different localities. She said the reality was the girl would most likely contact the GAL.

She said the CFA was working closely with An Garda Síochána with regards to the allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation and information had been shared between professionals. The social worker also acknowledged that the girl had received threats to her life.

She said that she had advocated for the girl to be admitted to special care as much as she could, but this was beyond her remit. She was aware there were other children who were waiting for special care beds. The social worker said that she could not speak for the decision-makers but that this girl could not be prioritised over other children who were waiting for a special care bed. She acknowledged that there were special care beds available but that they were not staffed. She said the CFA must consider the whole cohort of children waiting for special care.

The GAL’s solicitor said the GAL’s concern was this girl and she was at risk and the safety plan was not sufficient. The GAL’s solicitor repeated that there were special care beds available but not staff. He said the CFA could procure staff for this residential unit but not for a special care bed. The GAL’s solicitor stated that the regional area officer (CRO) put forward the position that this girl cannot be prioritised over other children.

The social worker stated that she accepted that the girl had gone missing in care on two occasions within the last week and that the safety plan was not satisfactory. The social worker also accepted that nothing short of special care would keep this girl safe.

The judge stated: “This is nothing short of shocking, this girl was referred to special care, approved for special care, the High Court made a special care order, and she is in a private residential unit that is not keeping her safe. She is not in special care.” He said the girl absconds, phones the GAL to say she is cold, hungry and scared and shared the most inappropriate video on her phone. This placement was not keeping her safe. The judge said: “This is the worst case I have ever come across.” There was a safety plan in place that would not keep her safe and placed her at risk.

The judge asked the social worker: “Do you think she is safe?”

The social worker: “No.”

The judge: “Do you think there is a risk to her life?”

The social worker: “Yes.”

The judge asked to hear from the GAL again. The judge asked the GAL for her opinion on the adequacy of the safety plan the social worker had outlined to the court.

Further evidence from GAL

The GAL said that the plan was not sufficient to keep the girl safe, nothing short of special care would keep the girl safe. She said she had suggested to the social worker that a special care arrangement might or could have been made within the residential unit. The GAL said: “The residential unit could be configured as a special care placement.” The GAL said she was aware that there were special care beds available, that is, she was aware a physical special care bed existed, but the staff quota was not available.

The GAL said she was the GAL of this girl, and this girl was her priority. She said: “Why can’t the CFA prioritise her if there is a vacant bed, why cannot she get it. The CFA could procure staff for residential units why can they not procure staff for the special care unit.”

The GAL said she did not believe the girl should have to wait to be admitted to special care. The girl had been raped earlier this year and her life had spiralled out of control. The GAL said she worried that by the time a special care bed was available she would be too old to avail of it. The GAL said this needed a local, regional, and national joint response by the CFA.

The GAL repeated that the safety plan was not appropriate. She said that after absconding the girl had called her residential placement to be collected from four o’clock in the afternoon. The girl called the GAL at 11 pm and the GAL collected her. The GAL said she did not have statutory responsibility for this girl, the CFA had. They had to have a plan in place that if the girl absconded or went missing and she called there was someone who would collect her.

The GAL said this girl was not street smart. The girl was compliant and was not violent or prone to violent outbursts. Once admitted to special care the GAL believed the girl would engage with therapeutic supports that would be offered to her, her only option was special care, and she was running out of time. The GAL said: “I do not know if she will reach her next birthday.”

Judge’s comments

The judge said that he was lost for words that this was the third case before him with similar circumstances, but this was by far the worst case. He said: “It beggars’ belief that in 2024 this would come before a court.”

The judge continued: “The GAL has gone above and beyond what was expected of a GAL and thank God for that, she has demonstrated an extraordinary level of commitment and dedication and if ever there was a case that demonstrated the value of a GAL this is that case.”

The judge said this was meant to be a review of an after-care plan for a girl who had been in the care of the CFA since she was three years old. The girl was now in her late teenage years. She was the subject of a special care order, but no special care bed was or is available. The GAL had stated the girl might not reach her next birthday.

The judge made directions asking for the GAL’s report to be sent to the regional chief officer and requested a response in writing to the GAL’s report. He asked that Chief Executive Officer be sent a copy of the GAL’s report, he wanted confirmation that she had received it, was aware of the GAL’s report and had a response to it. He asked for the matter to be listed for mention by legal teams only the following Monday. He said the plan put before the court had failed and the health, safety and welfare of this girl had not been met.

When it came up for mention it was reported that a safety plan had been put in place over the weekend but it transpired that on one of the weekend nights the child had again absconded from her placement and was again located in the city centre in the company of unsavoury people. The safety plan that had been detailed to the court in the lead up to the weekend had clearly been insufficient and had not been followed through satisfactorily.

The GAL had given evidence previously that there was an immediate risk to the child’s life. The judge said the safety plan was neither “safe” nor a “plan”. He again stated that even though the child was the subject of special care order there was no special care bed for her. He said it was the CFA’s job to keep her safe. He said the plan involved a plan around the child having an interest in horses and animals which was to maintain her focus, but actually the plan was insufficient as the unit did not have enough staff to supervise her and the child had absconded again, putting herself at risk. He said efforts had to be made to keep the young girl safe and he said if the unit did not have the staff the plan was meaningless.

He asked for the updates from senior personnel to be available the following week and that the Garda who was investigating the girl’s phone also be available to give evidence the following week.

When the case came back before the court the CFA was represented by a solicitor, the social worker and social work area manager were in court. The guardian ad litem (GAL) was in court, also represented by a solicitor. There was again no representation by the parents.

The solicitor for the CFA said there had been responses from CEO, the CRO and a person who was designated head of residential units. These had been sent by email but could be formally sworn as affidavits and put into evidence. The social worker and the GAL had also submitted updated reports.

The judge acknowledged that the responses had been received but they had not addressed the issues specific to the GAL’s report. The judge said: “There were lots of apologies to the court in the CEO’s report, but the court was not asking for an apology, the CEO needs to apologise to [the girl].”

The judge said that the documents submitted while useful gave no clarity to the matter that was before the court. The judge said there was no acknowledgement of the risks to this girl’s life and that the safety plan was not a safe plan. He said there was an unsworn affidavit that was 30 to 40 pages long of waffle of systemic problems and issues. The responses of the CEO, the CRO and the head of the residential units had not answered the question of how this girl is going to be kept safe and when she would be admitted to special care. None of the responses had been helpful, they had not addressed the fundamental issue of how this girl would be kept safe. He said the affidavit of the CEO was inadequate.

Evidence of the social worker

The social worker said there had been an incident over the weekend and the girl had absconded on Saturday. The girl had gone to meet males in a central part of the country. The girl was reported missing immediately to the out-of-hours service and An Garda Síochána.

She said it was still difficult to ascertain clarification of the remit of the out-of-hours service. The out-of-hours service was a local and regional service. The services she had contacted could give an immediate response, but the service was stretched. The social worker noted the continued assistance of the GAL.

The activities had kept the girl busy and she had had little free time. She had been supervised for the whole weekend. The social worker said the risk of absconding remained, but further activities had been planned for the week. It was hoped this would prevent the girl from being isolated. The girl had reported that she was not sleeping well. The girl had attended her GP and was prescribed melatonin.

It had not been possible to set up the new phone with the associated parent phone because a credit card was needed over the weekend, but it had been set up the previous day. On this new phone there was no access to ‘Snapchat.’ The parent phone would be able to view the phone’s activity and also the location of the phone. She acknowledged if the phone were turned off it would not be possible to use the phone as tracker device, but it would be possible to see the phone’s last location. She said the Revolut account had not been set up yet but was hopeful this would be set up within the week.

The alarms in the residential unit had been installed and were active, unfortunately they were set off each time the girl or a member of staff entered her room. She said the alarms had got off all weekend and were being reviewed this week.

The social worker said that a Youth Advocacy Programme (YAP) worker had not been identified and the programme did not offer an out-of-hours service. She said she would continue to explore this with the service to ascertain if an agreement to provide out of hours service and if a YAP worker could be recruited.

She said there remained concerns about the girl’s known associates and these had come to the attention of An Garda Síochána. She remained in contact with An Garda Síochána and there was to be a strategy meeting with professionals later in the day.

She said for the coming weekend a weekend away in a remote part of the country had been planned and booked. In principle staff had been allocated, this had not been shared with the girl yet as plans had not been finalised.

The social worker said that the only framework that could keep the girl safe was special care. She said that they had tried to examine a secure placement in another jurisdiction. She had concerns that given the girl’s level of need, the current residential placement might collapse as they were already stretched to the limit in an attempt to meet her needs.


Evidence of the GAL

The GAL had submitted another report and stated that special was needed. This was not available and the safety plan, however well-intentioned, was not sufficient. She said it was not the responsibility of the residential unit to keep the girl safe, it was the responsibility of the CFA. She said the girl needs a wraparound service which included an out-of-hours service with one or two designated key staff. She needed a key worker and she needed consistent carers. She said that the social worker and the workers from the residential unit needed to link with regional and or national colleagues to identify who the girl could contact. They needed to identify who would be responsible.

She said the nine to five period was covered by the social worker and the staff in the residential unit, but it was the five in the evening to nine in the morning periods that needed to be covered. She said it was critical, the girl needed an out-of-hours and weekend team.

She said the CEO and the CRO had not addressed or answered the issues she had raised in her reports.

She remained of the opinion that the girl was a prime candidate for special care because she was not defiant. The GAL still feared that the girl would be too old to accept a place in special care when it became available. This girl had been in the care of the CFA since she was three years old, and she needed whatever time there was left of the care order in special care to avail of the therapeutic supports she would be able to receive.

The GAL had said that she had asked for this case to be sent to the national review panel.


Further judge’s comments

The judge stated that he did not want this to be a criticism of the social worker but asked what could the court do. He said this was not the jurisdiction of the district court. The High Court had made a special care order and the child was not in special care. In the absence of special care, a wrap-around service was immediately needed.

This was an application for review of after-care planning. There needed to be parallel planning which included examination if an out of the jurisdiction placement would be viable, wrap-around services and admission to special care. He said there was a risk of further escalation and he wanted to know what the CFA’s response was to that imminent risk. He said there had been no clarification of her needs and no plan for her education or admission to college or vocational courses.

He said the care order would expire within the next year and this girl would need supported accommodation and all the life skills to cope. He repeated that it was sad that the CEO’s report had apologised to the court but not to the girl.

The judge said this was the ninth time this matter was in court since January 2024. All the professionals were agreed this girl needed to be in special care but there was no bed and that was a matter for the High Court to address. However, because there was no bed the girl was in the community in a placement that had not met her needs. He said there was nothing that had been submitted to the court by way of reports or by way of evidence of the social worker that gave the court any comfort.

The judge adjourned the matter for two days for the responses of the CEO and the CRO to be clarified and wanted specific responses to the concerns raised in the GAL’s reports. He directed the solicitor for the CFA to ask that the CRO attend court.

Following a two-day adjournment, the court said it was still waiting for further responses from the CEO and the CRO as their responses to date had not been helpful. The judge said that the reports had offered many apologies to everyone except the girl. The judge said the court had received unsworn affidavits that had been of limited use.

The judge had wanted to the CRO to attend court to explain the delay and he had not wanted apologies and affidavits. He said the court had received an email that the CRO would not be able to attend but that the area manager had come in place of the CRO. He said it was not accepted for the CRO to not attend court when asked to do so. He said this girl needed a national response. He asked: “Is anyone in the CFA taking this seriously, we are being fobbed off, I wanted to CRO to respond to the concerns of the court and the GAL sending an email is not enough.”

Evidence was given by the social worker, the area manager, and the GAL.

Further evidence of the social worker

The social worker said the girl had remained in the placement but the placement was inadequate to meet her needs. The social worker said that nothing had changed, no special care bed was available and the wraparound service that had been discussed on the last court date was the least bad option. She said that the CFA had not accepted that the residential unit could be reconfigured to resemble a special care placement as the GAL had suggested.

The girl had engaged in the activities and the weekend away had been confirmed. The social worker had asked and sent a proposal for an on-call system to be put in place. This had been supported by the area manager and funding for this had been confirmed. The social worker said that she had wanted to recruit staff to this on-call team that knew the girl or would agree to meet with her. She said that staff had been offered overtime payments for this also and she hoped that a team would be in place. She said that the girl remained on a staff ratio of two to one.

She said the plan for the weekend was that the girl would go away as planned with the staff who had been fully briefed.

Evidence of area manager

The area manager said that she accepted this was the responsibility of the CFA and agreed that nothing short of special care would be adequate. She offered an apology to the girl and to the court. She acknowledged that the best interests of this girl were not being vindicated.

She said that she had consulted with the CRO to try to ensure that a wrap-around service was provided and that funding for it had been approved. She said that a provider had been approached and it was hoped a team of staff would be available to and for the girl.

The area manager was asked about the review that related the allegations the girl had made against her foster parents. She said she had commissioned a report of this and when the review process was completed the report would be sent to the Health Information and Quality Assurance (HIQA). She said it was necessary to ascertain if there were any systemic failures. She stated that once the review was completed it would be shared.

The judge asked: “How is this independent, there has to be transparency and independence of this. Can the GAL have copies of those reports?” The area manager said: “I will have to check but I can see no reason why not, I can say the GAL can see the reports, but I will need to confirm that.”

The area manager confirmed that the girl was one of 10 children waiting to be admitted to special care.

More comments from judge

The judge said this was a review of an after-care plan for a girl who had been in the care of the CFA for 13 years. A review of this girl’s special care order was due to be before the High Court in one week’s time. The High Court reviewed special care orders in accordance with the statutory obligations and would be informed that the order was not being executed.

The judge said that the district court could oversee the wraparound service and would turn over every imaginable stone to ensure the girl was kept safe. The judge said if ever a child deserved an after care plan it was this child. The judge said he recognised that neither he, not the GAL nor the social worker could conjure up a special care bed but noted that it was a travesty this girl had not been admitted to special care. He said this was not the only application like this before the court and that all the while lawyers are embroiled in litigation, while the CFA accept, they have not delivered the service they are obliged to deliver.

The judge said this girl had been in care for the last 13 years, the court could not conjure up a special care bed for her and it could not act outside of its jurisdiction, but it must ensure that everything that can be done was being done. He said that he had asked the CRO to attend to hear under oath their response. There were issues and matters to be addressed that had not been addressed in their responses to date, the CFA just issued another apology. It was a personal tragedy for this girl and risked her life.

The judge said that he wanted it stressed that he had no criticism of the social worker directly involved in this girl’s care. It had been obvious the social worker had worked hard and done everything within her power to meet the needs of the girl. The judge said he was also grateful for the GAL for the work she had done and directed the area manger to formally thank the GAL for her support. The judge repeated that the GAL had gone above and beyond what was expected of a GAL.

He directed that the CFA make all internal case review and rapid response review reports available to the GAL. He said that he intended to keep the matter under review.

When the matter came back for review the court the solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said that the girl was on the verge of homelessness in circumstances where she was likely to require ongoing stability services after care. He said that Tusla did not comply with providing special care and there were several other children in the same position as this child, who continued to be at risk. The girl had moved to a new placement in a different town and shortly after arriving the same issues arose such as substance misuse and inappropriate relations with young males. The girl had also made an allegation of rape against an individual.

The solicitor for the GAL said that this was an extraordinary case, and that special care was the only arrangement that could diminish the girl’s risk. The girl was trafficked by an members of an ethnic minority and was also the subject of inappropriate sexual activity that was recorded and uploaded online. The girl was moved within care from one county to another and within days males arrived at her location and took her away.

He said that the GAL required assurance that the referrals would be sent to the referral committee in the UK as the girl was at risk in an open placement. The girl required detention in order to keep her safe and should have been put in special care the moment the recommendation for special care was made.

On the next court date the CFA said that they had secured an accommodation unit in the UK and had visited the location with the GAL. They received approval to apply for the secure accommodation unit by the central authority and wanted to proceed. He said that in good news it was a relatively calm week for the girl given the high level of risk that she faced. He said that the alarm that was installed on the girl’s window was not successful, therefore they put a tracker on her phone.

The solicitor for the GAL said that it had been three months since the girl was identified as requiring secure care. The girl had had a reasonably stable week, however, she had continued to consort with individuals who were intent on leading her astray and had apparently received a marriage proposal from one of those individuals.

The judge noted that the girl was on the verge of aging out, and, although she remained in care, she continued to engage in risky behaviours. He said that the CFA had to start a contingency plan and the matter would remain before the courts until after the aftercare review.

On the next date in court the CFA said that the special care order had been received and the next step would be to facilitate the girls transfer to the UK with the support of the Gardaí.

The solicitor for the GAL said that the GAL and the social work team would support the girl and explain to her that she would be moved to a secure care unit in the UK. He said that it was two months since the special care order was made yet the girl continued to be at risk such by absconding and consorting with a group of ethnic minority men who abused and exploited her.

GAL’s solicitor: “She has been failed and continues to remain failed until the order is executed to bring her to secure care.”


The judge said that the social worker and the GAL did good work and went well beyond their roles. It was sad and very tragic that the girl found herself being sexually abused and trafficked by men of a minority community at the end of her care arrangement. He said that a bed in special care in Ireland had recently become available, but the CFA could not avail of it due to staff shortages. Because there were no beds available in Ireland the girl had to be cared for outside of the state and she will be returned to Ireland on or around her 18th birthday.