No special residential placement available for very young child considered a danger to mother and siblings – 2021vol1#1


A case was heard over three separate days in a provincial city concerning a primary school age child who was considered a risk to his mother and siblings. Due to his young age, no suitable special residential placement was available, but an interim care order was made nonetheless.

Day One

The granted an interim care order for the child, A, despite there being no placement found for him by the Child and Family agency (CFA). The child’s social worker and a Garda gave evidence of his alcohol and drug misuse and his extreme violent and aggressive behaviour.

A was the subject of an emergency care order when Gardaí attended his home where he had caused criminal damage due to setting a fire and he had threatened a neighbour with a knife. He had first become a concern to the CFA five years previously and 22 referrals had already been made by Gardaí and school staff following concerns of physical and emotional abuse of A. The CFA lawyer reported that he required a special residential placement but that due to his very young age, it had been impossible to obtain this placement.

The lawyer for the CFA told the court that A’s mother was present and was consenting to the interim care order. The mother’s lawyer reported that A’s siblings had to be removed from the family home, such was the risk to their health and safety due to his violent and unpredictable behaviour. She described him as a child who was totally out of control and unmanageable. Despite his tender age, he was already drinking alcohol and using cannabis regularly. A was described as violent, abusive and showing no empathy for other people. The mother’s lawyer said the other siblings were getting on well and were never a cause of concern but that A was “out of control” since early childhood and that his mother was black and blue from bruises she received from him.

The lawyer for the CFA explained to the judge that A was the subject of an emergency care order which was made after Gardaí attended his home where he had set fire to bins and threatened a neighbour with a knife. He said that A needed an urgent residential placement as he was not a suitable candidate for a general placement. However, he reported that no placement, either in the public or private sphere, was willing to take him.

The judge expressed concern that the CFA was making an application for an interim care order for a child for whom it had no placement organised. The lawyer for the CFA said that the child stayed with his maternal grandmother for some days following the emergency care order but that he had been returned to his mother’s care when the grandmother could no longer care for him. A nationwide search was currently underway to obtain a suitable placement but this was proving to be very challenging, given his tender age and profile.

The judge said she needed to hear the full evidence. The mother’s lawyer informed the court that A did not listen to anybody. He was very disrespectful to all adults, social workers and Gardaí and “he will say and do what he likes”.

The Garda gave evidence that A had been taken into care under an emergency care order following damage he caused to a door and bins by setting them alight. He had also used a bottle opener with a blade to threaten neighbours. He had been aggressive towards the Gardaí, kicked one Garda in the shins and punched a second Garda in the groin. When he was brought to the local Garda station, he had caused criminal damage to the medical room at the station and continually kicked the Gardaí who escorted him to his emergency foster placement.

Garda: “It took six Gardaí to take him from the station. I’ve had similar engagements with children of this age but never saw this level or this lack of respect to adults.”

The Garda told the court that A was known to them since he was of junior primary school age as he had been engaged in shoplifting, theft, violent assault causing harm and had caused a violent incident at his primary school. On arrival at the foster parents’ home, A had noticed that it was a wealthy, comfortable home and had asked the foster parents if he should remove his shoes before going upstairs.

The social worker told the judge that A had been known to the CFA for the previous five years in which 22 referrals had been made. Most of the referrals had been made by Gardaí and school staff had made four referrals. Various support resources were offered by the CFA but were refused by the family. A family support system was closed due to non-engagement by the family. A family welfare conference was organised but the service was declined. A childcare leader had worked with A directly but after the Covid 19 restrictions came into place, the child no longer wished to work with the team leader.

Judge: “So, nothing happened in 2020. Tell me the engagement of the last 12 months”.

The mother’s lawyer reported that there had been domestic violence in the mother’s relationship with her former partner, now deceased, who was not the father of A. The social worker recounted the referrals to the CFA which had made by the school staff. These included concerns about physical and emotional abuse of A. Both the school staff and the child’s grandmother had made referrals to the CFA to report concerns of physical abuse by the mother’s partner. Referrals made to the CFA by Gardaí were related to A’s welfare as he had been out on his own at night and anonymous referrals reported that he was drinking and smoking.

Judge: “What interventions took place? I want dates and times.”

The social work team leader informed the judge that A’s mother had been advised to go the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and a referral had been made to CAMHS five years ago. CAMHS staff had observed the child in school and the checklists had been filled. A’s mother wanted CAMHS to medicate him but this was not deemed appropriate as he was abusing alcohol and drugs at that time. When the judge asked about ongoing support provided by CAMHS, the team leader replied that A’s attendance with them had been intermittent. The lawyer for the CFA said that A’s case remained open with CAMHS but that the CFA had closed his file.

The social worker told the judge that CAMHS had not been able to offer a service to A because of the instability of his home. He recounted accompanying A on the day he entered the emergency placement. The child settled initially but later had become very agitated and wanted to go home. He had tried to hotwire the social worker’s car and stuck biros in the locks.

He was taken from the foster parents’ home to his grandmother’s home and subsequently to his mother’s home where he tried to light a fire in his bedroom. The social worker said an urgent placement was needed and that the only private residential unit which might have been able to provide for him declined to offer a service when they heard the details of his behaviour.

Judge: “What does the child say?”

The social worker said that A directed attention away from his behaviour and was defensive. He said that the child had a better relationship with his school special needs assistant (SNA) than with social workers. The social worker said it was his professional assessment that A’s ability to reach his potential would be compromised if he stayed on at home as he was not safe with his mother due to his ongoing alcohol and drug misuse. The mother’s lawyer added that the mother was consenting to the application for the interim care order as she was very worried that A would injure people.

The judge said that the evidence met the threshold for a care order but that it was a huge concern for the court that there had been no placement found. The lawyer for the CFA said that the granting of the interim order placed the child into the care of the CFA, which was then charged with the responsibility of finding a suitable placement, which needed to be “a good fit” for the child.

The judge stated that this was an extraordinarily difficult case as the young child was totally out of control and was a danger to his siblings and family. His behaviour towards social workers and the Gardaí was a huge concern for the court which was placed “between a rock and a hard place” because there was an application for a care order but there was no placement available. The judge granted the interim care order as she said it was the safest option and she listed the case for a date 26 days later.

Day two

When the case resumed the lawyer for the CFA told the judge that he was making an application to extend the interim care order for a further 29 days for A as no placement, public or private, had been found for the child. He outlined the huge resources that had been put in by the CFA to support A’s continued placement with his mother at home. The social worker, the childcare team leader and the national youth project workers each spent time daily with A. The child was responding to the interventions but it might have been the increased attention he was enjoying. The lawyer for the CFA said it was essential that a stable placement was found for the child before CAMHS could support him.

The lawyer for the guardian ad litem (GAL) told the judge that the GAL had only been appointed the previous week. Consequently, he was not taking a position on what was before the court as there was a possibility the case might lead to steps being taken in another court.

The social worker said that there had been two incidents of concern since the previous interim care order was granted. One involved A drinking alcohol until he became very inebriated and the other was a serious assault on another child, which resulted in the victim having to wear a plaster cast. The lawyer for the CFA told the court that it was in a precarious position while the child remained at home but that his very young age was prohibiting him gaining a place in the relevant residential unit he needed. (Special care is only available to children between 11 and 18 years old) The GAL’s lawyer said he could envisage private providers wondering why they would take in a child of such a young age.

The judge said she was concerned that this was an application for a second interim care order in a situation where no progress had been made in the intervening time. The social worker said there had been a slight improvement in A’s behaviour since he started collecting him from school and bringing him to his favourite sports venue where he got proper instructions in the sport.

The GAL’s lawyer said that CAMHS could not provide a service for A because he did not have a stable home. Neither were they prepared to medicate the child due to his alcohol misuse. He said that all efforts through the CFA authorities had been made to secure a placement but to no avail. The GAL’s lawyer stated that it was obvious that the best option for the child was to obtain a settled placement. He added that “higher authorities were requested to come to court before to explain the failure of services”.

The judge said that the court had grievous concerns about the “quite appalling evidence heard earlier”. The social worker said that A was too young to have a juvenile liaison officer appointed for him as the service is only available to children of 12 years of age. He reported that A was on a reduced school timetable but was academically good, especially at mathematics. He had one-to-one SNA support in school but staff had to be constantly vigilant due to his aggressive, violent behaviour and he had been suspended from school on seven occasions in the current school year.

The judge granted the extension of the interim care order for an additional 29 days. However, she stated that, in default of a placement being found for A before the expiration of the interim order, she wanted to see the regional CFA manager in court to explain the position on the next court date in 21 days’ time. The judge enquired whether a witness summons was necessary and some discussion took place about whether the regional or national manager would be required and she decided on having the regional CFA manager called. In the circumstances, the 29-day interim care order was granted and the matter was listed for a date 21 days later.

Before the matter came back to court 21 days later the court was informed that a place had been found for the boy in another part of the country. The case was given a later review date.