One-year care order for teenage boy who was living as a recluse in a virtual gaming world – 2024vol1#35

A judge in a rural town made a one-year care order for a teenage boy (Child A), who had withdrawn from all social interaction and was living as a recluse and gaming online in his bedroom. The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said that A had refused to attend either school or home tuition lessons and had reduced his level of personal hygiene. His foster care was at risk as he was beginning to take advantage of the foster carer. A residential placement had been sought for A but none was available.

The CFA lawyer said A had been received into care following an emergency care order eight months previously. His foster carer was a family friend who lived some distance from A’s family home. The most pressing issue was that A had refused to attend the local school and had only received sporadic home tuition.

The lawyer for the parents reported that they were consenting to the application for the care order for one-year but that they had serious concerns. The parents were extremely worried that A was completely devoted to online gaming, had no normal sleep pattern, no daily activities or social engagement and had refused to attend school. The parents believed that the gaming was controlling A’s whole life and he had absolutely no engagement with any peers. They expressed concern that an education plan should be put in place before the new school year and were worried that A had only engaged selectively with his psychologist.

The lawyer for the guardian ad litem (GAL) stated that a care order for one year would be appropriate and in A’s best interest as he picked and chose what he wanted to do himself. The lawyer said that it was positive progress that A was no longer getting into trouble with the Gardaí or the courts. His foster carer was doing her best to avoid the necessity of A moving to a residential placement but his behaviour was very challenging.

The social worker described A’s gaming habit as excessive and said that the psychologist had warned against removing his X-box suddenly. She said A was refusing to attend the local school as he did not want to be the “new guy” there. He would agree to attend his previous school but the commute there made that option impossible.

The social worker expressed the hope that A’s love of computers may make it possible for him to engage in iscoil, an online learning platform which may offer him a pathway to learning. In order for the foster carer to be able to care for A, he needed to hand up the gaming controls to her at agreed times but he was constantly testing the boundaries with her. A residential placement had been sought for A but none was available and the social worker did not know the timescale for the current waiting list.

The social worker agreed that the fact that A was no longer in trouble with Gardaí was positive but that he was now living as a recluse. She said he took occasional short walks but was mainly living in his bedroom. He was interested in martial arts but refused to attend any organised classes. He had attended a family occasion recently and got on reasonably well and further family visits were being explored. The social worker told the judge that she believed the threshold for the care order was met.

The parents’ lawyer asked the social worker if any consideration had been given to summer camps. The social worker replied that a coding camp had been identified as A had never engaged in any type of sports. The psychologist had offered an online course by Zoom but A had refused outright to try it.

The judge asked if A was a swimmer, given his location in the foster placement. The social worker said he did not swim and had poor self-hygiene as he did not want to leave the bedroom. The judge asked if A was connecting with peers online and the social worker said he was in touch with people online, none from the local area but people from both Ireland and the UK. The judge suggested that local courses in A’s area of interests may help him make contact with peers of his own age.

The GAL told the judge she supported the application for the one-year care order. She said A was living in one of the most beautiful locations in the country but he was living in his own virtual world. She described A as emotionally immature for his age, who believed that people wanted him to engage in therapy to “find something wrong”. He believed there was nothing wrong in his behaviour and that he should be allowed to return home.

The GAL said A was a boy who had significant potential to do well but that he was starting to take advantage of his foster carer. He refused to get out of bed on the days the home tuition was arranged. Boarding school had been considered as a possible avenue but it was not an appropriate option in this case.

A’s father told the court that the child needed people to be more assertive as he was getting away with things. He believed that he could handle A better than his mother as he could do what he wanted in her care. The parents’ greatest concern was the absence of education in A’s life.

The judge said that this was an extremely difficult situation. He had encountered cases with addictive behaviour and habits before but none to this extent. He hoped that through coding courses or gaming competitions, A might form some sort of relationship with local peers. The judge asked the GAL to stay on the case. He granted a care order for one year as the threshold was met. The matter was listed for review on a date four months later.