Review hears of ongoing problems in providing home tuition for anxious child – 2024vol1#60

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A case concerning a child in care of secondary school age who had not been able to attend school returned to court several times over the early months of 2024.

In the autumn of 2023 the court had threatened to issue a witness summons for the secretary general of the Department of Education to come to court to explain why no provision was being made for the education of the child, who had severe anxiety issues. This led to the Department agreeing to fund private tuition for the child for seven hours a week. However, an issue remained of funding the travel time of the tutor. Eventually the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said it would fund the travel expenses, but problems re-surfaced in 2024.

The case returned to court in January for further review with the added element of the need for a child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) assessment to be carried out. The court was told by the CFA solicitor that CAMHS wanted to discharge the child for non-engagement. She said the child had not been able to attend an appointment in person and when CAMHS attended the residential unit to visit the child and to carry out an assessment the child would not come out of their room and was not able to engage. A further part of the CAMHS assessment was for a questionnaire to be completed and efforts had been made to have that completed and for bloods to be taken.

In relation to the procurement of a tutor to provide hours of education in the residential home, the court was told that a tutor had been sourced to provide seven hours of education which the Department of Education would fund. The tutor was to be paid directly by the Department but it had only come to light that there was a problem in relation to payment for mileage.

The solicitor for the mother said that it seemed just little steps were being taken but acknowledged that the social work team were doing all they could.

The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) reminded the court that on the last day the court had lifted the in camera rule to allow reports to be shared and that had helped things to get moving. He asked the court again to lift the in camera rule in advance of the next court date so that the reports of CAMHS could be shared with staff in the residential unit. He said the child suffered with an anxiety disorder and that baseline blood investigations were also required.

The judge said the court had a concern regarding the bureaucracy regarding the provision of the tutor by the Department of Education and he said the court would, if necessary, hold an inquiry and cause a witness summons to issue.

He adjourned the review back to late February and asked for a reporter from the Child Law Project to be present on the next date. He said the Department of Education needed to tell the court why it was beyond their ability to provide seven hours of tutor education to the child. The in camera rule was lifted, at the request of the solicitor for the GAL to allow the CAMHS report to be shared with the staff in the residential unit.

The solicitor for the GAL acknowledged that the issue was a Department of Education blockage rather than a CFA issue and he noted the CFA solicitor was doing her best.

When the case came back to court in February the court was reminded that this was a teenage boy in a residential placement who had complex behavioural needs and that a long road was being travelled in helping him to develop social skills. The court was told by the CFA solicitor that the occupational therapist (OT) believed he was making huge improvements and that his residential placement had the appropriate skills to help him.

There was however the ongoing issue regarding the CAMHS assessment and the educational issues that he faced.

CAMHS had been unable to fully conduct their assessment as the teenager had been unable to fully engage with the process, however they said his issue was consistent with an anxiety disorder. The court was told that he had attended in recent days with his GP for the necessary blood work to be done.

In relation to the tutor the court was told of the myriad issues regarding the provisions of the home tutoring hours. The tutor had still not been paid in respect of mileage and hours of tutoring. Some of the issues were caused by the tutor herself. The CFA solicitor was confident the issues regarding vendor set-up would be resolved by the next court date.

The court heard that the child last received home tutoring at the end of 2023 and not since.

The solicitor for the GAL told the court that there was a danger that the tutor might decide they did not need the hassle of the job. He said in other cases where parents had failed to send the children to school the CFA had brought in an educational welfare officer (EWO) into cases and he asked for the CFA to nominate a EWO to this case. He said the GAL and the social worker were running around trying to sort out the case and he said the teenager needed a tailor-made educational package.

The judge made an order asking that the CFA nominate an EWO and that person’s name is to be provided by the end of the week when the case would be listed for mention. He adjourned the case for one week and said a solution-based update was required on that date. He said if the solution was not put forward the court would decide who should be invited to attend court and that the court would convene their own inquiry.

He said a Care Order had been made in 2016 for the child and there was just another level of bureaucracy from the Department of Education on this matter.