Seven cases feature in High Court Minors’ List – 2018vol2#4

In the High Court Minors’ List on one day the court heard updates on the situation of seven young people held in secure care. An application for one to be made a ward of court had been heard in another court that morning, and a second case was adjourned for four weeks to hear expert medical evidence.

Special care to continue after three months

In one case counsel for the CFA said that the girl in question had been in secure care for three months and that the agency had an obligation to consider whether the child should continue in special care.

Counsel for the CFA said that the agency was looking for an extension due to concerns regarding sexual exploitation, drug transporting, drug use and risk of leaving the jurisdiction. The court heard that, while in special care, the child was regularly attending school.

Counsel for the mother said that the mother had raised two concerns, which were outlined in her affidavit. First, the mother considered that a more appropriate placement for the child could be found. In addition, the mother raised concerns regarding a number of important matters that the CFA had not communicated to her.

During cross-examination, the team leader social worker said that she supported the special care extension given the risk factors and her therapeutic needs. She said that she was confident that communication with the mother had been clear and consistent but admitted that not every single detail had been communicated. She said that she would endeavour to improve communication taking into account the mother’s vulnerabilities.

The mother told the judge that being in special care had been a “short shock” for her daughter and that she would progress better with appropriate supports in the previous placement where she trusted staff. The mother added that she knew her daughter well and she believed that she would not engage while confined in special care. “You wouldn’t put a dog in there,” said the mother, crying.

The GAL told the court that the child was very much at a place where she was objecting and that it was in her best interests to remain. She agreed that she was engaging at a very superficial level in order to leave the special care unit as soon as possible. The GAL admitted that the child had not told her directly her views but that she made it very clear to everybody that she did not want to be there. She said that the majority of children in special care reach a level of understanding of the risk attached to their behaviour. “In my experience, there is always a way,” she said. “I yet have to work with a child who doesn’t engage at some level,” she added.

The judge made an order for the child to remain in special care.

Lack of appropriate step-down placement

In a fourth case the barrister for the CFA said that the lack of any appropriate step-down placement was taking its toll. There was a very serious assault incident described as “an explosive act of violence”. Counsel for the CFA asked the court to review the matter in one week. The barrister for the GAL supported the adjournment.

The barrister for the mother said that the mother was unwell and could not attend court that morning. The mother has had quite a lot of contact with her son in a meaningful manner. She was most concerned not only about the violence but also about his attitude after the incident. The court heard that the mother was very engaged and part of the process.

The judge said that it was a very complex case and agreed that, in light of the incident, there was a need to find a step-down placement that would meet expeditiously all the teenager’s therapeutic needs. The case was listed for the following week.

Concerns about access

In a fifth case the barrister for the CFA said that there had been some level of improvement in the behaviour of the girl in question. Supervised access with the mother had had a positive impact. The view of all professionals was that she would continue in special care. The court heard that the teenager had identified herself that it was “a vicious circle” until she improved her behaviour. A review was rescheduled in three weeks time.

The barrister for the GAL said that improvement was dependent on access but there were doubts regarding whether the mother would wish to continue the access at the family home. It was also unclear whether access would take place at Christmas. There were concerns regarding the impact of access or the lack of access.

The barrister for the mother said that she had no update or instructions in relation to access.

The judge directed that the mother’s wishes in relation to Christmas access should be ascertained and that the teenager should be supported accordingly. The judge said that some sort of plan should be outlined for her. The matter was listed for three weeks later.

Waiting for place in another jurisdiction

In the sixth case counsel for the CFA said that the young girl in the case was number one in the waiting list for a placement in St Andrew’s in the UK. The court heard that the teenager had been absconding from the residential unit she was currently in on a regular basis and that the relationship with her mother had been very volatile over the last number of years. The court heard that it was important to keep the matter under review.

Counsel for the GAL said that previous attempts to transition her out were unsuccessful. He said that the teenager had been self-harming and using drugs for some time. The child had admitted that she had “nothing to look forward to”. Family access had been erratic both in quantity and quality.

The judge said that the situation was very disappointing and that the child’s tendency to abscond was very worrying. She noted that her mobility had been restrained and added that it should be carefully managed and reinstated. The judge remarked that she was relying on the reports provided. This case also was listed for three weeks later

Further search for step-down placement

In the seventh case the CFA barrister said that the agency was in the process of identifying a step-down placement. The judge was informed that the teenage boy had absconded from the residential unit the previous day and had engaged in criminal activity. The case was before the Children’s Court. An adjournment was sought in order to provide an update.

Counsel for the GAL said that matters were progressing in a mixed way. She said that the Committee [on secure placements] had considered when the secure care order would be discharged although no actual decision had been arrived to. However, in light of the criminal incident, there was a completely different picture. Counsel for the GAL supported an adjournment to allow an update.

The judge directed that educational and psychological assessments should take place. She said that the child may feel under pressure socially and academically and that the family welfare was also a concern. The matter was adjourned for a week.