Special care application to be forwarded to the committee ahead of release of a troubled teenage boy from remand – 2024vol1#68

A judge in a provincial city was very concerned that an application for a special care order had previously been refused for a troubled teenage boy (A) as he had not met the required criteria. She described A, who was currently on remand (seeking bail) for serious charges, as being an immediate risk to his own health, safety, welfare and development.

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) outlined the national procedures for making special care applications. The lawyer for A’s guardian ad litem (GAL) listed the very serious incidents which led to A being placed in detention on remand. A significant obstacle was that a special care application could not be considered for any child who was on remand. The judge listed the case to be brought back before her after three weeks and the paperwork for the special care application was to be sent in to the special care referrals committee ahead of A’s release on remand (following bail).

The judge asked the CFA solicitor about the documents specifying the criteria for making the application for a special care order as she had requested these one week earlier in relation to A, for whom a supervision order was in place. She said that nothing had been forwarded to the court or the GAL. The judge stated that she was surprised that the boy did not meet the criteria necessary for the making of a special care order application.

The CFA lawyer told the judge that there had been a team meeting at the social work department one month previously and that the outcome was that A did not meet the criteria for the application. The social worker explained that the boy had engaged on a weekly basis but that a serious incident had caused him to be brought back into custody on remand pending trial. The social work department was in favour of supporting the boy to remain living in his community. He said that the boy was committed to this and his mother was engaging in services. He had returned home a month previously and things initially had gone well.

The CFA lawyer was asked about the reason for A’s arrest and remand in custody. The social worker replied that his department were not clear on all the specific charges but that they had met with the Gardaí and had consulted both with the GAL and with A himself. There was now a concern about him returning to live in the community on bail because of the escalation in his behaviour.

The social worker added that a special care application for A could not be considered while he was still on remand. The lawyer said the boy was due to be released from remand in one month’s time and enquired what steps were being taken to further an application for a special care order before that time. The social worker replied that the family welfare conference was due to take place in the next two weeks.

The social worker also said that A’s mother was not in favour of a special care application and neither was the boy. He wished to finish his time on remand and return home to live with his mother. The social worker explained that the special care referrals committee met once a fortnight. The lawyer for the CFA asked if A could be considered for a special care application once he was released from being held on remand. The social worker explained that in order to be eligible to make the application, the risk must be “current and immediate”. If A was in custody, this could not be considered. He added that the submission must be made by the social work department to the special care committee six days before their fortnightly meeting. He stated that there were four special care beds in the local area and two of these were already occupied.

The lawyer for the CFA asked if that meant that there were now two beds available. The social worker replied that this was not so as there were staffing issues. Also, there was a waiting list of seven young people for the special care beds. The social worker said that the incident the previous month had changed the minds of the social workers about the necessity for an application to be made for A’s safety.

The judge asked the social worker what information he had regarding the incident which led to A being placed in custody. The social worker said that the allegation was that A was involved with two stolen cars. He had driven one and also had stolen petrol and had the keys of two other stolen cars in his possession. The lawyer for the CFA asked if the social work department had full visibility of all the charges against A. The social worker replied that there had been a serious assault and a number of other assault charges in the past few months. He confirmed that A’s family had cooperated with the court’s supervision order.

The lawyer for the GAL told the court that new information had come to light. He asked if the organisation of the family welfare conference now meant that an application was being commenced for A. The social worker said that they were having consultations. The GAL’s lawyer pointed out that the special care committee had previously refused the application as A did not meet their criteria. At that stage A had finished two periods in juvenile detention. The opinion of the Committee at that time was that they did not think that further detention was the correct and appropriate response for A. They suggested that he be maintained in the community.

The GAL’s lawyer stated that all the professionals now agreed that the community option was not the best option and that it was vital that everybody moved on. The GAL’s lawyer said that A’s probation officer was of the opinion that there was no other option except to make a secure care application for A as he had previously crashed a car in less than three hours after he was released from custody.

The GAL’s lawyer read from the social work report from four months previously. The report stated that there was no immediate risk to A while in his mother’s care. He asked the social worker if he agreed with that.

Social worker: “Yes. The Mam is no risk to [A].”

GAL’s lawyer: “…no immediate risk to [A] while in Mam’s care and then all these incidents? Are you aware of the incidents?”

The GAL’s lawyer listed some of the incidents, which included violent disorder causing a serious life-changing injury to a young person; driving a stolen car into a lake; crashing a car after driving it the wrong direction up a one-way street, and getting arrested for stealing a car. The lawyer asked the social worker if the incidents highlighted an immediate risk and the social worker replied that there was a risk to A during those incidents.

GAL’s lawyer: “What options are available?”

Social worker: “We can’t detain children indefinitely. Special care is only short-term to stabilise [A]. The ultimate goal is to get him back to the community.”

The GAL’s lawyer drew the court’s attention to the short timeline between the date of A’s proposed release from remand (on bail) and the next special care committee meeting, reminding the court that “[A] moves faster than all of us”. There was a significant danger that A could be back in custody between his release and the date of the special care committee meeting. He asked if the application could be put before the committee before the release from custody of A. The social worker explained that this was out of his control, it was possible to make the submission but there was a likelihood that the committee would not consider it. He reminded the court that it was the social work department’s procedure to submit applications six days prior to the fortnightly meetings of the special care committee.

Judge: “Why is this? What is the reason? Why can’t you amend your procedure?”

Social worker: “It’s a national procedure.”

Judge: “What is stopping an amendment to national procedure? Paperwork is stopping child safety and welfare.”

The GAL’s lawyer said that, in his opinion, the special care application should be sent in and that if it happened that A was back in custody on remand at that time, the application could be put aside. The lawyer for the CFA told the court that an application for special care involved a huge piece of work, where the minutes of all meetings, all updated reports and notes of the family welfare conference were among the list of items that had to be provided. Additionally, there was the difficulty that A’s mother was not in agreement with an application for a special care order.

The judge said that this application should be fast-tracked. She advised that a number of the items listed as part of the application could be done by updating and amending previous reports. She said she was concerned about the urgency of the matter because despite everybody’s best efforts, A was at immediate risk to his life, health, safety, development and welfare.

The judge listed the case to be brought back for her attention on a date three weeks later. On this date A would still be in detention as it was before his release date and the family welfare conference would have taken place by then.