Special care order for girl who had gone missing in care – 2019vol2#5

A special care order was granted in the High Court in the summer of 2019 for a teenage girl [A] who had been going missing in care for extended periods of time, including up to 21 days. A statutory determination had been made nine days previously by the CFA that A required special care under Part IVa of the 1991 Act.

The history of the case was set out by counsel for the CFA, who told the court that prior to a voluntary care agreement when A had been placed with a close relative from 2014-2016, A had had a very close relationship with her mother. However due to drug issues her mother was unable to provide adequate care for her and her sibling and she came into relative foster care as a result.

When A’s placement with her relative broke down in 2016 she went into non-relative foster care under an Interim Care Order and then into a residential placement. Her mother had passed away in 2019 and since then she not been coping with the loss.

A was going missing in care for protracted periods of time such as 21 days and this had been causing her residential placement grave concern as her whereabouts were unknown while missing. The social worker felt that A was vulnerable to sexual exploitation, a young person in the placement had told the social worker about A having contact with an older man through Facebook and this was a cause of deep concern. There was increasing evidence that A was placing herself at risk of exploitation with older males as she had made a video call with a man in his late 60s and An Garda Siochana had been informed of this.

Furthermore, when the teenager returned from being missing in care, she generally returned in a good state of dress and appearance. It was more normal that children returned dishevelled, but she returned in very good condition, no one had any idea where she was getting the money for new clothes and this caused serious questions regarding access to resources.

The court also heard that the teenager had withdrawn from education since September 2018 and though supports were available to her in relation to education and therapy she had declined to engage. She was described as bright and bubbly and chatty in the social worker’s affidavit but was now withdrawing from people. It was the CFA’s belief that she needed access to therapeutic services due to the loss of her mother.

The teenager had previously engaged with Pieta House due to self-harm and again in early 2019, she had also previously accessed art therapy and psychotherapy after going into voluntary care. However she would now not engage in any form of therapeutic supports. Following her mother’s death she had begun to bang her head off furniture and she was cutting herself and expressing suicidal ideation. An extreme non-regulation of her emotions was also manifesting itself from time to time and these episodes could last for two to three hours. A was in need of stabilisation and supports and her mental health to be assessed.

Her current residential placement could not keep her safe and she had informed her social worker that she would continue to abscond if moved to another unit and hoped nobody would ever find her. She was a very vulnerable girl deeply affected by the death of her mother and there were suspicions of exposure in the past to domestic violence and drug use at home. The teenager was also very angry with her father for his drug use and not being able to care for her, she now needed to be taken out of her current negative environment and cycle of behaviours and given the time and support to address her mental health, grief, anger, low self-esteem and low self-worth.

The teenager was very vocal about not wanting to go into secure care however her guardian ad litem (GAL) was highly supportive of it. Her father had indicated in the past that he would not support a special care order and this application had been made on an ex-parte basis because it was felt he would alert the teenager to it and she might go missing in care. The child’s relative, who had guardianship, was in support of the application for special care.

The court was satisfied that the threshold of risk and harm had been met and granted the special care order. The judge asked for a separate order to be sent to An Garda Siochana for their assistance and for it to be carried out with as much sensitivity as possible. The court also stipulated that once the order was executed that it be served on the second named respondent, the child’s father.

During the first special care order review, the court heard that the teenager was now doing remarkably well and while it was early days she was engaging fully in the daily plans of the special care unit, and attending a summer school programme and enjoying it. A was “thriving, she appears to crave structure, routine and boundaries” said the barrister for the CFA.

The barrister for the GAL told the court the child had described the placement as “the best she’s ever had”. In terms of services, the court heard that Jigsaw was available to the child and she had meetings in ACTS every two weeks, speech and language was also a concern.

After the court summer recess, the barrister for the CFA told the court that the teenager had transitioned out of special care to a residential step down unit with overnights, and overall things were going well for her. As she was in residential care she could access Extern and YAP. She had moved to a new school.

The barrister for the GAL told the court that A was now doing very well, she had a good relationship with her keyworker and with the staff in her unit and with her father. However there was still concern with respect in her engaging in self-harm, but as an emotional release rather than suicidal ideation, and had been referred to a specialist occupational therapy service. The GAL had yet to see the written care plan.

The court heard that the child’s relative was seeking to discharge guardianship in the District Court and while the father was visiting his daughter weekly in her residential unit he had not stepped in to seek guardianship. The matter was put back for a further review before the end of term to get an update on the situation regarding guardianship, however on return that matter had been put back in the District Court until early 2020.