Third emergency care order granted for young boy who was self-harming – 2022vol1#29

A judge in a provincial city court granted an eight-day emergency care order (ECO) for a young teenager whose mother had asked for him to be taken into the care of the Child and Family Agency (CFA). The CFA solicitor said that the mother had a pattern of seeking an ECO for her child in situations where she encountered severe parenting problems with him. This was the third application for an ECO for the same child despite the fact that very significant supports had been provided to the family by the CFA to assist them.

The social worker described multiple injuries to the child’s arms, which were caused by self-harming and required medical treatment. The judge directed that the CFA had authority to sign any necessary consent documents for medical treatment. The matter was listed for a date four days later to allow the CFA to satisfy the judge that the child’s parents had been properly served with notice of the proceedings.

The child’s social worker told the judge that this was the third application for an ECO. The first ECO had taken place following a referral from the child’s mother some six years previously. The child’s father had been placed on the sex offenders’ register. On the first occasion the child was sent to [the local Garda Síochána station]. His mother had alleged that he was damaging property in the home and she did not permit him to come back home.

On the second occasion, when the child was subject an ECO, he had stolen clothing from a local shop. The Gardaí implemented section 12 of the Child Care Act, seeking an emergency care order, as his mother refused to allow him to come home. The child was brought to an emergency placement and remained there for one week. Following his week in this placement, the child was allowed to return home and significant supports were put in place by the CFA to assist his mother to care for him. The mother did not respond to any communications from the CFA.

On this third occasion the Gardaí had been contacted by the child’s mother. She reported that her child had been missing since 2am the previous night. She alleged that when she phoned him, he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The mother reported that she was having problems with the child leaving home during the night and not attending school. She claimed that the child was a member of a peer group that had a very bad influence on him. She asked the Gardaí to put her child into care. The child had begged her to be allowed to return home but the mother had refused.

The social worker informed the court that the child was brought to [the local Garda station] where it was observed that he had multiple cuts on his arm. The social worker said that the child had been self-harming by cutting himself and that the child was smoking cannabis. The Gardaí brought the child to the social work department early in the morning. While he was there the child confirmed that he had been self-harming for a number of years. He showed staff his left arm, which had multiple cuts, some of which were old and some new.

The staff at the social work department sought medical attention for the child and he was brought to his GP. The social worker added that the child was on a waiting list for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). He informed the court that an emergency foster placement for two nights had been obtained for the child.

The lawyer for the CFA told the judge that she was seeking an eight-day ECO along with a direction that the CFA would have consent for further medical treatment if this was deemed necessary for the child. She added that the child’s mother had not been served with the proceedings but that she had been made aware of the time and date that they were happening. The lawyer for the CFA told the judge that this child’s mother had a “pattern of invoking section 12 in her severe parenting situations”. She added that the child’s father had not engaged with the process so far. The father had not been served personally with the proceedings.

The judge said that she was concerned about the lack of service of the proceedings on the parents. The social worker replied that she had heard the child’s mother being informed about the court proceedings and she had indicated that she refused to attend. She said there had been no contact with the child’s father.

The judge commented on the history of this matter: the child’s mother had previously phoned the Gardaí and asked them to take the child away, saying that she did not want him in her house. Very significant services had been put at this family’s disposal to assist them but the mother had ignored all appointments that were offered to her. The judge remarked that she was very concerned that there was only a two-day placement for the child. She asked what would happen at the end of those two days. The social worker replied that the placement might be available to the child for a further period.

The judge listened to the evidence and decided to grant the eight-day ECO. She listed the matter for mention four days later so that she could be satisfied that the child’s parents had been served regarding the proceedings in accordance with the rules of court. The lawyer for the CFA stressed that it was most important that a direction be given to allow the CFA to give medical consent to any treatment that may be recommended for the child. The judge directed that the child be medically examined and given any treatment deemed necessary. She directed that the social work team leader would have the authority to sign any consent documents deemed necessary with respect to medical treatment for the child.