Wardship sought for suspected child victim of trafficking, orders granted prohibiting contact from family members – 2023vol2#53

See also 2022 volume 2 number 52

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) brought a wardship enquiry to the High Court following an interim care order for a teenage girl (A) being granted by the District Court.

The young woman had arrived into Dublin airport as a separated child and the High Court heard that she had a mild intellectual disability, epilepsy and had been subjected to significant sexual abuse and neglect from quite a young age that had impacted on her cognitive ability. The court also heard that she had potentially been trafficked into the country. The barrister for the CFA sought to join the HSE as a notice party to the proceedings as well as the appointment of her guardian ad litem (GAL) from the District Court proceedings.

The barrister for the CFA told the court that the girl’s father and mother were believed to be living in two different countries in Europe. It appeared that A had not resided with her parents for about six years but with “various men”, one of whom she described as a “boyfriend”. The barrister added that the social work department were concerned that this man might get a visa if he had information in relation to the whereabouts of the young woman.

The girl’s mother had been trying to obtain her address and her social worker was anxious that the family were under threat to provide the address. Therefore the application for interim wardship orders “was being made ex-parte as the risk was too high”. The barrister also noted that an order had been made within the District Court that her whereabouts were not to be disclosed.

Three medical reports were furnished to the court. A report from a psychologist identified the fact that she had a mild to moderate intellectual disability, had difficulty carrying out basic things and that her cognitive functioning was in line with that of a four-to-six-year-old. Another report stated that she appeared to have experienced years of neglect and sexual abuse which had significantly impaired her cognitive and social development, but that she had the ability to thrive given the right supports. Further assessments would be required. She was very vulnerable, the report stated.

The findings of the psychiatric report were consistent with those of the psychology report and found that the young woman did not have capacity to make major decisions or live an independent life safely. The report also found that she was a person of unsound mind due to her history of trauma, epilepsy and intellectual disability. Therefore the CFA was requesting an interim wardship order to be made as well as orders relating to her current placement.

There was also a strong view she should be residing elsewhere, in a dedicated disability service providing for her care. A particular service provider had indicated they may have availability to accommodate her, and as a result of that the CFA was asking for an order joining the HSE as a notice party, explained the barrister.

The CFA was also “seeking an order directing that she remain where she is for the time being, therefore detention orders are being sought, fairly light detention orders, the risk is more [from] any individual coming to the placement, and it would be important for the court to hear from her GAL relatively soon, in relation to those orders.”

The barrister for the CFA then stated that orders were also requested that the girl’s “parents not be notified of anything in relation to this, or facilitated with access for the moment.” The interim wardship orders were granted and a medical visitor was directed by the court to attend with A and prepare a report. The GAL was appointed.

The judge further directed the young woman’s place of residence continue and made “an order for the steps to secure an appropriate place for the respondent, and I note the rationale for the orders being sought, [it’s a] very unusual case, in the particular circumstances I think they’re appropriate.” An order was also made joining the HSE as a notice party.


Subsequent hearings

When the case returned a few months later the High Court extended the interim wardship order and the following month the case returned again and the GAL furnished a report to the court. The report said that the teenager’s placement would apply on her behalf for the Disability Allowance and to open a bank account, but the unit required orders in relation to the management of her finances. The solicitor for the GAL told the court that he would bring a motion seeking the necessary orders in early course and that he understand the motion was likely to be on consent. The medical visitor’s report has been received by the court.

The court heard that A’s residential placement would meet with the CFA to progress the applications in terms of the Disability Allowance and a bank account. The GAL report said that the young woman was “doing very well” in her placement.

The judge noted that A came into care in very dire circumstances and had been greatly assisted by the staff within her placements. “It is hard not to overstate the dire circumstances she faced when she arrived in Ireland a few months ago, arriving with no member of her family, and no contact with her family due to potential traffickers, she has settled very well in her placement” where the staff were doing “remarkable work” with her and she had been given “a very high quality of care”. The judge noted the “hard work done by all” and continued the orders in place, with a review to take place in three months’ time.

The case returned a few weeks’ later. The barrister for the CFA said there had been a concern that an enquiry had come into the CFA “from someone claiming to be from her family in [her country of origin], so no information was sent on, in case it was passed on, even more worrying is that there was more contact from [this country] and wisely the staff concerned have not provided that information.”

“Presumably everybody is informed not to provide the information to anyone?” asked the judge. The barrister replied that they were working off the earlier judicial orders that provided for “no information to be given to any individuals not related directly to her care”. However the CFA sought to amend the existing order to include wording restraining any information to be given not only to the young woman’s family but also other individuals or hospitals claiming to have been involved in her care prior to and up to her arrival in the State.

The judge noted that, “a strong email should be sent out that anybody seeking the whereabouts of [A] should be immediately refused.” He further noted that the orders today provided “a legal basis for withholding that information”. The existing orders were continued.

Further update

When the case returned some weeks later the court heard from the barrister for the CFA that there was a “concerning update”. A had come into the country in the company of an older man, in his 60’s. There was a concern that the young woman had been a victim of child trafficking and sexual abuse and “is at risk of exploitation and trafficking if certain individuals are able to gain information about her,” said the barrister. A had been visited in her placement by An Garda Síochána in the context of an investigation into the man in question and the young woman had disclosed that she had been in an intimate relationship with him. She been distressed around the time of making these disclosures and there had been some suicidal ideations.

The court was also informed that there had been a number of attempts to gain information about her by her family. “Her mother and brother have now arrived here and sought information as to her whereabouts, her [relative] has also made a tracing request to [an agency] but the court had made orders initially and extended them on [the last court date] so no individuals were given information regarding her care.” The barrister’s application sought to continue those orders.

The young woman had not been informed of the tracing request or the order regarding the withholding of information from anyone previously involved in her care. The court heard that the proportionality of the orders would be discussed at the next multi-disciplinary meeting. The GAL and the HSE were in support of those orders being extended, as well as orders permitting the unit to manage her finances.

The barrister for the HSE confirmed that the HSE were supporting the orders and happy with all of the care A was receiving.

The solicitor for the GAL told the court that “[A] herself is beginning to express herself in terms of contact with her parents. Restriction on contact was ventilated at some length before Judge [X] and he took a very firm view. She hasn’t been assessed as being capable to submit to a Garda specialist interview, however the professionals are of the view she should be able to see her family at some point and that it shouldn’t inhibit her from giving evidence of her abuse by them. [The GAL] is satisfied for the orders to continue.” The solicitor confirmed that the inquiry regarding her capacity was in train and that the update could be available at the next court date.

The judge extended the orders sought, noting the evidence before him, that the young woman, who had a mild unspecified intellectual disability, with cognitive functioning in line with that of a four-to-six-year old child had “experienced significant trauma in her young life”. Her aftercare worker had provided an affidavit in support of the application. A had been a child in care prior to reaching her age of majority in 2022, “having arrived to Ireland without her parents, from [a different country] she has continued to settle very well, engaging well with staff and starting to build positive relationships…in addition she is progressing and expanding her practical skill set in cooking, arts and crafts and baking.”

The judge noted that she was being provided with 24-hour care in her placement and that HSE disability services intended to carry out further assessments regarding her needs. She was not currently attending school but was receiving English lessons. Her aftercare worker had told the court that the young lady would not be able to manage formal education but an [alternative] suitable course was being looked at.

The judge noted in his ruling the evidence sworn in the aftercare worker’s report that the young woman had “made disclosures of physical and sexual abuse and the staff should receive trauma-informed training in order to support her, she lacks physical and emotional boundaries, and there is an on-going criminal investigation regarding [the older man], [she had an] intimate relationship with.”

The judge also noted the evidence around her high level of care, that the staff in her placement had made significant efforts to implement the family traditions around the Christmas celebrations of her country of origin. A continued to have “no contact with family due to the concerns around the risk they may pose to her, no details shared with her [sibling] and mother and [relative], there have been various attempts by a variety of persons to obtain information on her.”

He noted that it was the view of all professionals concerned that it was not in the young woman’s best interests at this time to inform her of her [relative’s] tracing request. A care planning meeting was upcoming for this “young woman with huge vulnerabilities and complex needs which prevent her from living independently, she will require the on-going support of disability services.” He had carefully considered the contents of the aftercare worker’s report, and the report from the residential placement.

The judge then noted in his ruling that he had also considered the evidence within the updated GAL report, which had summarised her previous reports for the court. The GAL had reported that A’s “English was improving, she did not wish to see her mother, she did not like her father, who had kicked her dog, nor her [relative], who had beaten her. The respondent is presenting with complex physical, emotional and social needs, developmental trauma, possible physical and sex abuse, there is no prospect of her being able to live independently at this time, she requires a high level of care,” noted the judge.

He concluded that the orders were proportionate and he was satisfied that it remained “appropriate and necessary in light of the evidence, that none of the current orders go further than is necessary to maintain her safety and the best interests of the young woman”. The judge continued the orders until the next court review in a few months’ time.