Wardship sought for suspected child victim of trafficking- 2022vol2#52

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) brought a Wardship enquiry to the High Court following an interim care order for a teenage girl (B) 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 B 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 B 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.

B’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 that B 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 identified 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 B 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 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 B’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 B 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 however, due to 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,” stated the barrister for the CFA.

“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 [B] should be immediately refused.” He further noted that the orders today provided “a legal basis for withholding that information”.

The existing orders were continued.