Young man in residential care taken into wardship as turns 18 – 2022vol2#59

A young man (A) of 18 years of age was taken into wardship in the High Court on application by the CFA. The Court noted that A had a moderate intellectual disability, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), epilepsy, and required extensive assistance with daily living. A had been living in a residential placement since the age of 13, had an older sister and his father was no longer in his life.

The court noted that the medical evidence was unanimous and that he met the relevant threshold for wardship. A court-appointed medical visitor had found that A had learning difficulties, developmental delay and ASD and was of unsound mind and incapable of managing his affairs within the meaning of the Mental Health Act.

A further affidavit was being relied upon by the court in the form of a joint report by two psychiatrists, wherein it stated that A was incapable of managing his affairs. A had been served in the presence of his guardian ad litem (GAL) and was unable to comprehend the proceedings. The court was satisfied that A met the criteria for wardship and that it was in his best interests to be made a ward of court. “Sadly, [A] will be in residential care for the rest of his life,” remarked the judge, and that therefore it was important that the decisions being made for him in his life had legal weight.

In giving her ex-tempore decision, the judge noted that the young person’s mother was in dispute with the CFA about A’s residential placement and that she sought to be A’s Committee, either solely or jointly with her daughter. This was being objected to by the CFA as unsuitable for a number of reasons. The young man’s mother had not been involved in family meetings with his residential placement, citing that she had work meetings to attend. She communicated on a limited basis with his placement and did not agree with his diagnosis, in part because of the autism diagnosis. When she indicated to the CFA that she was going to return to her country of origin with A, the CFA made an application for an interim care order, finding that his mother “had not consistently made decisions in his best interests, or his needs.”

Counsel for A’s mother stated that as his family, the mother should be appointed as his Committee, she currently saw him four to five times a week and would be involved in his care. If she was not “appointed as his Committee, then the family would not be consulted and this was borne out in the way the placement had very little consultation with her although her son lacked capacity.”

The lawyer for the GAL had suggested that “staying out of the framework might be better as the Committee require[d] a high level of commitment and her relationship has been painstakingly rebuilt over the last few years.” The GAL noted that apart from his mother and his sister, there were only professionals in A’s life, therefore his relationship with his family needed parameters. Counsel for the mother agreed that the context of their relationship was essential to the young man’s wellbeing, and an “acknowledgement of their centrality” would be to make them his joint Committee and “cement their involvement”.

The judge decided to adjourn the application as it was “not clear if his sister understands what being the Committee entails, I need to be clear that she has been provided with the information.” She noted that A’s sister was clearly close to him and “very good at interacting with him and understands his needs, is of similar age and therefore over the longer term is a suitable person” to act as Committee.

The court also noted that there was opposition to the proposed autism specific placement on the part of A’s mother, who felt there had been a lack of consultation with her regarding the placement. It was her position that the distance from her home was too far and as such she had a limited time to visit and interact with her son, however counsel for the CFA stressed the suitability of the placement, stating that it was better than the original proposal as that was not autism specific. “The parties need to liaise with each other and put forward a plan of access,” stated the judge.

The current access proposal for the new placement was five visits per week to the mother’s home, facilitated by the residential placement group. However, despite the proposal, she was not consenting to the placement. “It seems to me that it is equivalent to the current access that is taking place, they are taking him to her home, staff would be close by, and available if he wants to go home early, the aim identified by [the solicitor for the GAL] is met, the arrangement is not set in stone and there will have to be flexibility on both sides, the Court shouldn’t be overly prescriptive, access is suitable, therefore I am going to agree the access setting,” stated the judge. She also approved the placement on the basis that the access would be materially the same as it was currently and approved the order taking A into wardship.

The court adjourned the application to make the young person’s sister and mother Joint Committee until A’s transition to the new placement had been completed, as his mother was not in agreement with the proposed placement “and he will require a settling in period”.

“It seems to me better that he has settled in, and then they take up their role as Committee”, stated the judge. The General Committee were appointed until the review date, with the GAL retained as the independent social worker, unopposed by the CFA.

In making the order taking A into wardship, the Court asked the CFA to “identify squarely a factual basis” the reasons for restraints forming part of the order. She also made the order on the basis that access with the young person’s “mother and sister be maintained at a level similar to the current level of access they enjoy, as soon as practicable.”