he lack of availability of secure care beds for minors on the secure care waiting list was discussed in the High Court Minors’ List on a number of occasions in December last year and January this year.
One young teenage girl [A] on the Minors’ Review List had been in secure care earlier in 2014 for seven months. Senior counsel for the CFA told the court that since she had moved out of secure care her placement had deteriorated significantly. It was a very serious matter with a series of real concerns. A wide range of placements were being considered now, including secure care.
The barrister for the guardian ad litem told the court that there had been a resumption of a pattern of fire setting and failed placements. One foster placement lasted one day and there had been five or six placements in one week. Her behaviour was very serious and out of control, she had held a knife to her own throat and there were concerns for her mental health.
On the same Minors’ Review List that day, the court heard an application to continue keeping a bed open for a minor [B] who had made the transition out of secure care and would attain the age of majority in one month. The CFA wished to extend the orders for secure care until he reached 18. B was currently looking for private rented accommodation with the help of his guardian ad litem. The plan was to move him to Fresh Start until appropriate accommodation had been secured. So far he had declined the private accommodation the guardian had proposed.
Minors leaving secure care “transition out” to a residential or foster placement. During this transition period the bed in secure care is sometimes kept open in case it is needed and orders are continued in the High Court.
The judge commented that the guardian had also found B a job and had gone well beyond the call of duty.
Judge: “He [B] is fine young man but is going to have to make the hard decision. I would like to see an effort on his part to say No to drink and drugs at every available opportunity. He says he doesn’t think anyone cares. That’s quite ridiculous, he has to grow up. Everybody is trying to help him; the only focus of their work is to help him. He can’t ring an employer and say I won’t be down off these drugs till the afternoon, that is not on. If you have a job you go to bed at eight or nine at night the night before, a bit of reality has to come into this for this young man.
“I believe that each party has done their utmost for him. Some of us lived in grotty apartments, he’s a little bit choosy.” She suggested that the job offer be suspended while he went and got drug treatment.
The following day in the High Court, the teenager A was approved for secure care. However, at the start of the New Year, one month later, A was still waiting for a bed to become available. During the Minors’ Review List, senior counsel for the CFA told the court two members of staff were with her in a residential placement 24 hours a day.
The barrister for the guardian ad litem told the court that although the court could not enter into the executive domain and compel the existence of a bed (as in the TD case), the CFA was compelled to identify the child’s needs pending the bed being secured. “Time is needed to see how best the child’s rights can be vindicated pending the bed,” said the barrister.
Judge: “When a person starts to transition and the bed is kept open in case it is needed, there’s a difficulty. The pressure on the beds means the transition is under extreme pressure; so when you come to court you’ll have to have your plan worked out very well in advance, that’s the thinking of the court, so when 12 beds are needed they are available.”
When B’s case returned to the Minors’ Review List the following week, the court heard that he had been discharged from secure care and was living in a residential placement. He had begun applying once again for private rented accommodation and had lost his job due to non-attendance.
Regarding A’s case, senior counsel for the CFA told the court that the agency was still working towards the young teenager returning to secure care.
The barrister for the guardian ad litem told the court that A’s “holding placement” was physically unsuitable, children were only meant to stay there for seven days or less. She was now there two weeks. It was still not known how long more it would be until a bed became available and this was impacting on her supports because it was a stop-gap measure.
The barrister also told the court that A was spending 80 per cent of her time in her room, and interacting with Facebook rather than the real world. She had said she would make herself end up in hospital if she was left in the placement. “We need to know, where is she on the list? We need to know a date before which she will not get a bed,” said the barrister.
Judge: “Isn’t she at risk since December? This was a very serious matter before Christmas. At that stage 12 children were awaiting a bed, we’re now towards the end of January.”
CFA senior counsel: “I accept that matters can’t drag on, there is merit in looking at both issues, the special care issue and therapy.”
The judge pointed out that A was out of school, and six weeks in her current situation. The GAL barrister again asked the CFA senior counsel where A was on the list.
CFA senior counsel: “You don’t get a number on your head, you assess all circumstances at the time. It has to be done on a clinical judgment basis.”
GAL barrister: “One wouldn’t need a medical qualification to know what’s described as serious.”
CFA senior counsel: “The difficulty for me is that I have more than one case in that category.”
The judge asked the CFA senior counsel if he would see if a phone call could affect anything.
The CFA senior counsel returned a few hours later during the afternoon sitting. He told the court that he had good news, the secure care placement was creating a new space for A the following day. He had instructions from the highest level in the CFA, the placement did not have a vacant bed but were creating a bed. Her doctor had advised that an alternative short term plan should not be tried out as the decision had been made for her to return to secure care.
Judge: “I do know what kind of bed she is getting, I have a life’s knowledge of these things, I understand the pressure on beds, but it’s essential she gets this spot.”
The application for the secure care order would be made the following morning.