A teenage boy whose relative foster placement had broken down asked to speak to the judge, who agreed to see him at a later date.
The matter had come for mention to the District court in rural town, the mother and father were represented but were not in court. The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court the child had been in long term foster care with relatives which he had left. He had been placed in another foster placement in a different county. Evidence was heard from the social worker and the guardian ad litem (GAL).
The judge said he would meet with the boy within seven working days and would review the matter after this meeting.
The social worker told the court she had been allocated to the boy for some time. The child had been in a foster placement with relatives, but this placement had collapsed. She said the boy had been unhappy and was angry and upset with the foster carers. She said the relationship of the relative foster carers and the boy was fractured, not broken and she hoped that it could be mended and the boy would return.
She said the foster carer relatives of the boy had been disappointed and sad that the boy had left and wanted him back, they did not understand what had happened. She said the boy was very emotional at present but she hoped he would engage in a reunification process with his relative foster carers.
The boy’s placement with his relatives was in a provincial city, the current foster placement was in a different county and this made it difficult for the boy to attend school. She said the social work department recognised it was important for the boy to attend school and had been trying to facilitate this by a variety of transport methods both public and private. She said she hoped that the boy would be able to attend school at least two or three days per week. The judge said: “A child needs to go to school every day, five days a week, not just two or three days.”
The social worker said the boy liked his current placement and liked this new foster family. She said his priorities were to see his mother, return to school and meet the judge.
The GAL had been appointed within the previous week and had only a provisional report. She said she would forward a formal report as soon as possible. She told the court she had met with the boy only once and was surprised at the level of emotion he displayed given that he was a teenage boy and they had only just met. She said: “He just wanted to talk and talk, and he talked and sobbed, really sobbed.”
She said the boy had been let down by most if not all of the adults in his life. He had visited his father in prison but when his father was released he made no contact with the boy. The boy said he would like to return to his mother and help her with her new baby, the GAL said that he wanted to be the support to his mother when it should be the other way around.
She said when asked how it would feel if his mother let him down again, “he [the boy] said it would be OK, I expect people to let me down.”
She said she asked why he had not spoken about how unhappy he was and what had happened, he said it was because of the foster placement and it was better to say nothing. He had said there had been physical abuse in his previous foster placement and he was absolutely adamant that he would not return to his relatives. The GAL said she had not had time to review his previous files or reports to ascertain what had happened.
She suggested to him that he write a letter to the judge about how he feels and was shocked that he did not have the skills to do this. She said she was very concerned, given his age, at the level of his literacy and how he would manage in life. She said she had spoken with his school and her impression was that he had slipped through the gaps. The boy was waiting for a literacy assessment, but the school only had so many allotted literacy assessments and they must prioritise based on all their attending pupils. She said she had recommended that the social work department seek private funding for this assessment as a matter of urgency.
The GAL said the new foster mother had taken the boy supermarket shopping and bought foods that he liked, that she had washed, ironed, folded and put away his clothes and that the foster father had played basketball with him for hours. She said this was a revelation to the boy and he had been really touched by these gestures. He said things like that had never happened to him before. She said it was almost like no-one had ever really cared for him.
She said: “He [the boy] said he now knows what a good foster home is and how bad his other foster home was. It was really sad to hear this from a child.”
She said the specific points of her report would be that a return to his mother was unrealistic, there were no other family foster carers approved at the moment, he was happy in his current placement and that he should remain there and his school and literacy assessment needed to be urgently addressed.
The judge said he would meet with the boy and allotted 45 minutes to do so and adjourned the matter for review until after this meeting. He thanked the GAL for her work in such a short space of time.