Dublin District Court heard that two teenage boys in foster care were being regularly subjected to beatings, bullying and harassment and were threatened with having their throats cut or being shot by people in the community where they lived with their close relative, who was their foster carer. The situation was described to the judge during a hearing of a review of the after-care plan for the older boy, A.
The Judge heard how numerous efforts had been made by the CFA and the foster carer with both Council X, where the family lived, and with Council Y, a neighbouring county where the boys attended school, to have the family rehoused with no success. Both councils had been summonsed to attend court and Council X had attended and engaged whereas Council Y had not. All the agencies and the foster carer agreed that it wasn’t possible to finalise A’s after-care plans unless the foster carer could move out of the area with him and his brother, B, and that the matter of an after-care plan had now become more urgent as A approached his 18th birthday.
The solicitors for the guardian ad litem (GAL) and for the CFA both told the judge that they wanted to press forward on the issue of accommodation. Both solicitors commended the relative for the efforts she made with the boys and stated that there was no issue with the care she offered both boys. The solicitor for the GAL said that despite the numerous professionals, agencies and letters involved, and both county councils being subpoenaed, the family was still on a waiting list. Furthermore Y county council had failed to attend on the last occasion and that correspondence from a named official stated “he was at a loss” as to why he was being asked to appear.
The GAL gave evidence that in reading A’s file, therapists and counsellors were giving the same message every few months that these “are children in care and they are being mentally and physically harmed”. She went on to say how “wonderfully A had turned out and that he was an outstanding credit to his [relative]”. She felt that A had the potential to go to college and get out of his circumstances and that meetings had been held at the school to see what supports could be put in place for his Leaving Certificate.
However, housing had been central to his experience and she reported that there was nothing that the social worker hadn’t done regarding meetings and letters. Furthermore this had gone on for years. The GAL explained that when the foster carer refused the house offered by Y council as it was uninhabitable she was put to the bottom of the housing list and whereas Council X had come up with a problem-solving approach outside the court she couldn’t understand the position of Council Y. The GAL was of the opinion that the foster carer needed to get out of council X area and Y council needed to say what was necessary in order to “get the situation over the line”,
The foster carer’s solicitor said a doctor had reported that A’s life was at risk and recommended that the foster carer should move out of the area due to the bullying and harassment. The carer successfully obtained a barring order against a family member who served a number of months in prison for breaching the barring order. However, neighbours who were bullying had influenced other neighbours to join in the bullying and harassment.
The judge asked the solicitor if she had considered what legal remedies were open to the foster carer with the county councils involved. The solicitor responded that Council X had “come to the table” and that given A’s imminent 18th birthday a more immediate solution needed to be pursued as litigation could take years. Council Y had offered accommodation which was uninhabitable and when this was refused, the foster carer was put to the bottom of the waiting list.
The foster carer gave evidence that the A and B were afraid to go to the shops or leave their front door due to fears of bullying, harassment and threats. She claimed that “their education is being destroyed as they can’t go outside the door” and have to go over the back wall. She went on to describe how B had chest pains although a cardiologist found nothing wrong with his heart, that A had panic attacks and that she had to drive both boys around in the middle of the night to help them to sleep. She also reported that she had false allegations made about her almost hitting a child with her car and driving over someone’s foot and had been threatened with legal action.
The judge reassured her “we are going to do something about it to the best of our powers, which are limited.”
The social worker then gave evidence on how the CFA was assisting both boys. She had been their social worker for four years. During that time there had been legal representations and a social work department meeting attended by both councils. Agreement had been obtained from the Gardaí on sharing information with the councils. Despite this she had no verification from the councils that they had followed up on this offer.
As all other attempts with Y council had failed she was now making an application under exceptional social grounds. A had written to both councils on the effect that all of the above was having on his mental health. The social worker reported that A had attended Pieta House twice in 2014 and 2015 and had been admitted to the local hospital emergency department twice in 2017 and diagnosed with moderate depressive episodes caused by the stressors of harassment and threats to his life.
The judge asked the social worker if a criminal prosecution could be considered. The social worker explained that A would have understandable reservations in giving a statement to the Gardaí given the potential life-threatening repercussions. The judge acknowledged the dedication of the social worker involved whom she considered could not finalise A’s after-care plan as Y council had failed in its statutory duty.
The judge stated that the CFA needed to bite the bullet and name and claim the difficulties regarding after-care. She asked the CFA to consider joining Y council as a notice party and directed that the CFA should issue a further witness summons to the named official in Y council giving seven days’ notice and outlining the consequences of a bench warrant where failure to attend was not due to a reasonable cause. The matter was adjourned for three weeks.