A judge refused an ex parte Emergency Care Order application in the District Court for a young teenager [A] at moderate risk of suicide because the application did not meet the criteria under Section 13. 4 (c) to proceed without the other side being present, and because the CFA had not brought a Section 25 application for the child (to appoint a solicitor or guardian ad litem). The judge said that the situation was serious but not immediate.
“I have no doubt that you can bring your application on notice and then there will be a serious case,” said the judge. As it was it did not meet the statutory criteria.
The CFA brought an ex parte Section 13 Emergency Care Order application. Their solicitor told the court there was a lapsed Supervision Order.
Prior to that Supervision Order early last year there was another ECO application after disclosures from the minor that his mother hit him on a regular basis when she was stressed, but supports had been put in place and the child was returned home.
The senior clinical psychologist treating the young teenager told the court that she had been meeting him since late last year regarding his mental health and that he had opened up in the last two weeks. She had met him on the day before the hearing and she had felt there were concerns about the risk to himself and the risk at home. He had made disclosures in relation to high levels of neglect, said the doctor, and that he was being left to cope by himself. He had described his mother as unpredictable and angry and he was in fear of being assaulted when she was under the influence.
The concerns at present related to his mental health, he had a diagnosis of depression and was agitated, feeling overwhelmed and negative about his future. The doctor said that A was pessimistic about the likelihood of change and that there was nobody to turn to if there was a crisis in the house. She felt there was a risk of self-harm over the weekend period and she had not been able to put any support plan in place, therefore his safety could not be ensured over the weekend.
The doctor said new information had come to light over the last two weeks regarding his mother’s drinking habits and neglect in the home. In her professional opinion he was at moderate risk of suicide at the moment.
The judge, who had read over the historical files, including social work reports, pointed out that A had been contemplating suicide in 2010 and 2011. The doctor told her that his presentation had changed markedly in the last two weeks, that he had been crying profusely in sessions and said he was unable to cope. A had said that “things were too much”, that he had too much responsibility, his mother was unable to care for him and he wanted to be received into care.
A scored as having depression at a moderate level, said the doctor, he was in the top two per cent of same-age children for depression and anxiety, i.e, at the 98th percentile.
Had the doctor considered a Section 25 application under the Mental Health Act, asked the judge, because the ECO application had to be assessed on an ex parte basis, and ideally the application would have been on notice to the parent and assessments would have been in order. “If it is that urgent, why aren’t you applying under Section 25?” asked the judge.
The doctor replied that the Emergency Care Order had been applied for because his safety could not be guaranteed. The judged pointed out that the last time it came to court there was also a risk.
The doctor told her that “having met with him yesterday I couldn’t leave the situation the way it was. I have concerns about his risk to himself and risk in the house.” He had said he was not cared for and no one is caring for him.
The judge explained to the social worker that so far she was not satisfied as to the urgency of the case. “This case should have been on notice earlier this week, I am concerned about the notice aspect of things, it is troubling it wasn’t before the court earlier on notice.”
The social worker told the judge that the doctor (clinical psychologist) had contacted the social work department the previous afternoon and explained her concerns about A and his disclosures. The social worker said that she had gone out to the school this morning and A had been very reluctant to talk to her. It was the first time she had met him. He would not work on a safety plan with her.
She said this afternoon she had paid a home visit to the mother with her team leader and it was also the first time she had met the mother. They were allowed in but the mother had become very upset and said they needed to leave, so they had not been able to discuss their concerns with her. A had also arrived home when they were still there and the mother had got more upset.
Were attempts made to involve the mother in the court proceedings, the judge asked. The social worker told her that another social worker had called to the house that evening with taxi vouchers but she had not answered the door.
“What brings it into the criteria of an immediate and serious risk?” asked the judge.
“Mam drinking, [A] being left at home alone, him being afraid of her being aggressive when she is drunk, there were new concerns and we were unable to put a safety plan in place,” said the social worker.
The judge said that she was not satisfied the CFA had met the criteria under section 13 (1) and 4 (c) that she could hear it ex-parte, and that she was unsatisfied as to risk. She said being home alone was not necessarily catastrophic at his age [a young teenager] and the social worker had not brought an application to have his mental health treated.
“I have no doubt you can bring your application on notice and then there will be a serious case,” the judge told her.
The judge said that the criteria of Section 13 was an immediate and serious risk which necessitated the child being placed in care. He did not hit the Section 25 [mental health] criteria therefore it was serious but not immediate. Furthermore, it could not proceed ex parte as it did not meet the criteria under Section 13 (4) (c).
The judge remarked that considering it was the first time the social worker had met the mother and A, it was “little wonder there is an absence to engage when he hasn’t met you before, and that he became distressed when what he said to Doctor [Y] suddenly became known to a stranger”.
“It is a proper application to bring on notice to the mother, it didn’t meet the statutory criteria,” she told the CFA solicitor.
The CFA solicitor then asked the judge if he could bring the same application to the Central Courts of Justice that evening as she had refused it. “You can appeal my order, you can judicially review it, you simply do not meet the criteria,” replied the judge.
Six days later the CFA brought an ICO application to the District Court on notice to the mother, which was granted.
Emergency Care Order: Section 13. 1 of the Child Care Act, 1991:
If a justice of the District Court is of opinion on the application of a health board that there is reasonable cause to believe that –
(a) There is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of a child which necessitates his being placed in the care of a health board,
The justice may make an order to be known and in this Act referred to as an “emergency care order”.
13 (4) (c) an application for any such order may, if the justice is satisfied that the urgency of the matter so requires, be made ex parte.