In the District Court an application for funding was made on behalf of a parent for a private provider of family support services in order to facilitate access between a severely disabled child [D] and her mother, who had a mild intellectual disability and was homeless.
The child, who was already the subject of a full Care Order, had severe intellectual disabilities, as well as behavioural issues, ADHD, was on anti-convulsants and had no oral speech. She would have to live in residential institutional care for the entirety of her life. Before the child went into care she had been living in squalid conditions with her siblings.
Her mother, who was currently homeless, was visiting D three times a week in her residential placement, but also wished to go on a monthly outing with her daughter, for which the assistance of the private support service was needed. For each trip the service would provide a designated bus and a driver would also assist and support the staff member from the child’s residential unit.
The social worker told the court that the private provider of family support services cost €380 per outing and her application for funding had been refused. She said that a taxi could not be more than €50 per trip and the residential unit would provide a staff worker to come along.
The HSE solicitor added that the private provider of family support services had been removed when the child had moved into her residential placement because the placement could provide the additional support during the outing.
The social worker had also put in a funding application for a bus for the residential placement itself, but had been advised yesterday the application had been refused and she had not been given a rationale. She told the court that she would revisit the application.
Social worker: “I do think there were a lot of difficulties from when the [private provider of family support services] were removed from the access. It is very difficult for the child to take long journeys in a taxi or with staff members she doesn’t know.”
She had written in her report that staff members in [the placement] were reluctant to bring D out on outings in case they found her negative behaviour difficult and could not bring her home quickly.
GAL solicitor: “When the judge heard this case [in relation to the full care order] in 2010 he said it was the worst case he’d heard. The decision to seek care orders in respect of these minors should have been taken sooner, the HSE apologised.”
The GAL solicitor read out the letter of apology from the HSE to the children, D’s siblings (redacted for this report). The letter read:
“Re: Child A, Child B, Child C and D, minor
For the attention of the Court
“[A social work consultant] in his report of 23 February 2012 made a finding that [Child A, Child B, Child C and D] should have been taken into the care of the HSE sooner and the reversal of the decision to take them into care was incorrect. He also found that the decision to seek Care Orders in respect of these minors should have been acted upon more quickly.
“The HSE regrets any delay in these minors coming into care and accepts that action should have been taken sooner.
“The HSE appreciates the ordeal that these four children have suffered and regretfully acknowledges that their childhoods have been compromised as a result of the experiences they were exposed to while at home in the care of their parents.
“The HSE wishes to assure [Child A, Child B, Child C and D] that the content of [the consultant’s] report has been seriously considered and has been fully discussed with the Regional Director of Children and Family Services for [the area]. The HSE has put in place appropriate safeguards to seek to ensure that a situation like this does not occur in the future.
“The HSE would also like to apologise to [Child A, Child B, Child C and D] for the hurt and wrong doing that they were exposed to as a result of them not being taken into care in July 2006 when the initial decision to do so was made.
“The HSE hope that this apology will be of some help to [Child A, Child B, Child C and D] at this time.”
After she read out the letter, the GAL solicitor said the child had suffered enough and it was time to get it right.
While the social worker said the taxi use would be limited to once a month, the GAL solicitor pointed out that the child would not know the driver.
GAL solicitor: “[The child] has a severe to profound intellectual difficulty, she doesn’t have oral speech, she has only being able to move independently since aged nine, she had ADHD, she has seizures, she’s shown a reluctance to walk, she effectively dropped to the ground on one occasion in the middle of the road.
“You’re in [the proposed outing location], she sits down outside the centre, it’s pouring rain, the taxi’s gone and there’s one staff member and her mum, what support is there?”
Social worker: “The taxi driver would have to be rung to return her home…”
GAL solicitor: “Do you think that’s a good situation to put the child in, to run the risk. You might not be able to get the taxi back quickly? There have been three occasions where the HSE have said they will withdraw funding for [the private family support service provider] and the GAL has had to bring applications before the court.
“Let’s start doing it right, let’s put in the place the funding so she can start going out with her mum once a month, rather than going with something which has all the hallmarks of being dangerous.”
She pointed out that one of the planned trips would take four hours and there would not be much of a saving on a taxi meter running for that length of time. “You shouldn’t be putting financial restrictions before the welfare of the child.” It was not a child-centred approach to see if the taxi option would work.
After more discussion, the judge asked the social worker as a professional if she would stand over the use of a taxi for the child. The social worker said she would not. She also said some of the behaviour the young teenager exhibited was close to that of an 18 month old child.
The GAL told the court the social worker had put in a huge amount of hours into the case.
GAL: “[The residential placement] are absolutely fantastic but the disability services have been hit harder than other services due to cutbacks, staffing has been depleted, they are reliant on agency staff, there is a high level of injury amongst staff and a high level of sick leave.
“One issue that has impacted on [the child] going out with her mother is staffing. The outing wouldn’t happen, they need a bus, until that happens they need the [private provider of family support services] with one staff member from [the residential placement].”
The judge said she did not have the power under Section 47 of the Child Care Act to direct the HSE to finance the residential placement getting a bus.
Judge: “The social worker has done Trojan work in this case and clearly has [the child’s] needs foremost in her priority list, and also the GAL who is giving a recommendation to the court, on the basis on each of their evidence what’s proposed by the HSE is inadequate, it could be setting up the mother to fail in a scenario that could predict future difficulties. I would have thought the social worker would at least have had the courtesy of a rationale from the funding committee.”
The social worker told the court she would reapply for funding for the bus. The judge said while they were waiting the decision the next option was to engage the private provider of family support services for the monthly outings. She said that in the event that the matter was not resolved by the following day and required formal direction of the court, the matter would have to come back in before the weekend.
However, the following day the HSE solicitor told the court that pending the decision on funding for the bus, funding for the private provider of family support services had been approved. One staff member from the residential placement would also accompany the child and her mother on the outing.