A High Court judge heard an ex-parte notice of motion (in the absence of the other side) for a secure care order involving a very distressed and violent young girl who was self-harming. Although the mother was aware of the application she was not consenting and the court had ordered that no party be informed of the granting of the order. The child was unaware that the application was taking place and had been placed in a hotel with a close relative.
Although the application into secure care was granted, the Gardai then failed to remove the child from the hotel in order to place her into secure care. The Garda Superintendent informed the CFA that he did not consider it appropriate he was required to do so.
The young child had first come to the attention of the social work department at the age of two due to alcohol misuse in the home as well as neglect, domestic violence and exposure to sexual activity. She had already had 16 different placements, the court heard, including respite placements.
In 2011 the child had been signed into voluntary care when her parents had been unable to cope and she had gone to live with the close relative. However that placement had broken down twice in 2015 with the child alleging that her relative had physically abused her.
In 2016 a general placement had been sought when the child refused to return to her relative’s care.
Her most recent placement had been in a residential unit, however staff there had withdrawn their services as they were unable to provide for her safety. An immense increase in her levels of violence were set out in the application, these included a premeditated use of weapons, such as scissors, on the staff. She had also filled socks with stones and attacked staff members.
The girl was not allowed toys as she had self-harmed by taking the stuffing and eyes out of a teddy and trying to choke herself. She was not allowed into cars as she had attacked a driver and sought to push staff members into traffic. She was not availing of education. Her history of absconding from her residential placement at night was set out in the application as well. She had a lack of insight into the danger her behaviour presented on the road.
Due to an immense increase in her levels of violence staff members had had to attend hospital for broken ribs and back injuries as well as bruising. The young girl had broken a wardrobe and used a metal bar to try and stab a staff member. There were many incidents of self-harm which included punching herself, hair pulling, choking herself with Lego, breaking glass and slicing her hand, jumping off heights and dangerous behaviour in traffic. She had reported hearing voices but a psychiatric assessment had found this was not indicative of a psychiatric difficulty.
The court heard that her behaviours needed to be explored in a secure setting to ensure she received appropriate therapeutic input. The child was not being made aware of the application for security reasons and the Gardai were being notified by electronic means.
The judge said that due to the child’s high level of risk-taking behaviour she was not only a risk to herself but also to others therefore the judge was satisfied that it was in the child’s interests to be placed in special care with a series of therapeutic interventions. The judge asked that no party be notified of the making of the order for eight hours to allow for the implementation of the order. The matter was due before the District Court that day also but the judge would be asked to put it back till 4pm and no information was to be given out in the meantime.
However that afternoon the court was informed that the Gardai had not carried out the order of the court and the Garda Superintendent had informed the CFA that he did not think it was appropriate that he was required in the case.
“This flies in the face of the cooperation of the Gardai to date in these matters,” remarked the judge. “I had anticipated that the order would have been done by now.” If it was not she would direct that a representative of An Garda Siochana should attend court that afternoon. It was significant in terms of the agitation of the child and the mother’s awareness.
The judge told the parties that in the DK case the child had become aware of the order and she died in the three days between the making of it and the carrying out.
In this case the problem had now become even more urgent with proceedings in the District Court having been adjourned due to the secure care order being granted. The judge told the barrister for the CFA that her comments must be relayed immediately and that she was making a mandatory order directing the Gardai. This had been included in the order of DK and this was within her remit.
“I am amazed at the attitude displayed in this manner and those comments can be relayed, considering the cooperation we have had with the Guards to date, this matter is becoming more urgent as we speak,” the judge said. She gave liberty for the matter to be mentioned to the Chief State Solicitor.
Later that afternoon a member of An Garda Siochana’s legal team attended court and confirmed that the order would be executed. The Superintendent had been concerned about how he would execute the order due to the young girl’s potential violence and now sought the assistance of the staff at the proposed secure care centre. There was no problem in carrying out the order, he had just been concerned about the child’s safety.
The barrister for the CFA replied that staff from secure care centres never assisted in such situations, the appropriate organ of the State was the Gardai who were trained to deal with violent situations. It fell to them and was entirely within the operation of the discretion of the Gardai. He added that it was extremely concerning in light of the DK judgment that several hours after the order was communicated it had not been carried out.
The judge also remarked on the DK case, stating that due to the “precedent from 2007 the lack of implementation by the Gardai on an order made led to a fatality. It is mandatory the Guards are the people with the training of this nature. In the same way as the guards deal with domestic violence issues I expect this order to be carried out immediately. This child will be aware that proceedings were adjourned in the District Court today. It is vitally important that the order be executed immediately. I appreciate his concern but it is his duty to carry out the order of this court and to do so immediately.
“It is no different to a domestic situation. This court has precedent of relying on the Gardai for their cooperation and it has always been forthcoming to date.”
One week later during the Minors’ List the CFA said that the order had been carried out but not at the hotel because the child and her relative had been discharged from the hotel at 12pm. It was a number of hours before she was located and before it could be executed.
The barrister for the guardian ad litem told the court that there could have been a catastrophic outcome due to the manner in which the court order was not carried out. There was a lack of protocol in how such matters were executed and that needed to be followed up. The court heard that the issue relating to the delay in carrying out the order would be followed up.
There was some disagreement between the parties as to whether a protocol was in place in carrying out such orders. The barrister for the CFA told the court there was in fact a protocol but the issue was the application of it.
“It is one thing having protocols in place, it is another thing having them followed,” remarked the judge. “It is hard to believe what happened did happen, [the cooperation of the Gardai] is in place for years and clearly issues will need to be dealt with.”