High Court hears unaccompanied minor in immigration system for 12 years

A High Court judge heard that a young girl [A] had had 17 placement moves between 2005 and 2016. A guardian ad litem had been appointed to her in 2009. In late 2016 an application for admission to a Special Care Unit (referred to in this report as secure care) was approved and for the second time A was moved to a secure care unit from her residential care placement.

A was an unaccompanied minor within the State and, by 2016, had been in the immigration system for 12 years. The court heard of the legal uncertainty hanging over her, that she was bright but troubled, that there had been previous suspicions by the GAL in relation to grooming, and that there was a lack of provision of a school placement for her. The young girl had no one in the State apart from her guardian ad litem.

January 2017

In January 2017 the High Court judge hearing the minors’ list told counsel that matters had been pressing for a length of time. A had been looking for her immigration status to be recognised, steps should have been taken and nothing had happened. “Nothing has moved on,” she told counsel, “seeking a meeting with the Departments of Justice and Education is not good enough. I am well familiar with her capacity and the progress she could have made, she has been clearly hampered in that regard. These are matters that could have been dealt with and have not. I want to hear about meetings that have taken place and progress that has occurred. These matters are extremely urgent and I’m not going to say it again.”

It was the GAL’s opinion that everything was being affected by the lack of onward placement. Furthermore there was an orthodontic issue that needed to be addressed in the best interests and welfare of the child, “her upper and lower teeth are causing her upset.”

When the case returned again later in January the court heard that no progress had been made in relation to her immigration status, the onward placement or her education. “She is being failed in the CFA’s statutory duty to her, there is no progress,” counsel for the GAL told the court. Counsel for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) did not agree.

The judge said a hearing date would be given if necessary.


In February during a minor’s list hearing, the court heard that the question regarding A’s education could not be resolved until the onward placement was secured.

Counsel for the GAL told the court that it was A’s second time in secure care and there was currently no possibility of a new placement. An out-of-state placement was being suggested by the social work department but the GAL was not in favour. A placement within the State had been sought since September 2016 but they were no further ahead. A had a complex history of difficulties and could be very violent. The Assessment, Consultation and Therapy Service (ACTS) was currently engaged in an assessment of the girl. “There have been many assessments. Expecting [A] to change so she can receive appropriate care is unrealistic,” said counsel for the GAL. There had been no suggestion by the CFA of a bespoke unit being set up and even if there had been it would take six to nine months.

Counsel for the CFA said that there was no dispute that the difficulty was the sourcing and identification of an appropriate step-down placement from secure care and a hearing on the matter would reach the same conclusion. It was like trying to roll a ball uphill in a difficult case.

A’s immigration status was now clarified and matters were being progressed, counsel for the GAL informed the court. It was a case that had to be given priority in relation to further placement, A had been significantly failed and there had been significant breaches of her Constitutional rights. The proceedings sought would seek declarations in that regard.

During the next minors’ review list the court heard that A was starting to become upset about the lack of onward placement, that she was vomiting and hair pulling. “This child has no one to go to, no family member to return to.” The child met with the judge after the hearing. The meeting had been arranged in advance at the child’s request.

The following week the court heard that an onward placement had been identified and the child was happy with the news, that she was interested in looking at it and it was a positive step.

March 2017

However during the minors’ review list the following week, the court heard that the placement (a private service provider) had decided they would not make the placement available to A and as they felt they could not manage her. She had not yet gone back to school. Due to her legal situation an out-of-state placement did not look possible.

Counsel for the CFA remarked that the decision by the provider was extremely disappointing. The judge asked how the service provider could have had a change of heart after making the placement available. Counsel for the CFA said there was a senior public official from the CFA at the back of the court and the judge noted that the matter had to be addressed as a matter of significant priority.

The following week counsel for the GAL sought hearing dates. The judge was very dissatisfied regarding the lack of progress, the order was extended for one further week and put in for mention for an update before the next minors’ review list.

By that time the court heard that an appropriate onward placement had been identified, a senior official from the CFA was in attendance at court, said counsel for the CFA. A meeting would take place early next week to work out a discharge plan for the child and also with regard as to how she would be told about her onward placement. Certainty about the process was needed. The placement had been used before for exceptionally disturbed young people. A was not as severe but the placement would work very much to her benefit. It was a non-detention placement.


The court heard that the staff from A’s onward placement were extremely experienced and had begun to visit her in her secure care placement to begin the transition, that the process would go at a pace consistent with her welfare. The individual who was currently listed for the bed in the placement was not using it, counsel for the CFA told the court. He had a mental health aspect to his case. Another facility had been identified for him.

Counsel for the GAL told the court that the current resident had not been told he was to be moved from that placement, that this could impact on his behaviour and if his behaviour warranted it, he would return to that placement.

However counsel for the CFA insisted that the public authority had made a decision that the empty bed would be given A, “another meeting about another child is not a veto on that placement. My understanding is that A is going there and I am not setting myself up in competition with another case.”

Clarity was needed as to how long it would take to transition the current resident out, responded the counsel for the GAL.

By the end of April the court heard that the staff from the onward placement continued to meet A in her secure care placement and she had been getting on quite well with them. There had been a significant incident involving A in her secure care unit, she needed to get a transition date at this stage, said counsel for the GAL.

No schooling was as yet available to the young girl. The social work department had been given a voucher for three hours per week of tuition but a tutor still had to be sourced. It was now five weeks away from the Junior Cert “and three hours a week isn’t going to cut it, it will take four weeks to get a tutor, why not get a private tutor for the five weeks until the Junior Cert?” asked counsel for the GAL. The judge noted that the issue of education needed to be resolved.


The court heard that the transition for A from secure care to her new placement would begin to take place over the coming weeks. Counsel talked the court through the roadmap for the transition which included a visit for lunch to the new placement, orientation, in-put for decorating and arranging her room and a couple of sleepovers before her move in date.

The other resident had now commenced his transition plan.

Counsel for the GAL told the court that A was under huge stress by virtue of the move and had being purging and eating to excess, then not eating, as well as treating the staff in her secure care unit with distain and being aggressive.

Her schooling from September had to be established as well and her orthodontic treatment needed to commence as it was part of her self-esteem issue, therefore a private service would have to be looked at if the public service was not available.

Counsel for the CFA noted that Judge Baker had already given a judgment in the area of private orthodontic treatment and funding for a child in care, he told the court he would look at it if public treatment was not available. When the Minors’ List returned the following week, the court was informed by counsel for the CFA that the social worker had been unable to access the public orthodontic service and therefore a private appointment had been made instead.

The court also heard that matters were deteriorating in secure care for A, the staff had had to call an Garda Síochana due to her behaviour which could be very aggressive verbally and physically. It was the GAL’s opinion that a seven week transition period was simply too long,

A was now five weeks into it and incidents were escalating with the teenager due to her nerves. The GAL was requesting that an overnight in her new placement be brought forward because the situation was getting worse. The judge told the parties that it was a matter for the secure care unit and her onward placement.

It was noted that A’s school placement in September had yet to be established.