An interim care order was extended in respect of a teenage child in residential care. There was a concern that the child had an older boyfriend and might be pregnant. The judge met with the child prior to the hearing. The parents were from another European country and did not participate.
The solicitor for the CFA said a date was scheduled for the care order hearing but the child expressed a view she did not want to be subject to a care order and was afraid she would lose her GAL. The solicitor said: “We are minded to adjourn the application if it is causing distress [to the child]. We did not want to unsettle her by saying it [the care order hearing] was going ahead.”
The solicitor for the mother was still accepting service of the documents but did not have instructions.
The child had spent a period of time in special care and had moved into her placement earlier in the year. The child recently underwent a number of medical examinations including a pregnancy test and a test for sexually transmitted infections. A Garda investigation was underway regarding the relationship between the child and her alleged older boyfriend.
The GAL recommended that the child be given advice about the investigation and be informed that the Gardaí may wish to interview her. She had not been in school since Christmas but it was hoped she would re-engage with school following her transition into residential care. The child was described as bright and had high expectations that she would return to school.
The social worker said the child was dysregulated and her “anxiety was very high.” There were two incidents of the child going missing but it transpired she had been with her grandmother on those dates. The grandmother was a key figure in the child’s life and the child had requested overnight access with her. The social worker met with the grandmother once every two months and met the child once every three weeks.
The judge said: “I am concerned that the grandmother does not understand that the child has moved to [the residential unit].”
The social worker said they had discussions with the grandmother and a friend of the grandmother, was always present as an interpreter. The child asked that the grandmother’s friend would not used as an unofficial translator as she was concerned about the privacy of her case.
The judge asked: “Parents and foster carers may have a fear of the CFA and the State. Is there advocacy support available to the grandmother?”
The social worker said they could look at that going forward.
The child requested a different social worker. The team leader said they had not had the opportunity to address the issue with the child. The social worker had contact with the child and the child felt she could not trust the social worker. The appointment of another social worker was within the discretion of the team leader.
The GAL said the child was in difficult circumstances and needed a high level of support. The child met with the psychologist and was fearful. The psychologist was concerned the girl was so terrified and was not in the right place for therapeutic intervention. The GAL said: “If she [the child] is pregnant, things will have to move quickly. We should look to explore the right course of action.”
The judge asked: “The child is terrified and resistant to engaging emotionally with anyone. What will be the bridge between the psychologist and the child?”
The GAL replied: “I had discussions about a sensory attachment intervention.” The intervention would help the child when she was stressed and aid her through daily activities. She would feel more settled and be able to engage in conversations. The GAL said the child had “overwhelming feelings of shame.” The child accepted she needed to be in care but she had a mistrust of the people with whom she came into contact.
The judge asked the GAL to provide a precis of the issues discussed in court with the child so all the parties could understand the child’s opinions.
The judge said: “The child is 16 years old and in the care of the CFA. I am satisfied, having read the reports, that it is necessary to extend the interim care order for 28 days. There should be no view taken on the sterling work done by the social worker. It is very difficult to make connections with a mistrustful 16-year-old who has had adverse childhood experiences in two jurisdictions and had many changes of social worker. A dialogue will be had with the child to build up and restore a trusting relationship. The grandmother is an older lady who may find it more difficult to engage.”
The judge suggested that the grandmother contact the embassy of her country of origin for assistance. She said: “The UN convention allows all of us, in another jurisdiction, to avail of consular support to have an understanding of the [legal] system. The systems and attitudes are different. I am satisfied the CFA has provided interpretation and translation facilities for every engagement they had with the grandmother. The GAL might provide a memorandum of the issues raised by the child and the social work report acknowledges that the child is a remarkable child who suffer from a debilitating anxiety. The supports might require an intermediary stamp.”
The interim care order was extended for 28 days.