An interim care order was extended in for four weeks with the written consent of the mother of a boy who had left a residential centre. The mother was unable to attend court because of her physical disability.
The HSE solicitor told the court that the mother had indicated she would like her son to remain in the care of the HSE, that this was in his best interests. His father, the non-custodial parent, had signed a similar letter.
He said that the child was between his mother’s and his grandmother’s houses. While the mother said she would prefer him to be in care, she allowed him into her house or he stayed in the grandmother’s, so he was receiving mixed messages and felt he could control the situation. The care plan needed to be revisited, as he was not engaging with the existing plan. He had been involved in juvenile criminal behaviour.
He said following the previous order [for the child to go into residential care] the social worker had visited the mother’s house, but he was not there and was not in the grandmother’s either. They drove around looking for him and wrote to the gardai who returned him to the residential centre.
He was meant to have overnight access at home for Christmas. “Then his mother said she didn’t want him and he was very angry and broke stuff up in the residential centre.” He spent Christmas in his grandmother’s house and refused to return to the centre. He slept in one or other house but did not have meals there. He was out all day. The staff in the centre had provided phones so that they could contact him but they got lost.
Asked if the boy engaged in risk-taking behaviour the solicitor said he had been involved in some criminal behaviour, but not recently. One morning at 2 am the grandmother said he had left her home and she did not know where he was. His main source of food was the local chip shop. He got money from his mother and grandmother for chips. He had not been in school for nearly five months. He had indicated he would like to go to a special school where he had a friend, but there was no room there.
“He would like to be in foster care, but he has a high level of needs,” the social worker said. “It is difficult to find a match that could deal with his challenging behaviour. He said he would like a foster placement in [his own area].”
A guardian ad litem who had just been appointed said she had met the boy the previous day. He was easy to engage and had some clear views as to where he saw himself. He said he spent most nights in either his mother’s or grandmother’s house, but there was no real structure to that.
“He thought they were content with that. They said they are not, but they won’t refuse to let him in. He accepts neither of them is committed to his long-term care. He is disappointed by that. He is longing to be part of a normal family. He does not see the current placement as acceptable.
“He said in 2010 he asked for a foster care placement and was told he was on a list. Nothing happened. He thinks the list does not exist. It is normal for a young person of that age to want to stay in his area. He feels the social work department is not listening to him.
“He is a fluent Irish speaker, he plays the guitar, he has skills. Issues were identified when he was a baby, including his mum’s incapacity to look after him. He’s been physically and sexually abused by a maternal uncle. There is ongoing emotional abuse in his young life. There is no identifiable adult in his life to encourage him to keep himself safe. [The centre] attempts to contact him on a daily basis. It’s more about surveillance than engagement.”
The GAL said the centre was not a suitable facility at this stage. She was concerned at some self-harming behaviour which had never really been attended to. It was necessary to conclude whether the centre was the best place for him and the HSE needed to explore a foster care placement urgently, including with the extended family. The birth father had indicated an interest in 2010 and this should be further considered.
There was an allegation of sexual abuse by the uncle against the grandfather, which was subsequently withdrawn. It should be clarified there was no risk there.
Extending the interim care order for four weeks, the judge said: “The boy is extremely vulnerable and drifting at the moment. He has been ill-treated and neglected and will continue to be without an order. It is not acceptable to say that foster care can’t be found because of funding. The extended family should be explored in relation to foster care.”