Interim care order for boy whose father cannot deal with behaviour

The District Court granted an application for an interim care order in respect of a young teenager whose father had stated he could no longer manage the boy’s behaviour. The boy had been signed into voluntary care by his father a number of years after he had been released from a previous full care order into his father’s care.

The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said the boy’s mother was deceased, and the father had not engaged for over six months. She said significant attempts had been made to serve the father with notice of the application, but his whereabouts were unknown, so he was not on notice. The solicitor said the application was essentially uncontested in those circumstances.

The teenager’s social worker was called to give evidence, and provided the court with the background. He said the boy had previously been the subject of a full care order when he was a toddler, following concerns in relation to his mother’s drug use, as well as allegations of physical abuse.

He said: “[The boy] presented to the creche with bruises on his side and he was dirty and underweight. A voluntary care arrangement was entered into with his mother, but she was up and down over the years in terms of her substance misuse. We felt at the time that we had no choice but to pursue a full care order.”

The witness was asked where the father was at this time, and said he was “not in the picture.” The witness said the child had been the subject of the full care order for over a year when his father contacted the CFA to say that he could be the boy’s father. The witness said the mother sadly passed away not long afterwards, and a decision was taken to carry out the necessary inquiries in respect of the father to ascertain whether he was in fact the boy’s father, and if so, whether he might be suitable and capable of caring for him.

He said: “We undertook a parenting and capacity assessment, and ultimately the department agreed to discharge the care order, and the child went into the care of his father and his father’s partner at the time.”

CFA solicitor: “How did [the boy] do in his father’s care?”

Witness: “He thrived there for some time and we had no concerns, but unfortunately two years ago, the father contacted the department to say he could no longer care for his son. He reported that [the boy] was presenting with worrying behaviours, and himself and his partner felt they were no longer in a position to meet his needs.”

The witness said the CFA made considerable attempts to assist the father and attempted to put in place additional supports, but the father declined any assistance. The witness said that soon afterwards, the father signed his son into voluntary care.

CFA solicitor: “And where is [the boy] now?”

Witness: “He is in a residential unit. He really struggled there initially and we had serious concerns for him in the first few months. In particular, there was concerns raised that he was assaulting staff and other residents, but his behaviour improved and we don’t have those particular concerns anymore.”

The witness said the teenager now had a “lovely relationship” with the staff in his residential unit, and appeared to have insight into his previous behaviours. The witness was then asked whether there were any other current concerns for the teenager. He said the main issue was that when he was outside of the unit, he was “mixing with the wrong crowd” and engaging in “risky behaviours.”

CFA solicitor: “What kind of things is he doing?”

Witness: “We were informed that he was assaulting people outside of the unit. He is a young person who has suffered a lot of loss over his lifetime and a lot of trauma. The staff are concerned that he is involved with drug gangs, and he has been found with cannabis and small amounts of money. The concerns were ultimately raised with the Gardai, but they haven’t been particularly helpful. We know there are assault charges pending, but we don’t know anything else.”

The witness said that numerous strategy meetings had been held with management and the teenager’s social work team. He said they had asked for evidence of the teen’s involvement with criminal gangs, but the Gardai had failed to engage with the CFA to date. The witness said they had attempted to escalate the matter with higher members of An Garda Siochana, as they needed to know how best to safeguard the boy’s interests.

The witness described how the boy “often went missing,” and the staff at the unit had no idea where he went or when he might come back. He said the Gardai had advised the CFA that the teenager was “going to certain places and engaging in risky behaviours,” but they would not tell them anymore. He said: “We are just getting nowhere with the Gardai.”

CFA solicitor: “What is the major concern if you don’t get the information that you need from the Gardai?”

Witness: “The concern is that his placement might not be sustainable in the long term. We’ve had many meetings with the residential unit to discuss options and support [the teen], but the unit continues to state that he is no longer suitable for the placement because of what the Gardai have said about his behaviour.”

The witness said an application had been made to see where else the teenager might be able to go and that respite had been considered, but he had refused it. The witness said a referral had also been made to a clinical psychologist, but the boy had only attended one session and refused to go back after that. He said other support services were now being looked into.

The witness went on to say that the teenager had spent a short period of time in a children’s detention centre, the first time for one week, and the second occasion for 10 minutes. He said the boy had a probation officer, but his engagement with this person had been “on and off.”

The witness went on to tell the court that the teenager was expecting a child with his girlfriend. He said the teen was “excited” and spoke of how he wanted to be a good father. The witness said the couple were both young teenagers, so the CFA intended to meet with the girlfriend and discuss her plan for when the baby was born. The witness said she was a “positive influence” for the boy and had actively encouraged him to take up supports. He said the CFA wanted to assist her in any way they could.

CFA solicitor: “I think special care has been considered for [the teenager]?”

Witness: “Yes, we have spoken with [the teen’s] extern worker about special care as a potential option, and we made contact with the service director in this regard. What came out of that conversation was that we need more evidence to make a special care application. We really want the best for this child, and we asked the Gardai again for the evidence, and advised them that we needed it to be able to make that application before the Hight Court, but we are still getting nowhere.”

The social worker said the case had been “flagged to everybody possible.” He said the CFA was trying to do “everything” for the boy, despite his behaviours. He said there was an awareness that the boy had gone through serious childhood trauma, and that the circumstances which had brought him back into the care of the CFA were “very sad.”

CFA solicitor: “How is his relationship with his father?”

Witness: “It has not been consistent over the last year. When he had access on the last date, he only spent 10 minutes with [his son], and we haven’t seen him at all for the last six months. Unfortunately, he was more than happy to sign him into voluntary care two years ago. The only contact we have is with [the father’s] now ex-partner, who was always a huge feature in [the teen’s] life. She has told us that she does ring [the teen] but he never answers her calls, or only calls her when he is in trouble.”

The witness said the teenager did not have the “unconditional love and support” from his family that he needed.

The witness was asked about the teenager’s health, and said he had a significant problem with one of his eyes. He said he was almost blind in one eye and required regular appointments with the opticians. In relation to the boy’s education, the witness said he had been expelled from school and that the CFA was now exploring home schooling as an option for him.

CFA solicitor: “And what are his own views on what he wants for himself?”

Witness: “He is excited about the arrival of his baby, and he does want to be a really good dad to his child. He’s also really interested in cars, and he’s a talented footballer, so we’re continuing to explore how best we can support him with his interests. One of the main issues though is that there is a huge gap between what he says and what he does.”

The witness said the interim care order was required as without it, the CFA would not be in a position to plan for either the teenager’s future, or his baby’s future. He also asked the court to appoint a guardian ad litem(GAL).

Judge: “If the court makes the order, what is going to change, what will actually happen to [the teen]?

Witness: “If a voluntary arrangement is to continue and we don’t have the certainty of an order, then we don’t have the ability to put in place any robust plans for [the boy]. Voluntary care is also dependant on a parent being available to co-operate and meet with us, but in this case, there is no contact with the father, there is no family.”

The witness added that if a GAL was appointed, the team could do more to explore all possible supports, and the hope was that the GAL would form a good working relationship with the teenager. He said: “All we can do is try.”

The judge said he was concerned that he had not been provided with any discernible plan as to what would happen if the order was made. In addition, he noted that he had not been given details of any possible alternative placements.

CFA solicitor: “With respect, I have to disagree. The team is trying to salvage his current placement, but also referrals have been made to various units. There was a referral to the private placement team in January, but there is no placement yet. We are also considering a referral to special care, but we need more information from the Gardai for this. I would say that certainly this is a case where everything that can be done is being done.”

Judge: “I’m told there was a discussion about special care, but not enough information to make an application in this regard. I’m told [the teen] has charges before the court, and that he has time spent in [a children’s detention centre]. I’m also told that there is a young girl who is pregnant, so all in all, I’m worried about this. I think we need other evidence, so I’m tempted to adjourn the matter and bring the Gardai here.”

The CFA solicitor said the Gardai were “simply not cooperating,” and the plan was to escalate the matter with the superintendent. The solicitor said they needed factual information from An Garda Siochana in order to refer the matter to the special committee for their consideration. She said they were trying to obtain a letter which had apparently been sent by the superintendent to the teenager’s residential unit, which allegedly set out the concerns the Gardai had in relation to the boy.

Judge: “Why didn’t they furnish the letter to you?”

CFA solicitor: “They have simply refused.”

Judge: “Maybe that issue should be referred to GSOC, I mean there are child protection concerns here.”

The CFA solicitor said the matter had been escalated to the superintendent and it was hoped that progress might be made on the next date.

Having heard the evidence, the judge said he was satisfied to make the order for the interim care order for the period set out in the legislation, and he also appointed a GAL. He further directed that the CFA have a full care plan in court on the next date. He suggested that a witness summons might be necessary to ensure the attendance of An Garda Siochana if the letter was not forthcoming. Finally, he noted that people were “working flat out” for the teenager and that the CFA was “trying to work a system that was simply not working.”

The case came back before the court for an extension of the interim care order.

The CFA lawyer told the court that since the initial ICO had been granted an application for secure care had been made due to a “worrying escalation” in the teenager’s behaviour, but that this had been rejected by the special care committee. When the court was updated in this regard on the last date, the judge had made a direction that the CFA take up a copy of the digital audio recording (DAR) of the evidence given in the previous care order proceedings. The judge had been of the view that this might assist in a fresh application for the teenager. The present update was that it had taken some time to obtain the DAR, but it was now to hand and the intention was to provide this to the committee in respect of the new application.

The CFA solicitor said that while the young person’s behaviour had improved for a short period of time since the last court date, he was now “going missing consistently” from his residential unit. She said it was believed he was only spending more time in the unit initially because his friends were incarcerated, and that once they were released he started absconding again. She said the unit’s staff had recently reported that the teenager may have been attacked as he returned to his placement that particular day with a sore leg. The solicitor said the father’s ex-partner was “very much involved” with the teen and his newborn child, and had similarly reported that he had recently been involved in a fight and she thought he was “back selling drugs.”

The solicitor said a care plan meeting had taken place with numerous professionals in attendance and in addition to the attack, it was noted that the teen had been arrested for possession of cannabis and charges were pending against him. It was noted that “the minute [the teen] had been released from the Garda station he walked off with people waiting for him outside.”

The judge queried what else was being done for the teenager and was informed that in addition to the fresh application for secure care, the CFA had also secured a psychologist to carry out a report, but unfortunately the boy “did not engage with her whatsoever.” She said the report was limited because of this, but the psychologist did conclude that the teen had a complex psychiatric profile and required “a range of therapeutic interventions to assist him in every aspect of life.” Importantly, the psychologist also fully endorsed the application for special care.

The solicitor said the CFA had considered what options were available to safeguard the teen while the fresh application for special care was awaited. She said moving the teen out of Dublin had been considered in the short-term, but that this would not eliminate the risk and “he would simply just run back to his girlfriend and baby in Dublin.” She said that if he was not accepted into special care, the intention was to put in place a wrap-around service for the teen within his residential unit.

Having heard the evidence, the judge said he would extend the ICO and made a further direction that the CFA do its best to accelerate the special care application process. He said he expected a decision to have been made by the committee in advance of the next date.