This latest volume of reports from the Child Care Law Reporting Project highlights, once again, the difficulties in finding suitable placements for children in care who need therapeutic support. Five of the 30 reports published concern cases where no suitable placement was available for highly vulnerable young people, with complex psychological needs and sometimes also medical problems or disabilities. Two of these cases were in the High Court, which deals with children requiring secure care (detention), and three in the District Court. In the two High Court cases the children concerned had been in specialist centres in the UK, but were due to return to Ireland as they were approaching 18, and no suitable placement could be found for them here.
No further High Court cases could be attended by the CCLRP as earlier this year the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2011 came into force. This law put on a statutory basis the regime for dealing with children requiring secure care, where previously this had been dealt with by the High Court under its own inherent jurisdiction. The 2011 Act did not contain the section of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007 which permits the CCLRP, and other nominated researchers, attend and report on child protection cases, so no legal basis now exists under the Act to do so. The CCLRP made an application to the court to be permitted to attend under the High Court’s own jurisdiction, and a judgment on this application is still awaited. The CCLRP’s court application is among the reports published today.
Other common issues highlighted in the reports are the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse, learning disabilities and mental health issues among the parents in child care cases. However, there are some positive stories among the cases reported, including two where the children were being reunited with their parents, who were resolving their problems, and one case where a boy turned his life around after three years in care and was preparing to enter third level education.
Child sexual abuse continues to feature in a minority of cases, but these cases are usually very prolonged. One such case began in January 2016 and is still going on, with further day’s hearings scheduled for November. Another also began in 2016 and concluded three months ago, but no judgment has been delivered as yet.
Two of the cases concerned families from other EU countries, where they had faced child protection proceedings, including one where the parents fled to Ireland with a young baby when care proceedings were mooted in the UK. In both cases the issue of which country had jurisdiction to consider the matter was being considered by both the District and the High Court simultaneously.
This is the first volume of reports to be published under a new agreement between the CCLRP and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, which asked the CCLRP to continue the reporting project for a further three years. This followed a competitive process to select a project that would prepare and publish such reports, in order to provide information to assist in the review of the Child Care Act 1991. As well as publishing reports at regular intervals, the continuing project will prepare annual reports and a final report on its findings.