A judge carrying out a child care review in a provincial city was very critical of the fact that a fostering care review report for a child of post-primary age (A) had not been carried out for eight years. Child A, along with his sibling (B) were both in the care of their grandmother.
The court heard evidence of the serious difficulties and complex needs of A. The judge adjourned the review for one week to facilitate the CFA to obtain an updated fostering care review report.
The lawyer for the CFA told the court that the two children were in the care of their maternal grandmother. She reported that A was involved in a criminal matter which was currently before the courts. She asked the social worker if the criminal matter was of significance for A in his placement.
The social worker reported that he was not doing very well and had broken his bail conditions on three occasions. He had subsequently been brought to the Garda station. The child tended to sneak out of the house late at night through a window and arrive home in the early hours. The CFA lawyer told the judge that A was due back before the juvenile court the following week. The child had not engaged with his social worker or his guardian ad litem (GAL).
The CFA lawyer reported that his grandmother had said that he had “no notion of engaging” and would prefer to be in juvenile prison. The judge said that that decision was not of his choosing. The CFA lawyer said the negotiation of a placement for A was difficult as he was at huge risk of absconding if placed in a residential unit elsewhere in the country.
His social worker agreed that a placement in a residential unit may further increase the risk to him. She said that a special care application had been commenced for him but that his behaviour had subsequently improved. However, his behaviour had now dis-improved again and the special care application was revisited. This application involved the completion of considerable documentation.
The CFA lawyer asked the social worker if the special care application was supported by the child’s family. The social worker replied that the child’s grandmother did not want to discuss the situation with the extended family.
Social worker: “Gran doesn’t want the special care application but she understands our position”.
The CFA lawyer told the judge that the child’s school progress was impacted by the COVID-19 situation and that he was not submitting completed homework consistently. The judge asked about his injuries from a car crash in which he had been a passenger. The social worker replied that he had refused medical attention for his injuries and would not show the injuries to his grandmother. The CFA lawyer reported that there was a second criminal matter involving A and that further charges were pending.
The judge enquired when the most recent child-in-care review had been completed for A and the social worker told her it was done ten months previously. The judge then asked about A’s fostering care review and the CFA lawyer said that it was due and had been scheduled for March 2020. She said the most recent report was eight years old. The social worker’s team leader was present in the court and the judge addressed her about this matter:
Judge: “How can you justify this delay?”
Social work team leader: “I can’t but I acknowledge it should be done as a priority.”
The judge said she wanted to speak to whoever the person in charge of this area of reporting was and the CFA lawyer said she could request this. The judge said she was only willing to give very little time for this report to be completed.
Judge: “This is a statutory body placing children in care who aren’t providing a statutory review…This [delay] is a record in this court…This is about a child’s health, safety and welfare”.
A’s GAL explained to the court that the child’s circumstances were complex. He was at serious risk as he would not do anything willingly. She reported that she had not yet met him but that she had planned to meet him later in the week. She told the judge that A seemed to be “entrenched in bad behaviour” and that he enjoyed the adrenaline rush this provided. His behaviour tended to go through cycles and he could cease the bad behaviour when he wanted to.
The judge asked the GAL what her assessment of his chances in residential care was and the GAL replied that she believed that residential care may escalate the risks as instability created anxiety for him. The judge asked the GAL what assessments she thought would be necessary and the GAL replied that a psychological assessment and an assessment of current drug use would be beneficial.
The judge asked the CFA lawyer if she believed both children should remain in CFA care and the CFA lawyer told her that she believed it was in their best interests to remain in the care of their grandmother. She added that neither parent was in a position to look after them as the father was in prison and the mother had disengaged from them.
The judge concluded that it was extraordinary that the fostering care report was so out of date in this case given the complex serious issues involved. She asked for the matter to be brought before her court after one week for the outstanding fostering care review report to be dealt with.