In the District Court a judge heard that although a teenage boy was suitable for Secure Care (special care) due to anti-social behaviour and drug use, there was no bed available. He had previously spent time in a juvenile detention centre for criminal behaviour and was currently out on bail. He was remanded in the community in a residential unit, in a voluntary care arrangement.
The court discussed with the social worker and the boy’s guardian ad litem the situation whereby he had to show more severe behaviour in order to move up the waiting list, but this exposed him to further criminal prosecution.
The social worker hoped the residential unit would take him out of the cycle of crime. If this was not the case, she did not think it was acceptable for him to return to the juvenile detention centre as it was not a suitable placement for his needs.
She said that a positive shift had been noted in the teenager’s behaviour, he had settled in well into the residential unit and wished to make the most of his time there. Consideration might be given to an out-of-state placement for the teenager, but it was a different panel to the Secure Care Committee’s panel. The social worker told the court that there were 14 children on the list for Secure Care, but she was unable to say where he was specifically on the list.
The GAL solicitor asked the social worker if she believed his current placement was suitable as his behaviour remained at the upper end of the spectrum at risk. The social worker said it would take him out of the crime cycle for the moment, the long-term aim was for him to have a special care placement. If his current placement broke down they would liaise closely with the Secure Care Committee due to his high level of risk.
GAL solicitor: “If there were no beds available at that time what would be the options?”
Social worker: “To consult with senior management.”
Judge: “But their view is an out-of-state placement will not be considered? Where is the dividing line between exceptional cases and an out-of-state placement?”
Social worker: “I don’t think I can answer that, judge.”
Judge: “If the placement breaks down it is likely [the child] will resort to criminal behaviour which would mean he would end up in [juvenile detention].”
The social worker said she did not think it was acceptable for him to go back there. It was her professional opinion that he required secure care, she had not changed her mind since the last date in court. It was a short term measure to move him to the mainstream residential placement, with the aim of breaking the cycle of anti-social behaviour and drug use.
The judge replied that one of the primary purposes stated for secure care was to break the cycle: “Effectively although he is in need of secure care there is now an attempt to break the cycle without him going into secure care.”
Social worker: “Yes, judge.”
Judge: “Is it the reality that he’ll have to get worse before he gets secure care? Given the reply you gave – that he would only be considered for an out-of-state placement in exceptional circumstances, I find it hard to believe what more exceptional circumstances there could be apart from being on the list. Bt it would seem that unless he becomes more exceptional in his behaviour, the likelihood is he won’t get a secure care bed in the future. If that’s not a crisis I don’t know what is in terms of secure care.”
The GAL told the court that although the teenager got on well in the secure environment of juvenile detention, it was not an appropriate intervention. There were a high number of charges relating to that care environment.
GAL: “If he kicks out and breaks a coffee table in the living room, he is charged with that. In secure care he would not break it because it’s a secure environment, once he becomes angry he is not in control of that situation. The key difficulty is that there is a cycle that’s established where the Gardaí become the control in the unit, he is accumulating charges in units not designed for his needs.
“In his placement he has no access to therapy, he needs to be in an environment that can contain him, he is emotionally charged about his past.”
The GAL added that his need for secure care was very urgent, there was no way to control the level of risk in his current placement. The option of a placement outside of the state could mitigate that risk. Within Ireland, juvenile detention was the only alternative to his current placement.
GAL: “We are essentially criminalising the child by the nature of the placement he is being put in. We agree it is not a facility that can cope with his behaviour, it’s a recipe for criminal behaviour.”
The social worker confirmed that a therapy service was available to the teenager, which was a service for children in special care. At the moment however, he was refusing it, but it would remain open to him should he change his mind.
There needs to be a separation between care and justice, said the GAL, the reasons for his criminal convictions were effectively due to property damage in an unsuitable environment which was a holding place.
Discussing the secure list with the judge, the GAL said when the Secure Care Committee met, in terms of being placed it only mattered if you were number one on the list. Therefore if the teenager was in juvenile detention at the time of the Committee meeting, it minimised the risk on that day [as the child was securely in detention].
Judge: “Should exceptional circumstances of people on the list create a sub-list?”
The Child and Family Agency solicitor said she had to clarify that the special care panel (secure care) did not have a role in out-of-state placements.
Judge: “My view is that the response to [the child’s] situation should be needs-led, it is clearly the professional view of all involved he is in need of secure care, in the absence he will dis-improve, which may in itself bring him to the top of the list [which is] not the appropriate way to meet his needs. The only way to get to the top of the list is to show the effect of what he needs to such an extent that he comes to the top of the list; it appears to be the crisis that secure care is in, which is out of the remit of this court.”
The judge adjourned the section 47 application for one month. He said he hoped “whoever it is who has the power [on the Secure Care Committee] [will] consider the options in a realistic way.”
Before the Section 47 application came before the District Court the Child and Family Agency made an application in the High Court for an order to send the boy to a specialist unit in another jurisdiction. This was opposed by the GAL and the boy’s mother.