A one-year care order was made for a young girl who had arrived at an Irish airport unaccompanied using a forged passport. She had travelled alone. On arrival at the airport she had asked for international protection. The girl was taken into the care of the Child and Family Agency (CFA), who made an application for an interim care order which was granted. She was placed in a residential unit.
Evidence was heard from the social worker and the guardian ad litem (GAL). Though he made the one-year care order, the judge thought an application for a care order until the girl was 18 was warranted, but acceded to the application of the Child and Family Agency for the one-year order.
Evidence of the social worker
The social worker told the court the girl had arrived in the summer of 2021. The girl said that she had fled her village when she was 13 and had been in a refugee camp in another European Country for two years. She had been helped by a lady, who had acquired a forged passport and organised her flight. The girl did not know the lady’s name or if she travelled on the flight with her, just that she had given her the passport and the flight ticket. The girl did not have any contact details for her family and did not want her family contacted as she felt that might place her in danger.
The social worker said that the application sought was for a care order for one year. This was because it would give the social workers and other associated services time to assess and identify the services the girl would need. The social worker said that there was no detriment to the young person in applying for a care order for one year as that would give an opportunity for a full assessment.
The girl had been placed in a residential unit, but she had hoped that she would be placed in a family. She was the only young female in the residential unit and had disclosed inappropriate touching, verbal assaults, and derogatory remarks by the young males. The social worker said: “The atmosphere in the residential unit was convivial and the girl had a gregarious nature which may have been misinterpreted, or it might have been horse play which might have got out of hand.” However, she said the allegations had been formally investigated and a report had been produced which found the allegations to be unfounded.
The social worker said the staff at the residential unit and the girl’s guardian ad litem (GAL) did not think it was in the girl’s best interests at this time for the girl to be placed in a family setting.
She said the girl was still undergoing assessment. The current placement knew her best at present and they were still in the infancy of the relationship. She said they were concerned for the girl’s mental health. She told the court the girl had had traumatic experiences and had been openly vocal about her experiences. She was very graphic in her description of these and she had almost disassociated from them. The girl was not engaged to those experiences on an emotional level. She said that the girl had attended counselling sporadically, had been referred to further counselling services and had attended Zoom and telephone calls.
She had been referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). She said she hoped the girl would have an appointment within six to eight weeks but if it was longer, she would seek a private practitioner to undertake a full psychological assessment. She informed the court that the girl had experienced female genital mutilation and was also waiting for an urgent obstetric appointment.
There was no birth certificate for the girl in her country of origin and the girl had no documentation, but the social worker said that she believed that the girl was a minor and entitled to services. She believed the girl had been “under the radar”, as when she arrived in Ireland her fingerprints were taken but they did not appear on any international databases.
She said that the girl was better at conversing with adults than with young people her own age. She said that when she challenged the girl on her age the girl was very adamant. She followed the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) best practice guidelines for the age assessment of unaccompanied minors and was not at this stage proactively assessing the girl’s age, but repeated the girl maybe be older than what she said, but she had no doubts the girl was a minor.
With regards to education the social worker said that the girl had attended a summer school and had started mainstream school but now was not attending and had not really engaged in school from the beginning. She had very good English, which the girl had said she had learned at the camp as that was the main language there. She said it was a concern the girl had not attended school. She felt the girl could not connect with other young people in the school because her life experience to date was so different. The social worker said that she, the staff in the residential unit and the GAL continued to work with the school and the girl to try to persuade her to attend.
Evidence of the guardian ad litem (GAL)
The guardian ad litem (GAL) said the girl was happy to be in care but wanted to live with a family, however, she felt her view of this was romantic and idealised. She felt the girl had not been cared for by adults for some considerable time and this had given her a maturity beyond her years. She was satisfied the girl was a minor but that her personality and behaviour did not fit with the age she said she was.
The GAL agreed with the social worker that an age assessment would not be appropriate at present. She felt the girl had developed a confrontational coping mechanism and tended to go immediately into flight or fight mode. She said that compared to other unaccompanied minors her profile and presentation was unusual. She had not engaged in education as the girl felt that she did not fit in but supports had been put in place to help her. The girl needed a full psychological assessment as she had a complicated presentation.
She said that the girl had experienced female genital mutilation and was awaiting an appointment at an obstetric hospital, which was urgent. The judge asked if this appointment could be expedited or done at another hospital, but both the social worker and GAL expressed the view this hospital had specialist expertise in this field and they would prefer the girl to attend this hospital because of that, even if it meant she had to wait slightly longer.
The GAL was supporting the application for a care order for one year as this would give time for the assessments to be completed and relationships established, and a more formalised plan could then be made according to the girls’ needs.
The judge said he was surprised and found it extraordinary that the girl did not avail of education, as all other unaccompanied minors he had met were eager to go to school. He said there appeared to be a little bit of dictation to, rather than an embracing of, services by the girl.
The court noted the subjective age of the minor and accepted the social worker’s evidence that the young person was a minor and eligible for the services although no formal age assessment had been done. He noted that the court’s obligation was that the best interests of the child prevailed and disagreed that a care order until 18 was not warranted, however he acceded to the application of the CFA and granted a care order for one year with a review in 3 months’ time. The GAL was to remain in place until the review.