A judge expressed serious concerns about the safety of a teenage boy who was absconding from the residential unit where he was staying and was engaging in high risk behaviour. The district court in a rural town was considering an application for an extension of an Interim Care Order and the solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the judge the boy was on a waiting list for a place in a special care unit. Everyone, she said, was aware that it was a very complex case. There had been some improvement in his behaviour but the risk of his absconding again was very high.
The child’s social worker said he was coming to terms with the recent death of his mother. He had been absconding from the residential unit on a regular basis and usually went to the town where his family resided where he had engaged in high risk behaviour with other youths. One of the options being considered was placement in a special care unit if he continued with his behaviour.
“I feel we are just buying time….you’re not dealing with the problem,” the judge said. “What might happen to him is very worrying. He is still very young and the longer it goes on the more worrisome it becomes.”
The CFA solicitor said it was a question of waiting for a bed in a special care unit. The judge noted the teenager was not attending school and said he needed intervention of a serious nature. “If he doesn’t get it, you can contain it until he is 18 and then he is on the street,” the judge said. “Access that special care. If he does a runner again and ends up under a bus or in a car with others …. he has had a taste of the good life and that’s what worries me.”
CFA solicitor: “He is in another court soon on other matters.”
Judge: “That’s what concerns me.”
The judge said the situation had the potential to spiral out of control. “You don’t want to get a call from the guards to come and identify him. I don’t want to be dramatic but that’s what we could be facing.”
The social worker said the teenager would benefit from therapeutic supports but there was no bed available for him at present in a special care unit. There were seven or eight children on the waiting list and the allocation of beds was made on the basis of the child’s immediate risks. He met the criteria but there might not be any available beds.
An out of state placement was under consideration but the judge said that putting the child with strangers might be a disaster.
The guardian ad litem (GAL) said the child was in a very dangerous situation and required special care. If a special care placement came available in England before Ireland it would provide safety and the plan would be to go for a specified time and then return to Ireland. “In terms of his security, safety and therapeutic needs, I would favour that,” he said.
It would be unfamiliar territory but on balance his need for security and safety outweighed the disadvantages. There were a number of options in England and Scotland and some of them had met with a lot of success in turning people away from risky behaviour in Ireland. There had been reports of the boy being found in dangerous situations and there was an urgency about it.
The judge agreed that the likelihood of a bed being available outside of the jurisdiction had to be explored but he was concerned at the effect it would have on the child. “It would be terribly important for him that he knows the CFA continues to care for him,” he said.
The GAL said if that option were to be utilised, it would be on a short term basis. “My preference would be that he would be accommodated in special care here.”
The judge extended the Interim Care Order with the consent of the father.