A judge in a rural town reviewed the case of a teenage girl, Child A, for whom a care order had previously been made. The girl’s placement broke down due to her serious misbehaviour and she was sent back to the home setting from which she had previously been removed into care.
The judge listened to the evidence of her social worker and her mother. The child’s guardian ad litem (GAL) was not present for the review due to a previously arranged court commitment, but her lawyer was present.
The judge considered the evidence in order to decide whether a secure care placement needed to be sought for A or whether the child had deliberately sabotaged her placement in order to get what she wanted herself. The judge said that this was an intolerable situation which he would not allow to continue. He requested the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to come back to court after two weeks with evidence from professional reports about A and a definite plan for the child’s future care.
Social worker’s evidence
The social worker told the court that there had been serious issues with A’s placement. Her behaviour had caused a risk to herself and she had caused criminal damage to property. When a meeting had been held to inform her that the placement had to finish, she said she did not want the placement to end and promised that she would behave. The placement was due to end on the day before Christmas Eve but it was postponed to early January as that was believed to be a more suitable time.
On the date in January that the placement was due to finish A was admitted to the nearby regional hospital having taken an overdose of “a cocktail of drugs”. Due to her drug overdose she was deemed to be unsuitable for a private placement and it was suggested by the CFA that she be placed back with her mother.
Judge: “It sounds like she needs a secure placement. Has this been explored?”
Social worker: “Yes, and it has been given priority”.
The judge said it was obvious that the girl was in need of a special care placement and the social worker agreed and told him that an application had been made for a special care order. The social worker told the judge that the child was now living at home with her mother and that supports had been put in place to assist with this. The social worker said that she called to the child’s home on an almost daily basis.
The social worker reported that there had been difficulties with the child’s father making calls to her from prison. The CFA had contacted the governor of the prison but it had proven very difficult to locate the father’s mobile phone. A’s mother had written to the prison governor and a search of his cell had been carried out to locate the phone and stop the conversations.
The judge asked the social worker about the girl’s mother’s current partner. The social worker said that there was a new partner living in the mother’s house and that he was “very volatile”. She said the partner’s plans for Christmas had been upset by the unexpected return of A to the mother’s home and that he had accused the mother of lying to him and had become aggressive. On one occasion when a serious row was happening between the mother and her new partner in the home, the social worker asked the child to leave the room so she would not hear the negative remarks the mother’s partner was making about her.
A remained with her mother from Christmas Eve for four nights after which she returned to the placement and tried to engage up until the time of her overdose. Following treatment for the overdose in hospital she returned to her mother’s home. She was brought to her own GP by her mother but she had no recollection of either the overdose or her treatment in hospital.
The social worker told the court that since she had returned home to her mother, the girl had come to the attention of Gardaí by causing criminal damage. A Junior Liaison Officer (JLO) had been appointed to her.
Judge: “This is an intolerable situation and very worrying … I cannot understand why a more urgent response was not made”.
CFA lawyer: “No emergency placement was available, either private or public”.
The judge reiterated his serious concern that this child was back in such a situation and that on this occasion a third party was involved. He expressed his sympathy to the social worker on account of having this emergency foisted on her. The social worker told the court that she had almost daily contact with the child’s mother and that the child had not attempted to abscond since returning to the care of her mother.
The mother’s lawyer enquired whether Child A was doing better since moving back into the care of her mother as she had not tried to abscond and had not attempted an overdose. The social worker said there had been a row between the child and her mother. The child had wanted to travel to another part of the country, a distance of three hours, to visit her boyfriend but her mother would not allow this. On one occasion when the social worker had made an unannounced visit to the mother’s home, she found that A’s boyfriend was in the house. The mother had told the social worker that she did not know that the boyfriend “had been sneaked into the house”.
The mother’s lawyer asked the social worker when it had been made a condition that the mother’s partner would not be present in the house. The social worker said that this had never been made a condition, but that the CFA had assumed that the mother would have been honest with them. The mother’s lawyer said there had been some confusion about the level of contact between the girl and her father. The social worker answered that A had told them that he had been in touch with her for about two hours each night.
The social worker told the mother’s lawyer that Child A’s boyfriend was over 18 years of age and that the CFA had told him to leave the home but that he was still in the house after the weekend.
Judge: “Are you seriously saying that [the mother] was happy for an 18-year-old to stay in the house with [Child A]?”
The social worker told the judge that the previous placement had facilitated A to visit her boyfriend in a neighbouring town. The visits were allowed during daylight hours only and a curfew of 6 pm was imposed. However, the social worker reported that the girl did not respect the curfew and the CFA had to call in the child protection Garda services allocated to the area of the boyfriend’s home.
The mother’s lawyer said that A’s mother was supportive of the child’s needs but the social worker explained that when she had made an appointment for the child to visit her GP the child did not comply. When the mother’s lawyer asked the social worker if she thought that A’s mother had been doing a good job trying to support her at a very difficult time, the social worker said that she did not agree with that, having witnessed the mother “not in a good state” during the previous week.
Lawyer for the guardian ad litem (GAL)
The GAL’s lawyer asked what had happened before Christmas to terminate the placement so suddenly and the social worker answered that there had been extreme misbehaviour in which A had attacked her carers. Her level of absconding had increased and it was believed that her relationship with her boyfriend was not appropriate. The social worker told the court that A was upset by people trying to “put a label” on her. She had damaged property very soon after arriving in her placement and was trying to sabotage her placement.
The judge wanted to know what the CFA had a plan for A for the following two weeks. The CFA lawyer said that while a central admissions committee application for secure care had been made, they were told that there were no beds available. The judge said he did not want this matter to “just drift on” but wanted to know what specific plans the CFA had in mind. He said he required professional medical reports on A to ascertain if she required a secure placement or whether her actions were “more calculated in nature” in order to sabotage her placement so that she could return home. He told the CFA that the placement of A back with her mother was “a reaction and not a plan”.
Judge: “I want to see action immediately in the short-term. This is a case where the CFA sought a care order and when the placement broke down, placed the child back in the original home.”
The CFA lawyer pointed out that the involvement of a JLO with A was positive in that it linked her with a youth justice worker. She would also have a key-worker allocated to her.
The social worker reported that she intended to continue daily visits and also to make further unannounced visits to A’s home. The social worker told the court that applications had been made to private foster care and also to supported accommodation but that the girl was not deemed suitable due to her behavioural difficulties.
The mother’s lawyer asked the social worker if she had ever considered discharging the care order and making an application for a supervision order in its place. The social worker replied that the supervision order option had been considered but was not deemed to be appropriate.
The GAL’s lawyer said that A’s preferred option was to remain in her home with her mother. A letter written by her to the judge was handed up.
The mother’s lawyer asked the mother how she had found out that A was being sent back home unexpectedly and the mother replied that she had received a phone call telling her that the child was on her way home. She added that there had been some prior discussion with her about problems with the placement. The mother told her lawyer that she did not realise that she was going to be chosen as the solution to the problem. The first that the mother knew about A being sent home was when she received the phone call to tell her.
The mother described seeing her child arriving home, kicking and upset, in a “paddy wagon”. The Gardaí had asked the mother to enter the wagon as the girl was unable to walk unaided and had difficulty speaking. The mother reported that she had to link the child and support her weight to bring her into the house. The mother’s lawyer asked her if the social worker had come to the house on the night the child had come home or on the following day and the mother replied that she had not. The mother described making her child a sandwich and staying up all night to monitor her.
The mother’s lawyer asked the mother what she had thought of the manner of the CFA’s handover of the child. The CFA lawyer objected to this question but the judge said he wanted to hear it. The mother’s lawyer asked the mother if she had been advised about her daughter’s drugs situation and the mother answered that she had been made aware of the cocaine, diazepam and weed.
The mother’s lawyer asked the mother if she had had any contact from A’s father. She replied that she had not had contact but that she believed that he was using A “to get to me through her phone … he uses [Child A] for to try to get us back together.”
The mother outlined the current supports in place for A which included the JLO and the social worker and said that she was very pleased with her progress. She felt A was progressing well in her care. The mother said the girl had not started “cutting herself”. She said the child was “opening up more” and that she was pleased about that as she had feared the onset of depression. The mother told the court that she had made out and written up some house-rules for A.
The judge enquired of the mother if she had more serious rules regarding a nightly curfew to which the mother replied that she imposed a 9 pm curfew. The judge asked the mother why A’s boyfriend was still present in the house and if there were any boundaries put in place.
Mother: “I had a chat with [Child A] … I get him to sleep on the couch.”
Judge: “I am worried that she deliberately sabotaged the placement in order to get what she wants. That’s worrying to me if you’re either unwilling or unable to control her.”
The mother told the judge that A was in the house every night and that she hardly ever came out of her room at night. The judge enquired of the mother how she would handle the situation if A insisted on travelling to the home place of her boyfriend and the mother told him that she would ring the social worker if this were to happen. The mother told the court that A had not broken her curfew since she came home.
Judge: “I’m concerned that chap was being allowed to stay on the couch. What steps are you taking to deal with this issue?”
The CFA lawyer said that the boyfriend was only leaving on that day and that they were unsure of how A would react to his departure.
The judge decided to put the matter back for two weeks to allow progress to be made. He said he wanted to hear from A’s GAL to be updated on her opinion of progress.
Judge: “This is a wholly unsatisfactory situation at the moment … I am concerned that the child was placed back in the setting from which she had been removed.”
The judge said he wanted the CFA to give this matter “urgent attention” and wanted to see a supervision order with the child’s mother being sought. He said that circumstances could change but that he would need to be shown the evidence to convince him. The judge listed the matter for a date a fortnight later and said he wanted to see a definite plan of action progressed by the CFA and he wanted to see professional medical reports on A.