Young boy in residential unit for two years awaiting foster placement

The District Court heard a review in relation to a boy in care who was in a residential unit rather than foster care. He had been there for two years owing to the lack of a foster placement for him. The judge expressed significant dissatisfaction in circumstances where the lack of a placement had caused a clear deterioration in the boy’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said the matter was in for review in respect of the boy, of primary school age. The court was told a full care order had been made two years previously, but that the boy was still in a residential unit.

The solicitor said the boy had “expressed his clear desire for a foster care arrangement.” He said multiple fostering campaigns had been carried out but had been unsuccessful. He said the plan was to do another “bespoke” fostering campaign in the coming months.

Judge: “Why is he in a residential placement? I simply don’t understand this. He is far too young.”

The CFA solicitor said it might be useful if the team leader gave evidence as to what attempts had been made regarding fostering for the boy.

The team leader told the court the boy had been in a foster placement when the care order had been made, but this subsequently broke down and it had been difficult to secure another placement thereafter.

Judge: “So he was placed in a residential unit because of that?”

“Yes. He struggled there initially, but he does really like his school and he has settled in there… He has continuously expressed his desire to go into a foster placement, but the problem is that there is a shortage of foster placements nationally,” the team leader said.

The team leader went on to say that the CFA ran various foster campaigns for the boy in the Dublin area, but that there was “no response to that.” He said the intention was to run another campaign in the summer time closer to the boy’s residential placement where he had already built up connections.

The CFA solicitor suggested that the matter be adjourned for a three-month period in order to facilitate the new summer campaign.

Judge: “He is too young to be in a residential unit first of all, and he has been there for two years. It’s clear it’s not appropriate for him, so I’m only going to put this back for one month. I would like to hear from the GAL.”

The guardian ad litem (GAL) gave evidence that he had been the boy’s GAL for the past number of years. He said the boy had “repeatedly asked to be placed with a family.” He said he had come into care with a “very traumatic background,” and had a number of short-term placements, moving “time and time again.”

The GAL went on to say that a longer-term placement was eventually identified, and “everyone was delighted,” but it fell through. He said the foster carers could not manage the boy so it broke down.

“I’m very concerned for him”, the GAL said. “This has been dragged out, but not necessarily through anyone’s fault. We all share the same view that he shouldn’t be in isolated care.”

The GAL said that the Covid-19 pandemic had obviously had an impact on the ability to undertake fostering campaigns, but that the parties involved in the boy’s care really needed to “push on now” and undertake another bespoke campaign. The GAL said the boy was “acting out” and that his behaviour had deteriorated, which was upsetting.

GAL: “He feels he is not being listened to, and this is understandable given how long he has been asking for a foster family… We are working in his best interests, but it has been very difficult to find a foster placement.”

The GAL went on to say that he was “very worried about his weight.” He said the boy was “very overweight.” The boy was seeing a dietician, given the concerns raised. He said the boy had “an obsession with food,” so it was necessary to look into this further, and the particular reasons for it.

The GAL said the residential services had done “great work” with the boy, and he was playing sport two to three times per week, but despite this he was still very overweight. The GAL said the boy could not be left with food, as “he will eat everything.” The GAL said he was confident the team leader would progress the matter and that an assessment would be arranged to try to figure out what else could be going on. The GAL said there was a waiting list for everything, so a private assessment was needed at this point in time.

The GAL said he agreed that the summer time was probably the best time to run the new fostering campaign, and that it needed to focus further afield than Dublin. He said a national campaign was now necessary. He said it was very important that the court continue to have oversight in the matter.

Having heard the parties’ submissions, the judge noted that the matter had been in for review “constantly” since the care order had been made two years prior. He said it was “just not good enough” that the boy had been in residential care for so long, and that there had been a “clear deterioration” in his wellbeing over time. The judge said he would adjourn the matter for one month, and that on the next date he expected to see that a private psychiatric referral had been made for the boy. He said he further expected to see a detailed outline and working example of the intended campaign for the boy.