A District Court judge said he did not have power to direct that a child in a residential placement which was breaking down should receive a place in a secure care unit.
The matter arose during a review of a full Care Order. Three children were involved, Children A and C were living in relative foster care while Child B was in the residential unit. Child B’s placement was breaking down and the social work department had agreed to make a referral for secure care.
B had been in his unit since mid-January, risk supports had been put in place and the social work team, the staff at the unit and CAMHS were working together. However he had not settled and was absconding, said the social worker. Last weekend he had thrown a toilet cistern at staff. He had been found yesterday evening at a train station with marks on him and would be seen by a psychiatrist today.
The application process for a secure care referral could take upwards of 20 hours – it had to be concise to be looked at by the Admissions and Discharge Committee, who met on a weekly basis or on an emergency basis, the social worker said. He could stay in his current placement until a placement in secure care was allocated.
The mother’s solicitor said the mother was very concerned about her son. She had spoken to him about going into secure care and he had indicated maybe he did need to go in. He had not been attending any services offered but could do so once in secure care. His father had died and bereavement therapy would also be offered.
The mother’s solicitor said it was “very urgent that [B] be protected,” he had had a number of residential placements that had broken down quite quickly. “It seems as though the services are failing this child,” she said.
The guardian ad litem’s solicitor told the court the GAL was of the view the referral for special care should have happened earlier. He had previously voiced concerns and sought a referral, and was therefore looking for the matter to be progressed as swiftly as possible.
“The child is putting himself at serious risk. We feel already it has been left too long, he is deteriorating at quite a worrying level at this point,” said the GAL solicitor.
The social worker told the court she would prioritise making the application and referral for special care. It was her first time filling in the application which her colleagues had told her took 20 hours. It was an extensive application with a lot of historical information that needed to be completed.
The GAL told the court that the child was absconding from his unit, he was at risk to himself and had a list of 44 offences. He was not regulating himself and not coping or managing well. “The only time he’s calm is when he’s with his mother, he wants to be back with his mum, he feels isolated.”
The guardian said that the Admissions and Discharge Committee [who decide on secure care places] were open to taking telephone calls and would hold an emergency hearing which would require an abbreviated report. He said he knew of an emergency application called in on a Tuesday where the child was placed in secure care on a Wednesday. In his opinion this child required an emergency application.
The CFA solicitor told the court that the Gardai were considering outstanding charges for assault and damage to property at his current placement but the sense was they were holding out to see what the outcome of the special care application was.
The judge said that in a previous case it was agreed by everyone that the child was in need of special care/secure care, it had been the guardian’s opinion that the child was becoming criminalised by being contained in a unit that was not suitable. “Is that what is happening here?” asked the judge.
“Yes, it’s potentially reactive,” said the guardian, if secure care was not open to the teenager “then he is open to charges and more behaviours, we don’t know where all this is stemming from, we can only speculate.”
The judge said that he did not have any power to make a direction on secure care.
“By definition these are extremely urgent applications, I’m not in a position to direct anything on these applications. I think ultimately I could make a direction to the making of an application, but I don’t think it can go any further than that.”
When the case came back in for mention two weeks’ later the CFA solicitor told the court that the application to the National Admissions and Discharge Committee had been made, the Committee would meet that week and a decision was expected shortly.
The GAL solicitor told the court the teenager remained in his placement. He was physically safe there but not emotionally. Two days’ ago he had assaulted staff and damaged property, therefore a parallel plan needed to be advanced in case the Committee came back with a negative response.