Fury at lack of facilities for at-risk children

Judges dealing with cases of potential child sex abuse and serious mental health issues have expressed their deep frustration with the lack of appropriate facilities for vulnerable children in need of the State’s care.

Details of the judges’ dissatisfaction have emerged in the latest reports published today by the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP).

“The lack of planning continues, substantial resources are invested into giving the children the appropriate care they need in secure care and [then] the potential is nearly ripped out from under their feet at the lack of onward placement, and the level of uncertainty is causing undue stress to these children,” the judge said in one case.

In another, the judge said there had to be “a recognition there is a failure to deal with this”. She added: “This is not the first time a judge has said this over the years. “Over the last 25 years it is constant and children with a particular presentation have no facilities in this State to meet their needs, resources are an issue, a bespoke solution for every child is perhaps not available.”

The 16 reports from the CCLRP feature allegations of child sex abuse — including one case involving abuse by multiple people including the children’s parents — and lack of adequate services for severely disturbed and mentally ill teenagers. Of the 16 reports, eight track High Court cases that come before that court repeatedly.

“They all concern the attempts of guardians ad litem, parents and foster parents to obtain appropriate placements and services for children and young people with severe psychological and psychiatric needs,” said CCLRP.

“In many instances such cases come back before the court repeatedly over many months, and the reports show the frustration of the judge hearing them as she attempts to order the CFA to find solutions.”

It did point out that the High Court also heard of good outcomes for children who received appropriate treatment including one case of a very disturbed boy who had made a number of suicide attempts.

He was sent to a special unit in Britain. After four months there was great improvement and after he turned 18 he came home to a privately-funded placement in an adult psychiatric unit and the court heard he was doing extremely well.

CCLRP attended a number of cases in the District Court, all of which involved allegations of child sexual abuse. “When such allegations are made legal, issues concerning the admission of hearsay evidence from children and access to Garda interviews made for the purposes of a criminal investigation often arise,” it said.

“Difficulties in accessing specialist assessments of the children also arise.”

Dr Carol Coulter, CCLRP director, said she hoped the lengthy reports would assist professionals and policy-makers in understanding the difficulties they throw up, “particularly the lack of a national system for the robust diagnosis of child sexual abuse, the lack of co-operation between the criminal justice system, and the child protection system and the need for timely therapeutic support for the victims”.

“The issue of adequate facilities and therapy for disturbed young people has preoccupied the High Court for years,” she said.

“Week after week the Child Care Law Reporting Project hears frustrated judges pressurise the Child and Family Agency to find suitable placements and appropriate treatment for these children. The court cases are consuming a lot of resources that would be better spent on developing long-term solutions.”

Parents named among sex abusers

Two young children were taken into care under a voluntary arrangement in June 2014 on the grounds of neglect linked to their parents’ misuse of alcohol.

However, in December 2015, 18 months after coming into care, the children disclosed sexual abuse against 11 named people, including their parents, two male relatives, a female relative, three teen girls and two other men. They also alleged another female relative was there when they were abused. Six months later, as a result of these disclosures, the couple’s newborn baby was taken into care under

an emergency care order. Gardaí began an investigation and a specialist Garda child sex abuse interviewer questioned the children for the purposes of a criminal case. The Child and Family Agency sought the DVDs of the interviews, but initially this was resisted by the gardaí on the basis it could prejudice the criminal case. Eventually, the DVDs were released to the agency following a court order.

The agency made an application to the court for the children’s evidence to be given indirectly, as hearsay evidence, through playing the DVDs of the Garda interviews, and through evidence from social workers and the foster carers of what the children had said. This was granted by the judge.

In the DVDs, the two children, both of primary school age, described in detail being forced to perform oral sex on the adults and being raped by some of them. They also gave detailed physical descriptions of all the adults involved.

The parents denied there had been any physical or sexual abuse of the children.

The case resumes later this year.

Behaviour too serious for secure care

A teenager, whose behaviour was known to be potentially dangerous to others, was refused admittance into secure care detention because the Special Care Committee found his behaviour to be too serious for secure care.

The boy was living in a non-secure residential placement without any therapeutic input despite immediate and long-term psychological and psychiatric therapy being recommended by the psychologist who assessed him three times in 2017.

Senior counsel for the guardian ad litem told the High Court that the case highlighted the unsuitable nature of secure care premises in risky situations.

Two weeks later in the High Court, the judge heard that two of three suggested placements in England had been found unsuitable and that the CFA might have to look to other jurisdictions. The US was mooted.

The boy was stabilised but did not appear to be returning to his open residential unit within his curfew hours and was still using drugs. Therefore, there were still concerns about his wellbeing and that of society in general.

Senior counsel for the CFA assured the court the matter was being progressed.

Counsel informed the judge that a unit had been created within the auspices of the CFA for children with the harmful behaviours in question and a referral to this unit would be looked at.

The District Court, where parallel proceedings were being heard, was told that the unit for children with these harmful behaviours had said that A did not meet its criteria due to age.

When the case returned in January it had still not been resolved and the boy was in a non-secure placement.

Fostered teens beaten and bullied

Dublin District Court heard that two teenage boys in foster care were being regularly subjected to beatings, bullying, and harassment and were threatened with having their throats cut or being shot by people in the community.

They were in the care of a close relative. The situation was described to the judge during a hearing of a review of the after-care plan for the older boy, A. The judge heard how numerous efforts had been made by the CFA and the foster carer with both Council X, where the family lived, and with Council Y, a neighbouring county where the boys attended school, to have the family rehoused, but with no success.

Both councils had been summoned to attend court and Council X had attended and engaged, but Council Y had not. All the agencies and the foster carer agreed that it wasn’t possible to finalise A’s after-care plans unless the foster carer could move out of the area with him and his brother. Both the boys’ social worker and guardian ad litem gave evidence of the family’s urgent need for rehousing.

Council Y offered a house that was uninhabitable and when that was refused, had put the family on the bottom of the housing list.

The older boy’s GP had reported that A’s life was at risk and recommended that the foster carer should move out of the area due to the bullying and harassment.

The foster carer gave evidence that A and B were afraid to go to the shops or leave their front door due to fears of bullying, harassment and threats. She described how she had to drive both boys around in the middle of the night to help them sleep.

The judge directed that the CFA should issue a further witness summons to the named official in Council Y.

Children’s years in and out of courts

Following allegations of sex abuse by two children, referred to as A and B, it took 10 months before they were seen by a child sex abuse unit and a year and a half before one of them was interviewed by gardaí.

While the children later made partial retractions, there was no finding as to whether or not the allegations were credible and during the court proceedings, two expert witnesses expressed concerns about the quality of the interviews carried out with the children. A and B were in care for three years and then returned home.

Their younger siblings C and D, were put into foster care under a voluntary arrangement between the parents and the Child and Family Agency. The CFA applied to the District Court to have the children taken into care but after 15 months withdrew the application, so no judicial determination was made on any of the issues that arose.

A and B had alleged that C and D had been sexually abused by their parents and the younger children were taken into voluntary care. In May 2016, the CFA sought to withdraw its application for the care orders for C and D, as it was attempting to reunify the family. That was challenged in the High Court and the case continued.

In December 2016 an expert gave evidence to the court about the Signs of Safety model for protecting children within the family. In July 2017 during the Care Order hearing, the CFA secured an adjournment until October 2017 to facilitate the reunification.

One child returned to live with the parents in August 2017 and the other was returned home in late 2017 following the agreement of the parents to work with the Signs of Safety programme.

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