The High Court has sanctioned more than 200 requests from social workers to put “very challenging” children and teens in secure detention units since last summer because other services cannot cope with their needs.
New figures revealed by the State’s social worker service, the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), show 204 of the requests by the body were granted by the courts system in the past 12 months — a rate of more than one case every two days.
Special care orders are sought when social workers feel a child or teen is unable to be cared for in fostering services or other placements due to their specific needs, which often involve complex psychological issues and regularly come after other fostering services have failed.
The orders involve the individual being placed in a secure detention unit for a short period of time.
As the service involves the restriction of someone’s liberty without their consent, a placement in special care can only be allowed under a High Court order.
Between July 1 and December 31 last year, the first time the figures were collated nationally, the newly established Tusla agency obtained 123 special care orders for children and teens aged up to 17.
In the first three months of this year, the latest period available, a further 81 cases were recorded — a rate of almost one every day.
While needed, social workers have at times raised concerns over the use of special care orders due to the need to detain a person without their consent.
In particular, those working at the frontline of the service have previously raised issues over the lack of staff and financial resources for other areas which would reduce the need for special care orders to be put in place.
However, a spokeswoman for Tusla told trade newspaper the Medical Independent the service is a vital “part of a continuum of State care available to children and young people”.
“Young people referred to special care services are between 11 and 17 years, very vulnerable, sometimes very challenging, with complex psychological and sociological profiles [and have] high numbers of previous placements which have frequently broken down.
“The aim of the special care intervention is to provide an individualised programme of support and skilled therapeutic intervention which will enable the child/young person to stabilise and then move to a less secure placement based on the assessed needs of that child/young person.”
The latest special care order figures come a week after the Tusla agency published its latest reports on the deaths of children, teens and young people either in care or who were known to social services.
The four cases highlighted last week — part of 91 deaths since an independent review was set up four years ago — include the high-profile tragedy of 19-year-old Danny Talbot, who passed away from a drugs overdose while in social service after-care.
While Tusla’s director of policy and strategy, Paul Harrison, said reforms are taking place to prevent further incidents, he admitted 9,000 children and teens in the system have no dedicated social worker “on any given day”.
At a follow-up health committee meeting, it emerged that 3,000 of these are high-risk cases.