Latest tranche of child care law reports highlights difficulty placing children with therapeutic needs

Latest tranche of child care law reports highlights difficulty placing children with therapeutic needs

Dr Carol Coulter

The Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) has published its first volume of reports for 2018, highlighting the difficulties in finding suitable placements for children in care who need therapeutic support.

Five of the 30 reports published today concern situations where no suitable placement was available for highly vulnerable young people, with complex psychological needs and sometimes also medical problems or disabilities. Two of these cases were in the High Court, which deals with children requiring secure care (detention), and three in the District Court.

In the two High Court cases, the children concerned had been in specialist centres in the UK, but were due to return to Ireland as they were approaching 18, and no suitable placement could be found for them here.

Commenting on the release, CCLRP director Dr Carol Coulter said: “It is very concerning that, almost six years after the project began, the issue of suitable placements for very disturbed children and young people continues to preoccupy the courts, with no solution in sight.

“While the issue is no doubt a challenging one, and requires significant resources, the ad hoc way in which it is currently dealt with is both wasteful and highly stressful for these vulnerable young people and those who care for them.

“However, this should not distract from the many good outcomes for children who come into the care of the State, most of whom have less complex problems.”

Also prevalent in the reports are drug and alcohol abuse, learning disabilities and mental health issues among the parents in child care cases.

Nonetheless, there are some positive stories among the cases reported, including two where the children were being reunited with their parents, who were resolving their problems, and one case where a boy turned his life around during three years in relative foster care and was preparing to enter third level education.

In one case where the mother had a learning disability, the High Court was asked to answer questions from the District Court judge as to the extent of his jurisdiction to direct Tusla to carry out an assessment of what supports the mother would require that would allow her to care for her child. The High Court declined to answer the questions posed on the basis that there had been no finding of fact on which to base the legal guidance being sought.

Child sexual abuse continues to feature in a minority of cases, which are usually very prolonged in duration. One such case began in January 2016 and has further hearings scheduled for November 2018. Another also began in 2016 and concluded three months ago, but no judgment has been delivered as yet.

Two of the cases concerned families from other EU countries, where they had faced child protection proceedings, including one where the parents fled to Ireland with a young baby when care proceedings were mooted in the UK. In both cases the issue of which country had jurisdiction to consider the matter was being considered by both the District and the High Court simultaneously.

In a separate development, the CCLRP can no longer attend High Court cases with the coming into force of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2011 earlier this year.

The 2011 Act put on a statutory basis the regime for dealing with children requiring secure care, where previously this had been dealt with by the High Court under its own inherent jurisdiction. The 2011 Act did not contain the section of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007 which permits the CCLRP, and other nominated researchers, to attend and report on child protection cases, so no legal basis now exists under the Act to do so.

The CCLRP made an application to the court to be permitted to attend under the High Court’s own jurisdiction, and a judgment on this application is still awaited. The CCLRP’s court application is among the reports published today.

This is the first volume of reports to be published under a new agreement between the CCLRP and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, under which the CCLRP will continue the reporting project for a further three years.

This followed a competitive process to select a project that would prepare and publish such reports, in order to provide information to assist in the review of the Child Care Act 1991. As well as publishing reports at regular intervals, the continuing project will prepare annual reports and a final report on its findings.

Dr Coulter said: “The CCLRP is very grateful to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs for its support for the next three years. It shows the sincere commitment of the department to transparency and to reform of the child protection system, where that might be needed. The CCLRP looks forward to contributing to the review of the Child Care Act.”

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