Tranche of sixteen reports published by Child Care Law Reporting Project

Dr Carol Coulter
Dr Carol Coulter

Allegations of child sex abuse, including one case involving abuse by multiple people, and lack of adequate services for severely disturbed and mentally ill teenagers dominate the publication of 16 new reports today by the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP).

The second volume of its reports for 2017 focus once again on High Court secure care cases, on exceptionally lengthy and complex cases, and on those that raise important issues of policy and principle.

Half (8) 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. 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 Tusla to find solutions.

In one case the judge commented: “The lack of planning continues, substantial resources are invested into giving the children the appropriate care they need in secure care and 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.”

In relation to another case the judge said: “There has to be a recognition there is a failure to deal with this, 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 children is perhaps not available.”

However, the High Court also heard of good outcomes for children who received appropriate treatment. In one case a very disturbed boy who had made a number of suicide attempts was sent to a special unit in the UK. After four months there was great improvement. 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.

The CCLRP also attended a number of extremely lengthy and contested cases in the District Court, all of which involved allegations of child sex 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. Difficulties in accessing specialist assessments of the children also arise.

One of the cases published today ended in Tusla withdrawing its care order application after more than a year’s hearings and the children going home under a new programme for dealing with concerns about abuse, knows as the Signs of Safety programme. Two other such cases are still going on, of which one began two years ago and the other in mid-2017.

Dr Carol Coulter, director of the CCLRP, said: “The reports of these cases are very lengthy, but we hope that they will 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 cooperation between the criminal justice system and the child protection system and the need for timely therapeutic support for the child victims.”

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

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