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Girl kept in dark room off ED for two months

A report by the Child Law Project says a teenager with a disability resulting in behavioural problems was held in a room off a hospital emergency department for two months in 2021.

The High Court “heavily criticised” the Health Service Executive for failing to meet the needs of the girl, who spent nearly 60 days in a dark room off a hospital ED.

The case is one of 54 reports published by the Child Law Project which examines and reports on judicial child care proceedings.

The teenager did not go outside for two months, had no education or physical activity, and did not have a TV or Wi-Fi for a period.

The girl’s mother brought judicial review proceedings that this was a denial of her child’s rights and requiring the HSE to provide the teenager with an appropriate residential placement.

The HSE argued that the child was not being damaged by the circumstances in which she was living, and that the Child and Family Agency (CFA) should have sought to take her into care.

The mother won her case, with the High Court judge stating: “What is required – is the need for the provision of disability services to a child – and such provision, without a shadow of legal doubt, is the legal responsibility of the HSE.

“The CFA can support the HSE in the provision of that service. However, it is not within the CFA’s responsibility or power or function to provide disability services: that is entirely for the HSE.”

The judge rejected the argument that the child should have been taken into care, pointing out that there was no failure on the part of the parents, and that bringing the child into care would not advance her cause.

The judgment was issued in late 2021, but the HSE wrote to the judge asking him not to publish it on the Courts Service website, suggesting it may cause the girl further harm.

In 2023, the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) reported that publication would not lead to adverse consequences.

A Guardian ad Litem refers to an individual appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a minor child in legal proceedings.

CEO of the Child Law Project Dr Maria Corbett said the case highlighted the need for a culture shift away from departmental and agency silos.

“A more collaborative culture and new procedures are needed to ensure the CFA and HSE work jointly and promptly to plan and meet the needs of vulnerable children with disabilities,” she said.

Echoing previous publications by the Child Law Project, key themes in many district court cases included parental mental health, addiction, homelessness and domestic violence.

The absence from the child’s life of one or both parents is “a striking feature in many reports”.

In 11 of the 26 reports, the child’s father was either not known to the Child & Family Agency (CFA or Tusla), not engaging in or not mentioned during the proceedings, and in four cases the child had been abandoned by their mother.

Similar to its last volume published six months ago, the Child Law Project continued to see concern and frustration on the part of the judiciary about failings in the care system.

In one case, the judge directed that unless a girl’s placement was resolved before the next hearing, Tusla’s Chief Executive would be required to give evidence to the court explaining why the agency could not meet its obligations to provide the girl with a suitable registered placement.

The teenager had been in more than 20 placements and at one point her placement was due to end within days.

Other cases related to children already in care, including discussions on the appropriateness of the care placement and arrangements for aftercare and reunification.

The solicitor for a Guardian ad Litem asked a judge in the Dublin District Court to refer the ‘Signs of Safety’ policy of the CFA to the Ombudsman for Children.

This was one of a number of applications made throughout the country to inform the Ombudsman for Children about the implementation of the policy which was adopted by the CFA in 2017, and according to the Guardian ad Litem’s solicitor “has led to demonstrable harm to children in particular cases”.

The aim of the policy is to increase child safety by using the strengths and resources of the family network to address danger or harm.

However, the GAL’s solicitor said that the operation of the policy had had a dreadful effect on the child to whom they were appointed.

The child had been found by An Garda Síochána next to their deceased mother in a room in an appalling condition and in the company of an adult against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse had been made by a number of other people.

The maternal great grandmother, who was “very elderly”, was the ‘signs of safety network’ for the child.

The solicitor said when the child was found, he lashed out and could not eat or speak.

She said that demonstrable harm had been done to the child and a systematic review of the operation of Signs of Safety was needed given the impact on the child.

The court granted an adjournment of the application to permit time for the CFA to initiate an internal investigation into its ‘Signs of Safety’ policy.

Many of the reports illustrate “excellent work” undertaken to care for children in care and to safeguard children, including possible child victims of trafficking.

In two cases, adults were detained when entering the country as gardaí were not satisfied about their identities and relationship to the children with whom they were travelling.

In a third case, the court reiterated earlier directions that no information should be shared about the location of a migrant teenager in care given concerns that the child had been a victim of trafficking.

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