Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 18°C
# nowhere to go
Nine-year-old boy in care moved five different times in 13 days
“His experience in care is augmenting his experience of harm that brought him into care,” the judge said.

A CHILD IN the care of the State who had complex needs “didn’t know where he would be sleeping that night” after moving five times in the last 13 days, the Dublin District Court heard.

This is one case study published today to highlight the experience of children in Ireland who enter State care, where deficiencies in finding places for them to go are common, but there are cases where “happy endings” also happen. 

The Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) has published reports on 30 cases today, identifying a common difficulty in finding suitable placements for children who need therapeutic care. 

Similarly, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and learning disabilities continue to feature in these childcare cases that are brought before the courts.

The 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.”

‘An incredible dearth’

In the case of this nine-year-old boy, his case came back to the District Court after his five placements in 13 days.

The judge said: “He is in care as a result of a care order… his experience in care is augmenting his experience of harm that brought him into care, it is not the social worker’s fault, it is not the Guardian Ad Litem’s fault and it is most certainly not [the child’s] fault.”

Prior to going into care, he’d lived with extended family but now required a therapeutic residential placement. He was living in emergency foster care in Dublin and didn’t know where he’d be sleeping that night. 

He had a weekly meeting with a psychotherapist, but a complete lack of consistency in terms of placement. The team leader told the court that there were three residential placements in the country that might be suitable for him, but there wasn’t a place available for him.

Tusla did not have any fostering therapeutic placements available. In the opinion of the child’s court appointed Guardian Ad Litem, the boy could not go to a mainstream residential unit. 

When the case came before the court again later in the week, it heard the boy had spent every night in emergency foster placement, and was due to return for a few more days.

The social work team said there was an “incredible dearth” of foster care and residential placements in the country, and the judge acknowledged they were doing all they could.

The case returned again the following week and the judge was told the boy had only secured a new placement for a few weeks. 

‘Groundhog day’

In another case, no aftercare plan had been formulated for a girl with mental health needs who would be turning 18 in two months’ time. 

She had been in care since she was an infant, and required ongoing supports in terms of accommodation, health and well-being, personal and social development, education and family support.

This case was heard after a change in the law in September 2017, which required Tusla to prepare, review and update after-care plans for children in care.

The case came back into court eight times before Tusla identified a suitable place for the girl to return to from  secure unit in the UK. This was just four days before her 18th birthday.

The judge said: “I see no pleasure in putting pressure week in and week out on the CFA, this is not the role of the court.

It is effectively Groundhog Day in here every week in relation to these placements, at some stage it is going to take an incident of the serious nature envisaged as the degree of frustration escalates. This case is another case which clearly could have devastating effects, it is nearly the eve of her 18th birthday.

Counsel for her foster parents said that it was “inevitable in some case there will be a car crash”.

The judge said: “There is no point in putting [young people] in secure care if there is nowhere for them to go afterwards.”

Reunification with mother recovering from heroin addiction

The District Court heard that Tusla was aiming to reunify five children – aged five to 15 – with their mother.

The mother was in recovery from a heroin addiction, and was currently homeless. The father was in prison.

Tusla was seeking a further 12-month extension to the care order on the children. The mother made legal applications for it to be just six months.

The children were taken into care in 2016 after concerns were raised over the parents’ heroin abuse and domestic violence.

The court heard the mother was making “great strides” with her addiction issues, and had cut ties with individuals who were causing her problems. She had entered a treatment addiction centre, and the centre sent a letter to the court saying there was no evidence she was misusing drugs.

The father in prison had been arrested for possession of heroin and had been charged with child cruelty. He and the children’s mother were no longer in a relationship.

The mother was now in a hostel and had presented as homeless to the council. A social worker told the court that they would advocate on her behalf with the council in terms of finding suitable accommodation for her and her children. 

Tusla also said that it was looking to increase the mother’s access to the children with her a view to her regaining custody of them in future.

“The hope was if we can build access and [the] next step is a referral to an intensive family support service,” the social worker said. 

The point is that it isn’t going to happen over six months. Time is what is needed to build it, [so] that access can happen in the mother’s home. The children need time to be ready to go home and [it] needs more than six months.

Comments have been closed for legal reasons.

If anyone in care or with care experience needs advice or assistance phone EPIC on 01 872 7661 or email