Saturday 24 February 2018

Children’s rights referendum will change nothing – Judge

Tom Tuite

NEXT months' Children's Rights referendum will bring no change when the State has just ten places for troubled teens in need of secure and special therapeutic care, a judge has said.

The referendum, which proposes a new article of the Constitution to affirm the rights of the child and allows the State in exceptional circumstances to take the place of parents. is to take place on November 10 next.

But the number of places for children needing special therapeutic care was “a shame, a sin and a disgrace”, Judge Ann Ryan said today at the Dublin Children's Court.

Her comments came during a case involving a 17-year-old girl who is in the throes of a drug addiction and keeps absconding from care. The girl has been living in a residential care unit and had been ordered as a condition of bail to obey a curfew there.

However, Garda Sergeant Seamus Treacy told Judge Ryan that the girl has repeatedly gone missing in recent weeks and drug-taking paraphernalia had been found in her bedroom.

As he explained this, he took out a plastic bag containing a spoon and burned tinfoil, which he showed to the judge. The teen, whose speech was sluggish, said “That's my sister's”.

Gda-Sgt Treacy said the girl, from her demeanour, was not in a fit state to be in court and “not compos mentis in relation to any discussion” and there were serious issues in relation to her addiction.

“I do have a drug problem, I need help,” admitted the girl, who has stopped attending to addiction counselling.

Her social worker said the teen had been placed in a residential care home where the staff had worked endlessly to keep her secure. There were child protection concerns and an application to place her in a special secure care environment has been made.

The social worker said “there are ten special care beds in the country”; the decision on whether the girl will get one is in the hands of a HSE committee.

The girl's lawyer said the HSE cannot currently “keep an eye on her every minute of the day” and it was accepted the teen had breached her bail terms and has continued to abuse drugs.

Judge Ryan said care workers had done their utmost but the girl's current placement is not appropriate and the priority now is “that she is off the streets and minded”.

She could only hold the teen in a detention centre for one week for breach of bail. "After that it is the responsibility of the HSE”, she said.

She then added: “It is a joke listening to the Children's Referendum, nothing changes, and nothing will change with the referendum, the bottom line is the same as the first day I sat in this court.”

In relation to the ten special care beds she said: “I wonder how many managers are there in the HSE?” The judge then said: “It is a shame a sin and a disgrace.”

The judge remanded the girl, who was in tears, in custody to appear again next week. She said that by then she expected to hear that progress has been made in relation to putting the teen into a special care unit. “If there is no progress, I would expect someone who is making the decisions to come to court,” she added. The judge also directed that the girl was to receive medical attention in custody.

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