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Fears for safety of mother after application to make deeply troubled teen ward of court withdrawn by Tusla


The Four Courts

The Four Courts

The Four Courts

There are fears for the safety of a mother and others after an application to make a deeply troubled teenager a ward of court was withdrawn by Tusla, the child and family agency.

The development means the teen – who has expressed a wish to rape and murder – could be discharged into the community if she does not agree to take up a voluntary placement in care.

She is currently being detained in a secure facility by order of the High Court, and is on bail facing charges of sexually assaulting two women and threatening to kill or cause serious harm to a third.

There are now fears for the safety of the 18-year-old’s mother, who the teenager has threatened to kill.

The court has heard the teenager is considered a “very serious” risk to her mother and certain other people.

The President of the High Court, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, heard today that, following consultations with gardaí, the mother has been advised to leave her home and relocate to a different part of the country.

The teenager’s case has been described by a lawyer for Tusla as being of a level of difficulty which exceeds anything the Irish care system has had to deal with in the past.

It has also highlighted significant problems posed by gaps in Irish mental health laws.

Although she had been diagnosed with a personality disorder, under Irish law this did not mean she could be held under the Mental Health Act.

Instead health authorities sought to make her a ward of court, which would have allowed for her to be detained at a specialist mental health service abroad.

The Child and Family Agency made the wardship application last year after obtaining reports from a number of psychiatrists which stated the teenager lacked capacity to function and make decisions independently.

A lack of capacity is a factor required for the making of a wardship order and the hearing of the application had been due to go ahead next week. The teenager was opposing the application.

Ms Justice Irvine sought an update on matters last week, due to pressure on the court’s diary and her concern that someone may remain detained against their constitutional rights.

She heard today the situation regarding capacity had dramatically changed.

More recent assessments from three psychiatrists, Dr Peter Misch, Dr Patricia Casey and Dr Harry Kennedy, had concluded the 18-year-old had capacity.

Barry O’Donnell SC, for Tusla, told the court he had been instructed the agency no longer wanted to pursue wardship.

He said the clear preponderance of the evidence was now in favour of the teenager and it would be impossible to continue with the application.

Mr O’Donnell agreed with Ms Justice Irvine that the wardship petition was bound to fail.

He said that when the application was first brought, the evidence was “entirely in the other direction”.

Mr O’Donnell asked the court to delay making final orders until next Monday as there was a need to “ensure a managed transition” to a voluntary service “so there is no precipitous discharge into the community”.

This was consented to by John Fitzgerald SC, for the teenager. “I am not instructed to do anything other than agree to the status quo,” he said.

Michael Lynn SC, for the teenager’s mother, said the court had previously given permission for contact to be made with gardaí about the possible imminent risk to the mother.

He said arising from this, the conclusion was his client needed to relocate from her current residence to another part of the country, but this would depend on the cooperation of another local authority in relation to housing.

Ms Justice Irvine said she could think of nothing more important than the safety of the mother and said the matter should go to the top of the list in whatever local authority area she seeks to move to.

The judge adjourned the making of orders to Monday, but said it could be put back further if more time was needed.

Earlier, Mr O’Donnell told the court that An Garda Síochána had requested the disclosure of psychiatric reports prepared for the wardship proceedings. This raised a number of issues he said.

Ms Justice Irvine said it was not known if the teenager would have been willing to engage in the psychiatric assessments if she had known they would go to gardaí.

Mr Fitzgerald said his side would have “very grave reservations” about reports in full being disclosed as sought.

Ms Justice Irvine observed that the teenager had been “very open about her ideation” and it may not be the case that she would object to the information being disclosed to An Garda Síochána.

“I will leave that to you,” she told Mr Fitzgerald.

In previous hearings, the court has heard the teenager was born into a household of extreme depravity and domestic violence and has been in care from an early age.

Medical professionals consider her a very high risk of harm to herself and others and, on a number of occasions, she has expressed a wish to murder and rape.

The High Court heard a search at the unit where she was being detained uncovered a large knife she secreted and that she had formulated a plan to mutilate someone.

The teen’s case first came to public attention last year when the Irish Independent revealed Tusla was in a race against time to prevent her from being released into the community.

At the time she was detained under a High Court-imposed special care order, which allows for the detention of children in a secure therapeutic environment for their own safety and welfare.

But with her 18th birthday approaching, authorities were about to find themselves in a situation where they had no legal mechanism under which to extend her detention once she became an adult.

Psychiatric assessments were commissioned from Professor Kennedy and Dr Aoife Kearney and these concluded she was “other than of sound mind”.

This opened the door for Tusla to initiate wardship proceedings and to secure temporary orders allowing for her continued detention beyond her 18th birthday.

The wardship petition referred to disorders, including a reactive attachment disorder and a sexual sadism disorder.

But the more recent psychiatric assessments have now closed the door on the wardship option.

A report earlier this year by the Child Care Law Reporting Project detailed how wardship was being used in certain circumstances as a response to gaps in Irish mental health legislation.

It noted certain mental health illnesses, including personality disorder, did not fall within the definition of a mental health disorder in Ireland

As a result, these illnesses cannot result in a person’s involuntary detention in a mental health facility.

The law is different in the UK where a person with a personality disorder can be involuntarily detained and treated.

This means a violent child with an emerging personality disorder, who poses a risk to society, is not captured by the Irish Mental Health Act, but does fall within the definition to be detained and treated in the UK.

According to a the report, the response to this gap in Irish legislation had been to make Irish people suffering from a mental health illness which falls outside the Act a ward of court to permit a placement in a mental health facility abroad.

Online Editors