Monday 16 September 2019

Judge urges action to help children with special needs

Concern: Justice Leonie Reynolds outlined fears at lack of placements. Photo: Collins Courts
Concern: Justice Leonie Reynolds outlined fears at lack of placements. Photo: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

It is incomprehensible, given "unprecedented" demand for special care places for vulnerable children, that a new specialist facility is operating at less than half its capacity due to ongoing difficulties in recruiting staff, a High Court judge said.

Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds has directed that her judgment outlining her concerns at the lack of placements for vulnerable children should be provided to the Department of Children so the issues can be drawn to the "urgent attention" of the minister.

It is "essential" children in special care have appropriate onward placements to meet their needs and that these placements are available for a timely transition, she said.

It is clear the Child and Family Agency (CFA) faces challenges in relation to meeting the needs of extremely vulnerable children who place themselves at significant risk of harm, she said.

While the CFA has been advised that negotiations are ongoing with private providers with a view to more onward placements coming on stream next year, the fact remains there is a "distinct shortage" of placements available and the reality is the situation "will continue to get worse before it gets better".

The CFA had sought sanction from the department last August to make the vacant positions more financially attractive and a response is awaited, she noted.

The staffing difficulties and consequent lack of sufficient onward placements for young people in special care meant the detention of young people in such care is being unnecessarily extended, she said.

The judge, who managed the High Court minors list for some time, made the remarks in a judgment arising from a case where difficulties had been experienced in securing an onward placement for a young person who was transitioning out of special care.

This issue was becoming "increasingly commonplace" in the minors list and was of "grave concern" to all parties involved, the judge said.

In that context, she had directed the CFA to complete a review of all cases where minors were detained under special care orders.

There are, as of now, 14 mixed gender places available in special care for children aged 11-17 in four separate special care units, she noted. One of those, which provides two placements, is due to close at the end of this year.

What is "alarming" is that a brand new specially adapted facility with placements for up to 12 children was opened by the Minister but to date has operated at less than 50pc capacity, she said.

In the case before her, she commended the commitment of all professional staff involved in achieving a successful outcome.

Irish Independent

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