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Child Should Be Kept in Care

Irish Times Mon, Feb 08, 2010

HSE -v- N

High Court

Judgment was given by Mr Justice Sheehan on November 2nd 2009


A 14-year-old boy should be detained in Ballydowd for a period of at least 18 months so that he had certainty in his life


The case first came to the High Court when the HSE sought an order directing the placement of the 14-year-old boy in a residential treatment centre in Nebraska in the US. This was opposed by the boys mother but supported by the guardian ad litem who had been appointed for the boy.

The case was listed to be heard on October 7th 2009, and on October 5th the boy presented himself at Ballydowd and refused to return to his HSE placement. That night the High Court granted an application by the HSE to detain him in Ballydowd. When the case came on for hearing two days later the HSE said it now wanted an other detaining the boy in Ballydowd for a month, and the issue of his going to the US no longer arose.

The boy had been in over 40 different placements since the age of two and every conceivable form of fostering arrangement had broken down. Despite “a whole series of depressing reports” two rays of hope emerged.

One was that there had been one stable placement in Co Mayo which continued for a three-year period, during which the boy attended a local school and was well integrated socially. His bond with his foster parents appeared overall to be strongly nurturing and positive.

However, the mother commenced appeal proceedings in March 2006 as a result of which she had greatly increased access, which placed considerable pressure on him and contributed to the breakdown of the fostering arrangement in May 2007. “One of the problems faced by the HSE is that plans previously put in place for SN have frequently been disrupted by SN’s mother,” Mr Justice Sheehan said.

The second ray of hope was the boy’s eight-month stay in Ballydowd from April to December 2008. The staff commented that his progress, including forming relationships with his peers, was helped by the fact that he felt safe there.

Nonetheless there was “a serious and frightening deterioration in his behaviour within a relatively short period of his release.”

A senior clinical psychologist who knew the boy in Mayo was of the view that a long-term placement in Nebraska was in his best interest. He agreed that the most important thing was for him to form appropriate relationships with the adults in whose care he was placed. He attributed the source of his problems to his mother’s frequent rejection of him.

Another psychologist stated that without his needs being met in an appropriate therapeutic environment his prognosis was very poor and “it is highly likely that he will continue to represent a significant threat to the safety of adults and peers in his immediate environment, the general public and himself.”

Mr Justice Sheehan said this was one of the exceptional cases referred to by Mr Justice MacMenamin in relation to secure detention of a young person, who had not been convicted.

While the application was for detention for one month, he said he could not ignore the evidence he had heard, including from SN himself, who was an intelligent and able young man with huge potential.

“It is important not to underestimate the huge suffering, pain and loss experienced by SN as a result of his total abandonment by his father and his frequent rejection by his mother,” he said. “This deprivation of his fundamental rights as a child has resulted in him being a grave risk to himself and to others. The only possibility that this court can see of ameliorating these wrongs is a reasonably lengthy placement in a safe and secure institution.”

He added that he also needed certainty in relation to the duration of his detention, and ruled that his should last for 18 months, with mobilities at the discretion of the director.

The full judgment is on

Peter Finlay SC, instructed P J Durkan, Westport, for the HSE; Carmel Stewart SC, instructed by Pauline O’Reilly Co, Galway, for the guardian ad litem; Derbhla Browne, instructed by the Law Centre, Castlebar, for SN’s mother.