Covid-19 crisis impacting on vulnerable children in special care, court hears

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The Covid-19 crisis is compounding the challenges for vulnerable and at-risk young people in special care, their families and care staff dealing with them, the High Court has heard.

Mr Justice Michael Twomey was updated today about the situation of several young people, including a teenage girl suspected of having been exploited by others for production of child pornography and a teenage boy rescued from a river by gardaí after taking a cocktail of drugs.

Another teenage boy had engaged in relatively uncontrolled urination, defecation and vomiting behaviour, raising additional concerns in the context of Covid-19, the court heard.

The judge was told of the effects on the young people and their families of the Covid-19 crisis, including restrictions on face-to-face visits with families and on outings from care placements.

David Leahy BL, for the Child and Family Agency, when updating the judge on the teenage girl's case, said concerns had been raised she had been exploited by others for child pornography and that various acts were carried out on her while she was intoxicated and lacking capacity.

Counsel said reports about what took place were "quite extraordinary".

A garda investigation into one incident is continuing and it had been decided not to prosecute concerning two other incidents.

While a special care order (SCO) had been discharged in this case, the High Court continues to supervise matters concerning the girl and an assessment report is pending from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

She had been attending school and would need support to educate herself during the Covid-19 period, he added.

Mr Justice Twomey, given the need to minimise court attendances, said he would adjourn the case generally with liberty to the parties to apply if necessary.

Mr Leahy also outlined the situation of a teenage boy admitted to special care some months ago against a background of "massive and life-threatening solvent abuse".

Behaviours including eating plant leaves and relatively uncontrolled vomiting, defecation and urination had improved since the boy was put on certain medication, counsel said.

His SCO was set to expire on April 8 but the CFA would apply next week to extend it for reasons including the boy recently tried to strangle himself.

On a more positive note, the boy was making good progress in school, he said.

His access to his parents had been reduced due to Covid-19 concerns and because it was considered less contact with them had apparently resulted in a reduction in his vomiting and defecating behaviour.

A parenting capacity assessment considered the boy and his mother had a "very strange" relationship, including speaking to each other in romantic terms like "sexy baby" but there was no allegation of sexual misbehaviour, counsel said.

The boy's father accepted his son does not wish to speak to him but had asked staff to try and persuade the boy to phone him, counsel added.

Bairbre Ryan BL, for the mother, said the mother was very concerned about the attempted strangling and believed that arose from his phone contact with her having been reduced to two calls weekly.

The mother had not heard from her son in two weeks and could not visit him due to Covid-19.

Ms Ryan said there appeared to be an underlying suggestion of an inappropriate sexual relationship between mother and son which the mother strongly denies.

Mr Leahy said any application by the mother for more access would be opposed by the CFA and the boy's guardian ad litem.

Earlier, Sarah McKechnie BL, also for the CFA, updated the court on other cases, including of a teenage boy made subject of three special care orders, the latest as a result of being rescued from a river by gardaí after he took a cocktail of drugs.

Counsel said the boy is regarded as very high risk due to behaviour including selling fake drugs and putting himself in danger as a result.

Various placements had broken down due to his drug-taking and other behaviour, he will turn 18 soon and his parents are very concerned, she said.

The CFA accepts it has an obligation to accommodate him and care workers are doing what they can in this very difficult situation, she said.

Earlier, Ms McKechnie noted the court is obliged to review SCOs once a month but Mr Justice John Jordan, who normally deals with the minors list, has directed that only the CFA is required to attend court for that purpose during the Covid 19 crisis.

The CFA is in contact with lawyers for the other parties and will present the views of the children, their guardians and parents as best it can in the reviews, she said.

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