The Child and Family Agency TUSLA has found itself under fire once again this week as another controversial case involving the agency passed through the High Court.
The case involves a twenty-year-old mother, known only as KM, who gave birth on the fifth of June 2018. KM had been in the care of TUSLA between the ages of thirteen and eighteen and spent the period after the birth living in a mother and baby home. TUSLA had a number of concerns with the new mother, relating mainly to substance misuse, mental health issues and self-harm. On 29th August, TUSLA acted on these concerns and made an application to the District Court for an emergency care order which was granted for a period of eight days.
During this period TUSLA applied for an interim care order in the District Court. The case was adjourned until the earliest possible date as all of the evidence was not presented, and a temporary interim care order was issued, keeping the baby in the care of TUSLA until the case is complete. Lawyers representing KM argued this was outside the judge’s jurisdiction without a full hearing. They appealed to the High Court but Mr. Justice Richard Humphreys dismissed the appeal, concluding that there had not been a fundamental denial of justice.
The case follows a High Court ruling earlier this month that TUSLA had breached its duty of care to a seventeen-year-old who turned up at a hospital after he was attacked by a group of youths. He was living in a night shelter at the time and had nowhere to stay during the day. Brian Barrington, who is representing the teenager in court, said the agency had failed in its statutory duty to provide accommodation and care for the teenager. The judge ruled in favour of allowing the boy’s guardian to legally challenge the agency for its failure to provide care for him between May and September of this year.
A recent report led by Dr. Carol Coulter examined the stress that the lack of suitable accommodation placements is putting on the court system. One boy, for example, went through five different placements in thirteen days. A judge was quoted in the report as saying “I see no pleasure in putting pressure week in and week out on the Child and Family Agency, this is not the role of the court. It is effectively Groundhog Day in here every week in relation to these placements”.
It is clear to see that TUSLA is struggling to cope with the growing number of children in need of care, as there simply isn’t enough suitable accommodation to deal with the problem. However, it is the agency’s statutory duty to house these children and there will continue to be cases brought against them week after week if they do not solve this problem. In this author’s opinion, the government must intervene soon before this problem spirals further out of control, putting more and more young lives at risk.
By Daniel Forde – Law Editor