A judge was critical of State provision for troubled teens when he discovered that “up to 20” had been exported to secure care homes in the UK because there aren’t enough places in Ireland to keep them.
“Because the HSE doesn’t have enough secure places you’re using the backdoor system of going through the District Court to put him in prison? It is a totally inadequate system in this country for the protection of children,” said Judge Seamus Hughes in Athlone yesterday.
He was speaking in the case of a 16-year-old youth who had been convicted of throwing stones at a Garda car earlier in the year.
However, because the youth absconded at will from the non-secure care home in Co Kildare to which he had been sent, the HSE was seeking a special care order from the court to get the youth before the central referrals committee who will prioritise his place on a waiting list for a bed at Oberstown House.
The boy’s assigned care worker told the judge that this was as a last resort because the HSE only has 17 places at its three secure care homes in Dublin, Limerick, and Cork.
“Do you agree that there’s a totally inadequate provision for children in this country?” he asked of the social worker giving evidence.
“Speak up. You won’t get demoted, and you might even get promoted,” he added.
“I couldn’t say,” she said, before adding that the boy had to be before the High Court on Thursday to have his place before the referrals committee ratified.
“Is the High Court just rubber stamping these care orders? ...This is like a filtration system for the 17 places in the country?” asked Judge Hughes.
“Yes, judge, but the High Court is now taking an interest, and some children are being sent out of the country, maybe up to 20,” said the social worker.
Each of these places can cost the State between €160,000 and €200,000 per annum.
“How in the devil’s name does the Irish State not provide places? Why don’t they take a long-term attitude and build the places?” asked the judge.
He then asked the Garda inspector if there was a place in Oberstown, and when told there was, said: “I never have to ask this in an adult case. This is very, very unsatisfactory”.
However, when the social worker from the Kildare home said that they would be willing to have him back under a number of tightened conditions, the judge offered him this final chance.
“Everything is being handed to you on a plate, but once more and you’re looking at six months in Oberstown,” said the judge.