A court has heard how a 14-year-old child accused of assault and potentially a victim of grooming has been held in the Juvenile Justice Centre for almost a fortnight as the Health Trust responsible for her care has no placements available in appropriate accommodation.
The child allegedly assaulted her mother and a younger sibling on May 28, and while her family were willing to have her back, police had concerns of further offending.
A defence solicitor told Dungannon Magistrates’ Court the child has no previous record and there are a lot of serious issues in her life.
He said: “The family want her back residing with them however the difficulty is there have been a lot of (police) call-outs to the home over the last five months.”
He added the child has been in custody since her arrest and there is an ongoing separate investigation into attempted grooming in which she is the alleged victim.
“Social Services would be very keen for (child) to be taken from the Juvenile Justice Centre and brought back home,” he continued. “I appreciate and understand the police objections and fears but certainly in the Health Trust’s view she would be far better placed back at home.”
Deputy District Judge Sean O’Hare enquired why the child was in the Juvenile Justice Centre at all, as “if police are unhappy with the home address, why wasn’t some alternative arrangement made?”
The defence replied: “The Trust simply doesn’t have a place for her.”
Judge O’Hare said: “That’s obviously unacceptable. What steps are being taken to address that? Presumably it’s a lack of resources at the Health Trust.”
The defence confirmed: “That’s exactly it. I cannot get over that hurdle nor can the Trust. It’s a desperately sad situation when there is absolutely no placement whatsoever for a 14-year-old child.”
The judge suggested legal proceedings could be launched against the Health Trust, but the defence felt this was unlikely to progress matters as “this is about the third time in six weeks with juveniles and there are absolutely no placements for them. It’s particularly difficult for younger teenagers”.
Judge O’Hare remarked: “There are difficulties and stresses but the law is very clear on what has to happen to children when they are charged with particular offences, such as these, and who has the obligation to find accommodation. Legal notice would seem to me to be the way forward, but who am I?”
While a police officer agreed with the defence around the current placement situation, he added: “There is a great likelihood of further offences being committed if (child) is returned home to the injured parties. I understand the family want her back but we still have concerns. On my information there is no other address available.”
Judge O’Hare said: “Unless I’m hearing anything to the contrary, all I can do is make it a condition that (child) lives at the family home.”
He set bail at £10 and told the child she would be released back to her family but must abide by all house rules, warning: “You are not to cause any problems at home or you will end up back in the Juvenile Justice Centre if this falls apart. Stick to the rules and don’t start anything.”
The case will be mentioned again next month.