For the fifth year running, applications for child protection orders in midland towns are significantly lower than in cities and towns in other parts of the country, according to the Courts Service statistics for 2015.
The figures for child care applications, released to the Child Care Law Reporting Project, show that Longford, Kilkenny, Tullamore, Carlow and Portlaoise see far fewer applications for Interim Care Orders, Care Orders and Supervision Orders than other towns of similar size. For example, there were only 13 such applications in Kilkenny that year, compared with Letterkenny, which had over 1,000, though many of these applications were adjourned. 448 child care applications were granted in Letterkenny, which saw 460 new applications lodged last year.
This is the fifth successive year in which the Child Care Law Reporting Project has published these figures, allowing comparison between District Courts over the five-year period. However, the most meaningful comparisons are with last year’s figures, as in 2014 the Courts Service modified the manner in which it records child care applications and outcomes, expanding the number of categories. The total number of applications made in 2015 was 14,124, compared with 9,864 last year.
The bulk of this increase is accounted for by Care Order applications, extensions of Interim Care Orders and reviews of Care Orders. Care Order applications rose from 1,800 in 2014 to 3,413 last year, the extensions of Interim Care Orders increased from 2,003 to 3,252, and reviews of Care Orders almost doubled from 806 to 1,502.
This year’s figures reveal for the fifth year running great variation in both the number of applications lodged and in outcomes between different cities of approximately similar size. Once again we see that midland towns, in particular, see relatively few applications. Carlow had 123, of which 82 were struck out or withdrawn, and only two were granted; Kilkenny had 13, ten granted and three withdrawn; Longford had 49, of which 40 were granted; Portlaoise had 50, of which 26 were granted and 18 adjourned; Tullamore had 36 applications, of which 17 were granted and 14 adjourned.
At the other end of the scale, Tralee had 239 applications; Trim had 349, granting 302; Waterford had 596; Wexford had 935; Letterkenny had 1,117, of which 448 were granted. Among the larger cities and towns, Cork saw 2,472, of which 807 were granted and 1,562 adjourned. This is higher than Dublin, which had a total of 2,003, of which 1,795 were granted. The Cork figure includes extensions of existing Care Orders and Interim Care Orders, and Reviews of existing Care Orders, which are particularly high in Cork. In contrast, Galway only had 151 applications, of which 35 were granted and 111 adjourned. This is less than Ennis, with 296 applications. Limerick had 441, of which 160 were granted, both cities significantly less than the cities of Waterford and Wexford with smaller populations.
Commenting on the figures, the director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project, Dr Carol Coulter, said: “These figures show different practices by different courts in different parts of the country, in terms of the orders they make and the use of reviews. They also show wide variation in the volumes of applications dealt with. Some of the discrepancies may be explained by the manner in which applications are filed and dealt with in the different court areas. There may also be some double counting, as Interim Care Orders are renewed while Care Order applications are being heard. This can mean that the hearing of a Care Order is frequently adjourned while the ICO is renewed in the same case. Thus a single case, involving a number of children, could generate a large number of recorded applications.
“The inclusion since 2014 of the categories ‘Review of Care Order’ and ‘Extension of Care Order’, which reflects the practice in some courts, undoubtedly also pushed up the total number of child care matters recorded,” she added.
“With all these caveats, we can say that the Courts Service figures for all child care applications, which reflect units of work as recorded by the Courts Service staff, do reflect court activity in this area and provide useful information on the volume and spread of child care applications around the country. While some of the wide disparities between different parts of the country may reflect different court and recording practice, they must also reflect different practices on the part of Tusla/the Child and Family Agency in bringing applications. This may reflect a greater use of voluntary care in some parts of the country, or higher levels of family support.”
Dr Coulter also pointed out that the figures show that some courts are more likely to grant orders than others. “Nationally, 13.4 per cent of applications are either refused or withdrawn or struck out. However, in certain courts, a relatively high numbers of cases are refused, struck out or withdrawn.”
Among those with the highest proportion of refused/struck out/withdrawn outcomes are Castlebar (41, as against 55 granted) and Waterford (287 granted, 162 refused or withdrawn or struck out). In contrast, only six were withdrawn or struck out and none refused in Trim, while 302 were granted; in Naas 85 were granted and seven refused or withdrawn; in Letterkenny 448 were granted and 26 refused or withdrawn, in Sligo 203 were granted and 13 refused or struck out and in Tralee 187 were granted while one was refused and 10 struck out.
Dr Coulter added that caution should be exercised in drawing conclusions from these figures and urged further research to establish the reasons for the wide variations.
The figures are published on the website of the Child Care Law Reporting Project, www.childlawproject.ie, under the heading “Statistics”. The Courts Service child care statistics for previous years are also there.