The District Court in a rural town granted an extension of an Interim Care Order (ICO) for two months for a young boy aged three years, with the consent of the parents. The boy initially entered care under an Emergency Care Order in June 2014 and had remained in care since then under extensions to an ICO. A new baby had been born recently to the boy’s parents; the parents and baby were present in court.
The social worker testified that the threshold for the ICO was still met and was proportionate. He noted that the birth of a new baby earlier this week was a “significant change of circumstance”.
The social worker told the court that a Supervision Order had been secured in relation to the care of the new baby at home. He said the CFA was involved with the family and had put in place a package of supports including five week-day visits which were due to increase shortly to a seven-day intervention. The guardian ad litem (GAL) recommended that the mother should undergo a residential assessment (located in a different part of the country), and believed that such a placement was “necessary”.
However, the social worker disagreed with this recommendation. He said that a social work assessment had been completed, “a lot of time has passed” and that we should wait for a short time to see how the parents handle those stresses.
The parents routinely attended access with their son in care and there had been no issues of concern for a number of months. The social worker stated that there was momentum towards returning the boy home, with access taking place in the family home over the last couple of weeks. He was concerned that a residential placement of four months in another area of the country would interrupt access visits with the boy and would hold up these proceedings.
The GAL clarified that her recommendation for the mother to undergo residential assessment was in relation to her care of the baby and not the boy already in care.
The social worker said he would have a family reunification report drafted for the next sitting of the court. He envisaged that within a 12 month period the child would be living full-time with his parents. He noted that there were a few uncertain issues including the nature of the parents’ relationship. The social worker said that he was concerned as the parents had split up as of earlier in the year but now present as reunited and as a couple keen to rear their children together.
Responding to a query on sibling access, the social worker said the access visit with the new baby went “very well” and the boy “wanted to stay a while longer”. He said that distance allowing and within reason access would continue to take place in the family home. However, he flagged that the family’s accommodation situation was uncertain as they faced homelessness the following month.
Referring to the father, the social worker said: “He has made great progress”, he was abstaining from alcohol, attending therapeutic appointments and was getting treatment for anger management. However, he also noted that the mother had indicated some months earlier that “she was fearful of him”. The social worker commented: “I need to be certain there’s no risk to the child.”
The social worker also informed the court that the boy presented with a bruise on his forehead following a fall in the foster home and was brought to the GP. The social worker was not notified by the foster carers of this incident. He said that while he has no concerns about the child’s care in the foster home, the lack of communication by the foster carers to the CFA was a breach of protocol.
The following month the ICO was again extended on consent for a further two months to allow time for the family reunification plan to be progressed. The judge granted liberty to apply to the court if the parties were not happy with progress or to make a section 47 application before the next sitting in one month.
The social work team leader provided evidence that the threshold for an ICO continued to be met. Prior to taking planned leave the social worker had drafted “the bones” of a family reunification plan which was furnished to all parties. The plan and the concerns of the GAL would be discussed the following month on the return to work of the social worker. The social worker noted that the implementation of the plan was subject to how the boy was “managing the transition”.
He said that over the last few months the family had been engaging well with services. The parents and their three-month old baby were again present in the court. The parents had secured new accommodation, which the social worker visited and was satisfied that it was adequate to meet the needs of a family and was well presented and well kept. The social worker reported that the father was attending relevant services, abstaining from alcohol and no incidents had been reported to the CFA. The family is seen by a social support service on a daily basis to check in on the baby. In addition, the parents are undertaking the Incredible Years programme.
The social worker reported that the boy in care was very happy to see his parents and engaged well with them, like any typical three-year old. He also noted that access was going okay, but there is “room for improvement” including that the boy needed to become familiar with the environment of the new family home. No overnight access had yet taken place.
The application for a care order and the application under section 47 in relation to the residential assessment were both adjourned.