This volume revisits many of the themes of earlier volumes, but the most striking one is the number of parents with cognitive disabilities who find themselves facing child care proceedings. Extreme behavioural or mental health problems on the part of teenagers also feature strongly.
In some of these cases the evidence shows clearly that the parent in question lacks the necessary basic skills to care for herself (the parent is usually the mother), let alone a small baby. This was the case where the mother was described as having a mental age of less than eight years, she had been in care intermittently and had a guardian ad litem, though she was now legally an adult.
Sometimes the mother could care for a child with extensive family and community support, but this is lacking in her circumstances. However, in other cases the evidence raised questions as to what support was offered to the mother prior to care proceedings being brought, and whether this support was tailored to the needs of a person with a cognitive disability.
A few of these cases concerned people with both a cognitive impairment and mental health problems. This poses particular challenges, and the cases illustrate the fact that appropriate adult mental health services are severely stretched and, in some areas, lacking. It also emerged in evidence, for example in case number 3, that sometimes no cognitive assessment is carried out prior to a parenting assessment being conducted, even when there is a suspicion that the parent is cognitively impaired.
Other issues include the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse as contributors to the neglect and, sometimes, abuse of children.
One case published here demonstrates the challenge of cultural difference, where a teenage girl from a Muslim family sought the protection of the State from her father, following an assault. Her father had beaten her claiming she had “brought shame to the family” and her mother was unable to protect her. The court heard the girl was “brave and resilient” and had a good relationship with her foster parents.
This volume also shows that the courts do not always grant the applications brought by the Child and Family Agency, and also scrutinise its procedures.
The next volume of reports will be published in September. This will be the final volume of reports from this phase of the Child Care Law Reporting Project.