Access for mother increased where judge states CFA took side of father against mother – 2024vol1#39

Half an hour of additional access to four children in care under interim care orders was granted following an application by the mother for increased access. During the proceedings the court heard the father had greater access than the mother despite having abandoned the family and not paying any maintenance.

The mother’s solicitor said that when the interim care orders were made at the end of 2023 the court had said that access was to be at the discretion of the CFA. However, there was no agreement with the mother on the level of access.

Mother’s evidence

The mother wanted more access with the children as she wanted to maintain the maternal bond. The solicitor said her client had been the sole carer before the children were taken into care. The father had left when the youngest child was turning one year of age and he was in another relationship.

The mother was asked did the father provide maintenance and she said no. Asked did he have contact with the children and she said no. The mother said she had liaised with the mosque who said he was in the UK but he was not. She had applied to the family law court in Dublin to bring a maintenance application but the father never came to defend the application.

The court was told that the children had been in care since late 2023 initially under a voluntary arrangement. A key bone of contention was that the CFA had allowed overnight access between the children and their father without the mother’s knowledge. The mother said that she had flagged to the social worker several issues in relation to the father, including that he had no valid driving license, that he had no car seats to transport the children and that there were domestic violence orders in relation to this file.

She said the social worker paid no attention to her claims until it came before the court. She said that the mother now wanted overnight access. The solicitor for the mother said her client informed her that the children were now going to school in a taxi and were travelling on the motorway, yet the taxi had no car seats. The solicitor said the mother wanted to bring the children to school herself.

The CFA was of the belief that an access visit once a week was sufficient and the mother did not agree to that. The mother knew the children’s routine and knew who their friends were and she wanted to do homework access with them. She also wanted a weekly activity-based access where the children could be brought to swimming or to a youth group or something in the community, because she said currently they were not going to any activities.

The mother said the children used to do swimming and attend Arabic school and she was told by the social worker that the Arabic school was too far away. She had offered to fund the Arabic school but that did not seem to be an option.

The mother said she wanted the children to sleep over. She was asked if the social worker had conducted any home visits since they children entered care and she said no. She said she had had no physical meetings with the social worker, she might get phone calls. There was a proposal from the social worker that she receive updates on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The solicitor for the mother indicated that the CFA wanted the mother to do a personal capacity assessment and that the mother had arranged for a private assessment and psychiatric assessment. She said the CFA said that the mother had a mental illness but that the mother’s doctor said that there was no history of mental illness and no concerns.

She said the mother was having access once a week but the access was being impacted by the heavy traffic the children faced coming from school to the access point. They were very tired in the car and that when the mother tried to settle them the social worker wanted her to do an activity with them. She said the CFA had not offered weekend access. The mother said she had no problem if somebody wanted to supervise the access. The mother wanted to progress reunification with the children as soon as possible.

It was the mother’s position that the CFA had made a pre-determination in favour of the father from the start of the case and saw him as being the one with whom the children could be reunified despite him having no contact for over three years and not paying any maintenance.

The mother told the court that there was €12,000 owed in maintenance arrears but the father was not disclosing his address. The solicitor said “the CFA were encouraging a relationship with the father”.

The mother said she was a responsible adult and was working in health care and worked around the needs of her children.

The CFA solicitor put it to the mother that the children had been taken into care under a section 12 and that there concerns around neglect of the children. The mother said that there was no evidence to suggest neglect. The CFA solicitor asked the mother if she would do a parenting capacity assessment and she said she would.

The CFA solicitor said that a recent access had been chaotic, which was denied by the mother. The CFA solicitor said the mother had been offered an advocate and had refused one.

The solicitor said the CFA had agreed to give an extra 30 minutes access with another access review the following month.

The judge asked the barrister for the father to clarify if the father was opposing the mother having additional access and he said he was. The barrister was cautioned by the judge to be careful and circumspect about what was put to the mother when her client (the father) was not giving evidence.

The barrister for the father said the end of 2023 was the first time the father knew his children were in care. The court was told that a protection order had been granted ex parte and that a safety order had previously been in place. The judge said to be careful about introducing evidence.

The court heard that the grandmother also had an access application before the courts.


Judge’s comments

The judge said it appeared that the mother wanted an activity-based access which involved swimming, the cinema, the library or the theatre. He said she had one hour access a week plus a 20-minute phone call. She wanted daily calls.

He said the grandmother attended access every second week and that the father had access during the week but had missed access. He said the CFA seemed to have made a preliminary decision that the father was the one to be reunified with the children. He referred to the €12,000 arrears of maintenance and the fact that he had abandoned the children when the youngest was one and had not had any contact for some two and a half to three years.

Social worker evidence

The social worker said they wanted the mother to participate in a parenting capacity assessment (PCA) as she had no insights as to why the children were in care. She found discussions with the mother very difficult. The access was supervised and at a recent access the four children were there and it was very busy. She said the mother had been given directions but she was not able to follow through. She said she supported the grandmother attending access and the children enjoyed that.

She spoke about a recent access review meeting where the CFA had outlined their position and the mother was not satisfied with the current access and had drifted off the topic. She said they were willing to have another access review next month. An advocate had been suggested to the mother and they were open to her having an advocate.

The CFA solicitor asked her about the supervision of toilet breaks and she said that was due to there being comments made about the father at these times. She said the father featured continuously in conversations between the mother and children.

She was asked if the father’s access was supervised and she said yes.

The solicitor for the mother said that the mother had consented to doing the PCA in early 2024 and it had been due to start shortly thereafter, but that they were still awaiting terms of reference which she understood were now ready. The solicitor for the mother asked how logical was it that the mother was only given one day-time access yet the father had had two overnight accesses. The social worker said that there had been no concerns raised in relation to the father.

The solicitor for the mother said he had abandoned the family for two and a half years and had outstanding arrears of maintenance of €12,000. She reminded the social worker that the guardian had visited the father’s home and one of the doors of the rooms had been locked. The social worker said they were not restarting overnight access.

The solicitor for the mother said concerns had been raised about the mother when the children were in voluntary care, yet overnight access was allowed with the father without any consent of the mother. The social worker accepted that that had been a poor decision. She accepted that access was limited and said she would look at using an organisation called Supervised Access Ireland.

The social worker said that the PCA needed to begin before changes in access could be considered. The mother had asked her about swim lessons at the weekend and the social worker said she would contact Supervised Access Ireland to see. The solicitor asked her: “Would overnight access be considered?” The social worker said the PCA had to begin, and the access visits had to be consistent. She said she did not want to overwhelm the children.

The judge asked were there no concerns regarding the father’s access and she said no. The judge said he had abandoned the children, he had maintenance arrears and yet there were no concerns regarding the father. She replied that there were no concerns regarding the father causing harm. The judge commented that a person who had abandoned their children was given the same amount of access as the mother, who had been caring for the children as a single parent.

GAL evidence

The GAL said that two weeks previously there had been an access review meeting which included the fostering link worker. She said there were concerns regarding the children’s presentation. She said some additional access had been agreed for the youngest child where there was a query concerning autism and 30 minutes extra time was to be granted without the other siblings being present.

The GAL said she had raised concerns regarding the father’s access progressing so quickly. The children had been received into care based on neglect and she said she was aware of the applications in Dolphin House.

Her solicitor said to her that it was clear that the relationship between the two parents was not good. The GAL said she had observed supervised access with the mother and she said there had been an urge to talk about overnight access with the father. She was uncomfortable with the conversations the mother was having with the children and said they were adult conversations.

When she observed access with the father the children said that the father encouraged them to call the mother a loser. The GAL said she felt there was a need to strip back and get back to the basics, she said there were very different narratives coming from both the mother and the father. The mother said he had abandoned the children and the father said he that he was stopped from seeing the children. The children were all mixed up. She said that she had asked for access with both parents to be supervised and for access to be reduced.

She said the children loved their parents but said they were missing other activities if they were at access. There was a lack of insight by the parents she was asked about the proposal that supervised access be done at the weekend by an external provider. She said it needed social work supervision, the access should be managed by the CFA, there should be equal access of one hour for each parent per week.

It was necessary to know where the base line was and to know the reality of what it was like in the house before the children came into care. A PAC should be done as soon as possible and words and pictures provided for the children and ongoing access review meetings. There needed to be a trusting relationship between the children and the social worker.

She hoped that the focus of the PCA would be that the mother had shown a lack of insight as to why the children were in care and why the social workers were involved. She said progress needed to be slow, one of the children kept thinking that they were going to be moving to another country. That was denied by the mother. It was pointed out that the children were subject to a court order so that they were not going anywhere.

She said the father had recently left the jurisdiction, had not participated in access and he had given a cash gift to the children. There were concerns regarding the level of gifts being given to the children and to the absence of their father.

The judge asked was there any cash gifts from the mother and she said no. The judge also asked what activities the children had said they miss.

The GAL said three adults wanted access and that the mother wanted more access but they seemed to be going round in circles. The GAL said the PCA would give the most information and value. She said that there was a lot of information before the social worker in relation to the mother but that they did not have a lot of information in relation to the father. The social work department had now ridden back on their decision to allow overnight access to the father. She had not agreed with it.

She agreed with the solicitor for the mother that the mother had attended all access visits. It was put to her that both parents should have one hour equally. The GAL was also referred to any reunification plan. She agreed a number of factors needed to be considered: access, parenting skills, the ability to follow through, financial responsibility and absenteeism.

The GAL was asked if access was a significant part of reunification, and she said yes, as was the PCA and access reports. She said supervised access helped contextualise information. She was asked if the CFA needed to keep a tight review of access and she said yes. There should be monthly reviews of access and that she could meet the children to discuss their views on access plus there would be oversight from the court due to the interim care order. The GAL suggested that a formal agreement should be signed by both parents.

The judge said the mother felt dismissed by the CFA. He asked the GAL if the father had been asked about the “loser” comment. She said all the children referred to the “loser” comment and that it had started with the youngest who had not been with the older children all day.

The GAL said that there was a lot of contradictory information. She said initially the children were very negative about their father but were not now. The judge said the CFA had been harder on the mother than on the father. He said the children had been in the care of their mother when they were taken into care and the father was absent. He said that there was an amount of information missing about the father.

The GAL said the social worker had given a commitment to do an assessment but that it had not progressed as the father had been out of the country for the previous number of weeks. The GAL said she wanted to see the missing information provided.

The GAL said the mother had told her that the father had another partner and a baby with her and had other children.

Judge’s decision

The judge said that there was a level of toxicity between the parents but that he had the benefit of sworn testimony.

He said that school pick-ups by the mother were not appropriate. Homework time could be included into the access time. Unsupervised access was not appropriate. Sleepovers were premature. He said that the CFA seemed to have sided with one parent and that the court had had to call a halt to overnight visits with the father and preside over the matter.

He said the mother had been abandoned by the father and had had to bring applications before Dolphin House (family law District court). He said the court took a dim view of the agency taking the side of one parent over the other.

Increased access with the mother should take place after school but nearer to the children’s school. He said access should be 90 minutes per week, once a week at a primary care centre nearer to the children’s school. He said the youngest child should be picked up and brought to the primary care centre in advance.

He said an access review meeting should take place in the first quarter of the year and that access meetings should take place monthly and access kept under review. Both parents should sign an access agreement.