Application by parents to vary or discharge Care Order refused – 2015vol2#28

An application to discharge or vary a Care Order until 18 in respect of two boys was refused by the District Court. The children had been in care with relatives for seven years.

The father of the children gave evidence and said that he had concerns about the foster placement. He said that one of the boys had burnt his hand at a bonfire near the foster parents’ house. The father also said that he was concerned that the children travelled in cars without wearing seat belts.

The father said: “I feel like we are the foster parents and they are the parents. We never know what is going on. I went to an appointment with him about his teeth and was told by the dentist that a problem with his mouth looked like self-harm.” The father said that he had experienced wounds in his mouth when he was a child which had been a result of stress. The CFA solicitor told the court that this was an issue which would be investigated and that it was being taken seriously.

The father said that he was not being given correct information about his sons. He said: “They don’t respect or trust me.”

When the father was asked to describe his relationship with the foster mother he said that it was bad. He said that he was not allowed to voice concerns about the children; “if we say something it is shut off, not acknowledged, basically they don’t want to hear it.” The father accepted that there seemed to be a disparity between his own style of parenting and that of the foster parents. He agreed that there should be a consistent style of parenting.

The father said that initially the relative foster parents had said that they were not taking the children from them but this seemed to be what had happened. The father said that he had put his concerns to the foster parents at meetings but there was no agreement.

The father said that he barely had any interaction with the foster father and that he believed that the foster father did not like him. He said that he felt that the foster father undermined him every time he spoke to his children.

The father also told the court that he had asked the foster mother not to bring sweets to access with the child. He said: “We are being told not to have fatty foods in the house and she is bringing sweets and chocolate cakes.” The court was told that one of the children had been diagnosed with a metabolic condition that meant that he gained weight very easily.

When asked what he felt should be changed the father replied: “I think they need to be in a placement where people understand them – they should be removed from the current placement. I think they need counselling. They need intervention of experts.”

The father’s solicitor asked him whether he thought a fresh assessment should be sought and a plan created to address any issues which could be applied consistently. In that way, the solicitor said the children’s parents could be the main carers with the assistance of respite care because of the particular children’s needs. The father agreed with the solicitor’s proposition.

The father also said that he had a concern relating to sexualised behaviour displayed by one of the children.

The court heard that the mother of the children had a learning disability. The CFA solicitor, when cross-examining the father, asked him whether there had been violence in the early stages of his relationship with the children’s mother. The father replied that he had never been violent to the children’s mother. The father told the court that he had been physically assaulted as a child.

The father said that he would monitor the children more closely, in relation to their eating for example, if they resided with him and the children’s mother and he would ensure they got enough exercise.

The father said that he had asked one of the boys why he was throwing toys. The judge asked what answers could be expected from a ten year old and said: “That is demanding an objective answer of a ten year old with emotional and intellectual difficulties. Why do you think a ten year old is going to come up with any answers?”

The father said that the behaviour of the children could not still be his fault after the children had been in care for seven years. The judge pointed out that it could be and that “the damage children suffer in their early years and even before birth lasts a lifetime.” When the judge asked the father whether the manner in which he had been treated by his own father could have left permanent damage, the father replied that it had but added: “It’s not about me, it’s about the boys.”

The CFA solicitor asked the father whether the reason the boys wanted to stay with the foster parents could be that they loved the foster family. The father asked: “My son has intellectual needs so can he even love a person?” He also said that one of the reasons that one of the boys wished to remain with the foster family was that he is permitted to go into the kitchen whenever he wants.

An allegation made by the children’s mother about another young boy in the foster home was brought to the attention of the court. The father described the alleged incident, which had taken place some time before. He said that the mother was asleep in the foster home and she woke up and felt a hand in her underwear. She said that one of the young boys in the foster parents’ house was in the bed with her and had been touching her. As soon as she woke up he took his hand out and ran down the stairs. The CFA solicitor pointed out that this allegation had only been disclosed the previous week.

The mother, giving evidence, said that she had grown up a lot in the last seven years and had completed a number of courses including one in child care. She also recognised that there were concerns in relation to her parenting at the time the children were taken into care. She said that she had another son whom she was taking care of and he was “thriving.” When asked about how she coped when looking after her son, she replied: “Some days it is a struggle but if I get up on the right feet we have games at home, I keep him entertained and it’s not so bad.”

In relation to the foster parents, who were relatives of the mother, she said: “I have had enough of being put down. I can’t stand up to them, they are constantly putting me down, undermining me.” She said that the relationship with the foster parents was affecting her relationship with the boys. The mother said that she feared the foster mother and since she brought up the allegation about the young boy she was afraid to leave her own home.

In relation to the allegation, when the mother was asked why she had not reported the concern earlier, the mother replied: “I know I should have said something at the time, I was ashamed.” She told the court that she wanted the boys taken out of the foster placement.

In cross- examination by the CFA solicitor, the mother was asked whether she had the ability and understanding and a proper functioning family life so that she could look after the boys’ needs if they were discharged into her care. The mother replied that she thought so. “The only thing I don’t do is go to their appointments because I am not told about them.” The mother said that she did not want to see her children upset. “If it’s possible that there is something going on in that house I will never forgive myself. I still don’t forgive myself that they are in care.”

The mother said that the only reason she had agreed to her boys being taken into care was because she understood that it was to be for three months. The judge, refusing the application said that the mother appeared more aware than she did some years ago.