Blanket ban on access to young baby during lockdown questioned – 2021vol1#23

A district court judge in a regional town made an interim care order in respect of a young baby for one month. The mother of the child consented to the order. However, her solicitor raised issues regarding a blanket ban on access for children in care because of Covid.

The solicitor for the CFA (Child and Family Agency) told the judge that she understood that there was a blanket ban on access since the current lockdown commenced. However, she then said that access was being facilitated in exceptional cases. The judge commented that he was unlikely to interfere with the access arrangement of the CFA, as he believed that they needed to be allowed to assess risk particularly during a pandemic. He said it would take a lot of argument to convince him to overturn that decision.

The social worker informed the court that there was a pre-birth assessment, in circumstances where the mother was a minor and in care herself. The social worker said that the mother and baby were placed in supported accommodation when the baby was born and she agreed that the main issue was that the mother continued to sleep in the same bed as the baby, despite being advised of the dangers associated with this. The social worker informed the court that the mother’s placement with the baby was terminated due to her failure to adhere to this advice and her foster placement was terminated after she refused to allow her foster mother to care for the baby at night.

The social worker explained that the mother had undergone a psychological assessment less than two years previously and she had certain cognitive limitations and required extra supports to take on advice. She said that the mother would need additional supports and a safety plan if she was to be allowed to care for the baby. The social worker said that they had started linking in with family members who were prepared to support her with a safety plan and the CFA hoped to return the baby to the mother’s care with supports and the safety plan. The court heard the baby’s father was currently living abroad.

The solicitor for the mother asked if there was a blanket ban on access or if each case was being risk assessed and a decision made regarding access on a case-by-case basis.

The social worker said that there had been a blanket ban for the previous two weeks and the social work department was waiting for further directions regarding access in the future.

The solicitor asked the social worker if the blanket ban were lifted, would this be a case which should be risk-assessed. The social worker said that they would have to look at face-to-face access, because the access ban was scheduled to finish when the schools reopened and it was not certain that they would reopen in three weeks’ time. Further, the social worker said that remote access would not work in this case because the baby was so young.

The solicitor for the mother put it to the social worker that the risk only related to night time sleeping arrangements and there was no reason why daytime access could not commence once it had been risk-assessed. The social worker agreed that daytime access would be appropriate, once it was risk assessed.

The solicitor for the mother asked what the mother could do between now and the next day and the social worker said that there was nothing the mother could do as they were currently identifying people for a safety network. It was suggested to the social worker that the mother could not continue to work on good parenting if she was not parenting the baby or did not have access and the social worker agreed.

The judge said that he was satisfied that the threshold was met and made an interim care order for a further 29 days. The judge ordered access to be at the discretion of the CFA.