Care order and interim care orders extended where emotional abuse alleged – 2021vol1#41

The District Court granted a full care order for a teenage girl and extended interim care orders for her two siblings, where there were allegations of significant emotional abuse by the mother. The mother consented to the orders.

The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court that the mother was present with her advocate. She said there was an application for a full care order in respect of the eldest girl, A, who was about to reach the age of majority. She said A had previously made allegations against her mother and the CFA had referred the matter to the child protection unit of An Garda Siochana.

The solicitor said there was also an application to extend the interim care orders in respect of children B and C. She said progress had been made and the mother was consenting to all applications. She said she understood the father of all three children was not known.

The mother’s solicitor confirmed she was consenting to the full care order for A, but only on a “without prejudice” basis. She said the mother was eager to ensure that regular reviews in respect of the aftercare plan for A took place. The solicitor said the mother had highlighted difficulties with the social worker and wanted a new one allocated. She said the mother was going to give evidence in this regard and that the main issue related to her “not being kept up to date about the girls.”

Social worker’s evidence

The first witness to give evidence was the social worker allocated to the children. She said A had been received into care following allegations which she made against her mother. She said A had “a very difficult relationship with her mother”, that An Garda Siochana were investigating allegations of emotional abuse by the mother and had carried out interviews with A. She said, “[A] has been very firm that she does not wish to return to her mother’s care and she wants the care order to proceed.”

The witness went on to say that A had already transitioned into her aftercare placement and there was no difficulty ensuring the aftercare plan was kept under review.

The mother’s solicitor said the mother was concerned that A recently had her contraceptive bar removed and had informed the mother “that she wanted to get pregnant.” The witness said she had spoken with A about this and was told she had only removed the bar because it was making her feel sick. She said a lot of key work had been carried out with A around sexual health and A had given her assurances that she did not want to become pregnant.

She added: “[A] has also secured a place on a course in social care studies, so the plan is to work towards that.”

The witness gave evidence that B and C had struggled with online schooling during the Covid-19 restrictions, but had recently returned to school and were both doing better. She said a recent meeting had taken place with the principal to discuss what additional supports could be put in place for the girls. She said a number of assessments were also due to take place in respect of both girls.

The witness said B and C were doing well in their foster placement and were both happy there. A meeting had taken place earlier in the day to discuss the possibility of resuming telephone access with the mother, and it had been agreed to trial supervised telephone access over the coming four weeks. She said B and C had previously found telephone calls with their mother “very stressful because of her unpredictability,” which had led to a pause in the access arrangement, but the mother had given her commitment to engaging positively going forward.

The mother’s solicitor said the mother “had been left frustrated about a recent haircut” for B, which she had only discovered through social media. She said the mother wanted to know why her daughter “had been allowed to shave her head.” The witness accepted she had only been informed of the haircut when the mother contacted her about it, but was aware that it was something B had wanted to do for a long time.

Mother’s solicitor: “Where did she get it done given that hairdressers are closed?”

Witness: “I don’t have confirmation, but I understand it might have been the foster carers daughter who did it for her.”

The mother’s solicitor said the mother was concerned about the lack of communication with her on day-to-day issues about her children. She asked the witness how the CFA planned to include the mother going forward. The witness said the children already had a high level of contact with the mother through social media platforms and that telephone access was due to recommence.

She said: “I know [the mother’s] perception is that I withhold information from her, but that isn’t the case at all. It can be difficult because there are times when there may not actually be much of an update.”

Mother’s evidence

The mother gave evidence that she had not seen her children in months. She said all she wanted was to be “kept informed.” She said A had told her that she wanted to get pregnant and that this was why she had her contraceptive bar removed. She said A “has gone missing in care multiple times and no one knew where she was, or went looking for her.”

She said it was not true that the social worker was not aware of B’s haircut until she told her. She said she did not have a good relationship with the social worker and did not trust her. She said she was eager for access with B and C to restart and was committed to making sure it was a positive experience for the girls.

She said she was willing to attend any meeting with the CFA, including the meeting which was planned to discuss the potential for a new social worker. The CFA solicitor said the purpose of the meeting was to talk through the issues, “but there is no guarantee a new social worker is going to be allocated.”

CFA solicitor: “The meeting which is going to take place, this has been organised twice already and you didn’t attend. This will be the third time now, so are you committed to attending?”

Mother: “I couldn’t make the last one, I was knocked down by an electric scooter. The time before that I arrived at the meeting, but I was told there was no room for me.”

Judge: “So are you committing now to attending the meeting?”

Mother: “I am.”

GAL’s evidence

The guardian ad litem (GAL) said she was supporting the full care order for A and the extension of the interim care orders for B and C. She said A was “getting on okay” in her aftercare placement, but was “struggling a bit.” She said A was being supported to become more independent and prepare her for the future.

She said: “Her aftercare worker links in with her quite regularly and has a good relationship with her. She is advocating for [A] to obtain a long term placement and this has been put forward to the steering committee.”

The witness said A gave “a different account” of her contact with her mother than the mother gave. She said A did not want her mother to have “so much control” over her and would prefer she was not kept informed of A’s progress, but that she understood why it was necessary.

The witness said she had met with B and C recently in their foster placement and that B was finding the restrictions “very difficult and isolating.” She said B was “a very reserved and shy girl.” She had been looking forward to going back to school, but that when she did go back, some symptoms of anxiety re-appeared. She said she had spoken about “pain in her stomach” and “not wanting to go into school.” The witness said it was decided to refer B to local services and that she had an extern worker now.

The witness was asked about B’s decision to shave her head and said that she was aware B had wanted to do this for some time. She said it was important to support B in her wishes, particularly anything which might alleviate some of her anxiety.

She said C was doing well overall and loved her foster placement. She said she was “really into the outdoors” and had recently signed up to a tennis camp. She said like B, C also struggled somewhat in school and that it was “unfortunate that no additional supports had been provided to her beforehand.” She said there was a meeting with the school recently to look at what additional supports could be put in place for her. An extern worker had also been recommended for C and the mother was consenting to this.

The witness said both B and C were somewhat anxious about the telephone access restarting with the mother, but they hoped their mother would engage “with an openness.”

Mother’s solicitor: “[C’s] dad tragically passed away last year, and [the mother] is concerned that perhaps she could get some therapeutic support for this?”

The witness said she was in agreement that C did require therapeutic intervention and that a psychiatric assessment was due to be undertaken to determine the best type of support for her.

Judge: “You mentioned it was unfortunate that there was no support for [C] in school previously. Do you see any role for the CFA to obtain further supports for her in school?”

The witness said that a meeting was to be convened once the necessary supports were identified, and that it was important to balance what C was able for.

Having heard the evidence and noting that the mother was consenting to the applications, the judge granted the full care order to age 18 in respect of A, and extended the interim care orders for B and C for a period of 28 days.