Care order for child born as a result of rape, mother favours adoption – 2024vol1#25

The District Court granted a full care order for an infant whose mother had left the jurisdiction and could not be contacted. She had previously indicated her wish for the child to be adopted in circumstances where she said the pregnancy was the result of rape.

The infant had been in the care of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) since birth. The mother had initially engaged with the social work team and had been very clear she wanted the baby placed for adoption. While she had identified a man as the father, she did not want this person to be contacted as she was in fear of him. The mother had subsequently left Ireland and despite extensive efforts to contact her she had failed to engage. The court was told the application for a full care order was proceeding uncontested on this basis.

The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said the GAL was supporting the application.

The solicitor for the CFA said the child was currently placed with foster carers who had been approved as a long-term matched and adoption was planned.

The court was told there had been issues with the initial adoption process as the mother had not signed the final consent form. There were also issues relating to the identity of the father. The adoption team had decided to proceed with an alternative adoption process, “Fostering to Adoption”, which could only begin when the criteria was met that the child has lived with the foster carers for a specified period of time. There was another year left before this process could begin. However, the solicitor said this did not affect the CFA’s application for a full care order.

The adoption social worker told the court that a number of care planning meetings had taken place with the mother following the child’s birth. She had been “very focused and clear” that adoption was the only option she wanted for the child. She said the pregnancy was the result of a rape by a man who had been in a relationship with her own mother. She had given the man’s name but was adamant she did not want it disclosed as she was “living in fear of him.”

On a subsequent meeting the adoption social worker accompanied the mother to register the infant’s birth where the mother told her that she had a husband and other children living in her home country. She said her husband was unaware of the child’s existence. The only person she had confided in was her sister, but she did not give her any details of the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. Following on from this, the mother informed the adoption team that she was leaving Ireland and returning home because one of her other children was unwell.

Although the mother had signed an initial consent form for the infant’s adoption, an issue arose when it appeared possible that the pregnancy could have occurred around the same time she was in her home country. A decision was made to carry out DNA testing so as to rule out her own husband as the infant’s father. The mother had agreed to bring one of her other children to Ireland for the DNA test as this was a valid way to rule out her husband as the infant’s father. A number of appointments were organised but trips to Ireland were subsequently cancelled by the mother and eventually she stopped engaging entirely.

The adoption matter was still not finalised as the final consent form had not be signed by the mother. The intention was to proceed via an alternative adoption route, known as the “Fostering to Adoption” process, but this could only take place when the infant had reached a particular age which was a year from now.

It was suggested by the solicitor for the GAL that although the mother had indicated previously she could not attend meetings due to the significant health needs of one of her children, her social media account appeared to contradict this as it showed her at a well-known family adventure park in Europe. The social worker for the adoption team said she was not aware of this.

The GAL solicitor suggested this was “really a way of showing that she isn’t necessarily reliable in terms of her narrative to date.”

Judge: “So there is a possibility that her own husband is the natural father, can this be ruled out?”

GAL solicitor: “We can’t rule it out. She is not a reliable narrator but we can only go so far as we can to determine the issues.”

The CFA solicitor said the mother was the only person who had ever been in loco parentis of the infant and the Agency was satisfied the issue had been explored exhaustively. She said the very brief details provided by the mother were simply not enough to identify any person the CFA might be able to communicate with or who could have any part in the proceedings.

Judge: “Has the husband ever been contacted by the CFA?”

CFA solicitor: “No. The mother was very clear that the named father was confidential information and that the husband was not the child’s father. She presented very stressed and fearful about the man she did name as the father. There is only so much that can be done in those circumstances.”

The GAL solicitor noted the paternity aspect for the purpose of the adoption had a “different layer of complexity to it,” but the GAL was satisfied the application before the court for the full care order could and should proceed.

The child’s allocated social worker gave evidence that the boy was initially placed with short-term foster carers following his birth and subsequently moved to his current foster placement in mid-2022. She said this was to give the mother “time to think about her wishes and the type of placement and family she wanted for her son.” When it was clear matters were moving towards adoption, the child was placed with his current foster carers who had been assessed for adoption. The assessment report was positive and it was clear he had developed a secure attachment to them.

She said the assessor noted some behaviour which could require future referral depending on whether this continued. She said she saw the child every three months and described him as an “extremely chatty child, very bubbly and very independent and meeting all mile-stones.” The infant had initially been diagnosed with neo-natal abstinence symptoms as he was displaying jitteriness and irritability following his birth. However, tests were negative and the mother’s own medical records showed no evidence of drug use during pregnancy, so there was no obvious cause for this.

The GAL described the child as a “beautiful little boy who at the moment is a very busy boy.” An attachment assessment was organised when she first met the infant as he was presenting with “a concerning level of independence.” The GAL felt this could be seen as a way of dealing with his initial life experience and possible attachment issues because of this. She said it was necessary to get some expert advice to assess the strength of the attachment and make recommendations so as to hopefully prevent placement disruption in the future.

GAL: “At the time of [the child’s] move to the current foster carers, I feel the initial social work team neglected to properly consider his first foster carer and the initial attachment to that carer who in fact expressed an interest in adopting [the child], but the team considered she did not meet the criteria for adoption.”

The GAL said this could have had an impact on the boy given he then had to move placement. She said it was apparent from the records on file that the move was difficult for him and the initial attachment was obviously disrupted. She said: “There did not appear to have been much thought given to this and not enough support put in at the time of the transition.”

Although there was “no criticism” of the current foster carers, the GAL said the child’s initial life experience might represent a greater challenge into the future. There had been significant difficulties for the foster carers in the adoption process to date and it was still very complicated. She noted they had suffered “a lot of anxiety and stress around the process.” It was important to have in place robust care planning and support services for the foster parents.

The CFA solicitor pointed out that it was “standard process” for a child to go to a pre-adoption placement initially. When questioned, the GAL said the placement move was not a reflection on the current social work team, who she agreed were not involved at the time of the move. She also agreed the current foster carers were suitable to meet the child’s needs and that support services had been offered to them.

Having considered the evidence and reports to hand, the judge said she was satisfied the mother had been notified and that she did not wish to care for the child herself. She noted the mother had expressed a clear wish for the child to be adopted and that she had effectively disengaged with the CFA. In those circumstances, she granted the full care order to 18 years of age in respect of the child.