Care order for toddler amid concerns about alcohol addiction and homelessness – 2018vol2#9

A care order was granted for a toddler where there were concerns about alcohol addiction, domestic violence and homelessness. The mother, who was not present in the court in a rural town, had consented to a one-year care order. The father, who was present in court, did not contest the application.

The court heard that the CFA had concerns regarding the alcohol addiction of the mother, domestic violence and homelessness. The social worker told the court that as the mother had been drinking heavily during the pregnancy, the child was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Following a child protection conference, an emergency care order was granted. After birth, the child was in the special care unit for some time due to serious health concerns. The social worker said that the child would need considerable support, care and attention moving forward.

The father was not involved at this point as he was denying paternity. The social worker said that, once a DNA test confirmed the paternity of the child the father started engaging with the social work department two months later.

The court heard that the mother had been in homeless accommodation from June to September. She had abstained from alcohol consumption and had engaged with social services. She was trying to get some training to keep her motivation levels up.  However, from September she had disengaged and was unable to attend meetings. There were numerous reports that she was unwell. She was removed from council accommodation and she was knocking on people’s houses looking for a place to stay.

The social worker told the court that the mother had previously spoken about the father and sexualised violence, which was reported to the Gardai and was still under investigation. The social worker explained that there were allegations of sexualised comments about the baby when the mother was breastfeeding. She said that the mother was offered significant mental health support because she was very scared of the father.

The court heard that the mother was living a chaotic life style going from place to place. The social worker said that the parents have got back together despite a safety order and that the truth was difficult to ascertain. She told the court that just a week earlier the father had said that he was going to try his best because he wanted to be there for her. The social worker said that his attitude was very hypocritical because he was seen in the pub drinking that evening. She added that she was very worried about the mother who had had no access to the child for a couple of months.

The court was told that initially there were some concerns about the older relative caring for the child because she had suffered mental health difficulties many years ago. However, the social worker said that the toddler was doing fantastically and that the mother was really happy with the placement. She said that the father was consistently engaged but that, as he had not parented before, he needed support with feeding, changing nappies, etc.

During cross-examination, the social worker admitted that she had not contacted the Gardai to find out whether the investigation regarding the mother’s allegations against the father was still ongoing. She admitted that it was important given that the mother had shown a lot of erratic behaviour. When asked if consideration was given to assist the father by providing a parenting course, she said that the access family support worker was there to assist him. “I think that is sufficient but we could reassess,” added the social worker. When the solicitor for the father pointed out that although he had never parented before with adequate support he could take care of the child in a year or two, the social worker said: “It’s not ruled out”.

The solicitor for the mother highlighted the fact that prior to the previous September the mother had engaged very well. The social worker agreed that access to the mother could be facilitated before Christmas. The solicitor for the mother asked the social worker whether the relative would continue to care for the child. “At the moment is the right placement,” said the social worker, adding that at the next child care review an assessment would take place to determine whether it was a long-term match. The social worker was asked whether there could be reunification once the mother re-engaged consistently with the agency and found accommodation. “I wouldn’t rule reunification out,” answered the social worker.

The judge granted a care order with a review in two years noting that alcohol fetal syndrome would have a long-term effect on the child’s health. The judge said that there was a possibility that in the future the father could take care of the child. Directing the CFA to offer every support possible to the father, the judge said: “We all need a lot of support as first time parents.” In particular the judge asked the CFA to provide a complete parental course and increased access to the father and for these directions to be included in the order. The judge also directed to be immediately notified if there was any change regarding the relative foster placement.

Interim care orders extended for children of EU nationals

At this hearing the CFA also sought an extension of an interim care order in respect of two children. The mother, who was present in court, had consented to the extension of the interim care order. Also present in court were the solicitor for the CFA, one social worker, the GAL and counsel for the mother. The father, who lived in another EU country, was not present in court.

The court heard that despite efforts the social protection department in the other EU country had not got in contact with the CFA and that the mother was in treatment for alcohol addiction. The GAL told the court that the children were doing well in general. One of the children had been suspended from school for two days after punching another child and a paediatric assessment was ongoing.

The court heard that the mother and children were also originally from the other EU country. The mother took the children on a holiday to third EU country where she started a relationship with a man. Subsequently they moved to Ireland where the mother engaged in heavy alcohol consumption. The Gardai had to be called in on four occasions. As the children were seriously neglected, they were taken into care under section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991.

When the judge asked whether there was a possibility that the father could care for the children, the GAL said that the father had failed to attend proceedings, which had been rescheduled. The judge directed the CFA to remind the father that his travel and accommodation expenses would be paid for to attend the hearing. “There hasn’t been any significant engagement,” the GAL responded.

The judge inquired whether there was any private treatment that could be made available to the mother to overcome her alcohol addiction and added that the court was willing to help. The CFA answered that there was no problem funding it. “Something else has to be done,” said the judge, directing the CFA to outsource a residential alcohol addiction treatment programme. Extending the interim care order the judge directed: “Please urge the father to attend the court. The court would really like to hear from him. The district court will fund [if necessary].”

The court granted another interim care order extension in respect of one child where again alcohol abuse was a problem. The social worker told the court that the mother had engaged well. Access had been increased to twice a week and special arrangements had been made for the Christmas period. Although progress had been made, the court heard that there were still concerns because the mother had not acknowledged that there was a problem.

During cross-examination, the social worker accepted that the agency had not been able to identify a urine analysis provider that could be supervised. The court heard that the mother’s general practitioner had carried out the alcohol urine screenings, which were clear.

The court was told that the child was insistent to see his mother. The judge said: “We should work towards reunification and increase the access.” The judge directed the CFA to take the necessary steps to facilitate a supervision order and granted the interim care order extension.

Supervision order

In the fourth case the CFA sought a supervision order in respect of three children.
The father, who was not present in court, had consented to the supervision order.

The court heard that during private family law proceedings a different district court judge had ordered the CFA to undertake an investigation of the circumstances of the children. The report, under Section 20 of the Irish Child Care Act 1991, and the GAL’s report indicated that welfare of the children had been impaired because of the aggression between the parents. A supervision order was granted.

Since then, the mother had failed to comply with the conditions outlined by the Agency. The CFA wanted the mother to know that, if the mother did not collaborate, the Agency could apply for an interim care order. The judge noted that he could not make any further orders because the mother had appealed the supervision order.

Counsel for the mother asked for a stay on the supervision order until the appeal hearing in January. The judge said that the relevant judge would have listened and considered the evidence carefully. The judge directed that the supervision order should stand until the appeal hearing in January and that the mother should try to comply in the best interests of the children.

“There is nothing to be afraid of,” said the judge. “These people accused my parents of saying things that were never said,” responded the mother from her seat. “Social workers are not here for no reasons,” remarked the judge. The CFA said that there were concerns regarding children’s report being shared with third parties. The judge advised the mother not to show the reports to anybody.