Care Order granted for child of drug addicts – 2015vol1#14

A Care Order until the age of 18 was granted for a child who had been in voluntary care when his mother was on a methadone programme. The mother was not present in court, and her solicitor said he had no instructions.

The social worker told the court that the social work department had been involved since 2013 when there were concerns about the mother’s drug use. She had been on a methadone programme, but had lapsed. She identified a friend who could care for the child and there was twice-weekly access.

There was a child protection plan but at a meeting in 2014 it was clear that the parents had not addressed items in the child protection plan. There were also concerns the child had cerebral palsy and needed a scan. The mother’s attendance at meetings was poor and she was not giving urines. The father was talking about a drug treatment programme but did not access it. Contact with the parents was difficult. Accesses did not take place because the parents could not be contacted.

The child was a very healthy young toddler. He had some problems arising from his birth, but was receiving treatment. His cognitive functioning was at the lower range of development. Enable Ireland was involved.

He saw other family members and had a positive relationship with them, including members of his father’s family. There were concerns about the parents’ drug and alcohol abuse and lack of stable accommodation, and a Care Order until 18 was needed.

The mother’s solicitor said that when a full Care Order was granted it could be a de-motivating factor for many parents in relation to access. How would the social work department deal with that?

“The possibility of having the case reviewed is a motivating factor. The mother did say that regardless of the outcome of the case she would try to improve and attend access. The child will know who his parents are.”

A GP specialising in methadone treatment told the court he had engaged with the mother over the previous 18 months. “She does not provide regular urines and when I see her she said the main problem was benzodiazepines. She commenced treatment with the practice in 2005 and attended consistently since then.”

He said she was admitted to hospital with a liver problem as a result of injecting snow blow and was very sick. She was an in-patient for three or four weeks. She had a previous history of alcohol abuse, but not recently. Asked about a time-frame for her becoming stable, he said he would be happy if she was fulfilling all her obligations within six or nine months.

Asked if there was any evidence of mental illness, he said there was always some co-morbidity in such cases, but there was no evidence of psychotic illness.

“On the balance of probabilities, is the mother likely to take the steps necessary?” the GAL solicitor asked.

“On the basis of the experience we have of her and the warnings she had when she was pregnant, I don’t think it likely,” the doctor said. “Her Methadone dose is 60-80, which is average for someone in her situation. I always say to her if she is continuing to use drugs illicitly we should increase her dose. But she’s telling me she’s not abusing opiates and she does not present with opiate withdrawal. She attends [the clinic] on a daily basis.”

The Homeless Administrator for the city told the court that the couple had been accessing emergency accommodation since 2013. Unfortunately they had recently been excluded. When they were excluded, it was usually because of rent arrears or because of anti-social behaviour. The mother was on the housing list, but there was a great shortage of couples’ homeless accommodation, the list was about 18 months. The rent would be in the region of €25 a week.

A worker from a drug-users’ centre told the court that he had been involved with the couple for a number of years, helping them to access various services, including accommodation. The mother was extremely easy to engage with. She did understand the issues before the court.

The social worker was recalled and told the court that the foster carers, who were friends of the mother, were being assessed. Garda clearance was outstanding. The child was being assessed in relation to motor skills etc. The child had global developmental delay. When he was born he suffered from neo-natal abstinence and was treated in hospital. The mother had shown insight into the impact of that on the child.

The judge asked the mother’s solicitor if his client would be prejudiced if the case was concluded. He said he had been unable to obtain instructions.

The guardian ad litem said the parents were very open and pleasant and understood her role. They then missed a meeting and she spoke to the mother recently. She said she was probably being evicted and sounded very disoriented. The father also contacted her and said they were being evicted.

The child was being very well cared for in the foster home, where the foster parents had their own little boy the same age. He was always beautifully dressed with loads of stimulating toys. “I am completely struck by the level of care given to the child. The foster carers are really rooting for him. We got a report that there were delays in every area of his development and the foster mother was absolutely devastated, as a natural mother would be. I would have expected a foster mother to be worried about coping, but her entire focus was on him.

“The foster parents have also spoken quite fondly of the mother. She said she had tried over the years to help and support her, but her priority was now on the child. They understand the importance of the child knowing his history and origins.

“All the indications are that this child, almost two years of age, needs a Care Order. The grandparents are not in a position to care for the child, but are supportive of the present arrangements. There needs to be a commitment from the CFA to support the foster parents, and no other foster child should be placed in this foster home.”

The judge said the law was very clear and the role of the court was to decide whether the threshold had been reached. Even when the threshold was reached it must consider the proportionality of the order to be made, in accordance with the Constitution and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. When weighing up all that the interests of the child must be paramount and can outweigh the wishes of the parents.

“This is a sad and tragic case,” said the judge. “The life of the parents has been blighted by addiction and homelessness. Having considered evidence from all the witnesses and the report of the GAL it is clear that this child spent time in hospital and suffers from developmental delay. It is extremely unfortunate, but the child is fortunate in another way. He was placed in the home of his mother’s childhood friend. He got a very good start life with them.

“He’s very lucky in that his grandmother has been extremely consistent with regular access. With a certain heaviness of heart, I make an order under Section 18 until [the child] is 18. It is open to the parents, if they overcome their homelessness and addiction, to seek to discharge the order.”