Care order to age 18 granted where mother suffering addiction and mental health difficulties – 2022vol1#14

A judge in a provincial city granted a care order until the age of 18 for a child of primary school age, who had first been taken into care at the age of two weeks. His father was now deceased and his mother had serious addiction and mental health difficulties.

The mother’s progress was interrupted by the Covid restrictions as her prime motivation for improvement had been her access visits with her child. The child was making excellent progress in his foster placement, at sports and in school. His dream was to represent his home county some day in GAA.

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) lawyer said she was seeking a Section 18 care order for the child until he was 18 years of age. The mother’s solicitor told the judge that the mother consented only to a three-year order as she believed this would allow her sufficient time to address her addiction difficulty and to sort out her housing issues. The CFA lawyer said the child had been in care almost since birth as his mother had significant addiction and mental health difficulties. As the child was in need of stability in his life, a three-year order would be of no benefit to him.

The mother’s solicitor advised that the mother was not in attendance in court as she was at a “very weak point in her life”. She had been very upset following the conversation with the social work department and was aware of the reality of the situation. The judge said the case had to go ahead as the current care order was due to expire.

The social worker gave evidence to the court that the child’s mother was only consenting to a three-year order. However, the mother had ongoing issues for a number of years and had not stuck to any of the plans made for her. Despite being on a methadone programme, she had never provided clean urines since enrolling on the programme.

The CFA lawyer enquired for the mother’s mental health and the social worker replied that there were significant concerns for her mental health; she had lost contact with her child for a prolonged period and was uncontactable. The mother had planned to undergo a psychiatric mental health assessment but subsequently withdrew from this after she said she felt much better.

The social worker told the judge that the mother was honest about her addiction and had informed her doctor about her cravings for heroin and her relapse during the Christmas period. She had turned up to access with the child in a very inappropriate state of dress, very disorganised and late for the appointment. In spite of her shortcomings, the social worker informed the court that the mother had a very strong, close bond with her child. The child’s first question was always to ask when he would be seeing his mother.

Social worker: “She’s struggling with her addiction. Her addiction overtakes every part of her life. She’s not prioritising her child’s interests.”

The social worker informed the court that the child was doing very well in his foster placement and when he was told about the date in court, he said that he wanted to live with his foster parents but that he wanted to see his mother more often. The CFA lawyer explained that the child’s first referral came when he was just two weeks old when an emergency care order was granted, as both his parents were very intoxicated. There had been a number of further referrals when the child had been found playing with an overflowing rubbish bin and the house had been found to be in a dreadful state. A care order had been granted and this had been extended numerous times. The child’s father was now deceased.

The judge noted that the child’s report indicated that he was progressing very well at school. The social worker agreed that all reports from his teachers had been very positive. She said that all access visits with his mother were fully supervised and that the child had expressed a wish to visit his old room in his own home, but that it was not appropriate at that time as it was not in a suitable condition.

The guardian ad litem (GAL) described the child as a chatty, confident child who was very settled in his foster placement after spending four years there. He was very immersed in his local community and his teacher was high in her praise of him. The child was very ambitious at sporting activities. He had serious talent and “fully expects that he will play for his county”. The GAL said that the child was fully aware of the plan for him to stay in care and that he had expressed a strong desire to stay until his mother was “not sick any more”.

The GAL said she could not speak highly enough of the foster parents who were “fit, but ageing” but were providing excellent love and care. When the child had first entered their care, he had been very anxious and was constantly checking in cupboards and behind doors. The foster parents wanted to care for the child for as long as possible and were hoping that their daughter might be able to continue his care. They had planned that their daughter would undertake some respite care of the child. The GAL said she was seeking a direction that the child not be moved out of his foster placement based on the age of the foster parents.

The GAL informed the court that the onset of Covid had had a major impact on the child’s mother as up until the start of restrictions she had attended most access visits. Her visit with her child had provided her with the motivation to improve but once the motivation was reduced, the mother had made very little real progress. The GAL said that she was supporting the application for a care order to age 18.

The mother’s solicitor informed the judge that it was not just Covid which had interfered with the mother’s progress. She had also suffered the sad bereavement of a very good friend. Her current home was damp and the mother intended to place herself on the housing list.

The judge said that this was a very sad case in which a mother dearly loved her child and he loved her. However, she said that the child needed stability in his life at this time and that it was appropriate to grant the care order as sought. She stated that the child’s mother had had a lot of loss in her life. The child was very happy in his placement and it was imperative that he remained there. She directed that the child was not to be moved out of his foster placement without the matter coming back before the court. His mother could always apply to the court to discharge the care order if this was appropriate at a later stage.

Judge: “I want to hold out some hope for Mum if she gets things together.”

The judge added that there was great credit due to these foster parents and that they should explore the eventuality of a family member taking over at a later stage if necessary. She was delighted the child had expressed a dream and ambition of representing his home county at sport.

The matter was listed for review on a date six months later.