Care Orders for children whose parents could not be located – 2015vol1#16

A Care Order was granted until 18 for two children of one woman and two different fathers. The court was told that none of the three parents could be contacted and the mother’s solicitor said that she had no instructions in relation to the application before the court.

The court was told that the mother was not in a relationship with either of the fathers and it appeared that she was residing out of the country. One of the children’s fathers, who also lived outside Ireland, had made contact with the Irish social work department through an international social services organisation but this contact had dissipated. The court was told that he had been advised about the hearing date. In relation to the father of the second child, the court was told that his contact with the child had been very sporadic and that he was also aware of the court application but was not present.

The court heard that the mother, who was a non-national, had first come to Ireland without her first child, whom she had left with relatives in her home country. The first reference to the social services was in relation to one of her children’s poor school attendance. The children were taken into care under an Emergency Care Order when Gardaí were called to the house and found the mother and a man intoxicated and “in the midst of a domestic violence incident”, according to a social worker who gave evidence.

The same social worker told the court that intensive supports were put in place and that there was a period of engagement by the mother with the social services but that the concerns of the social work department continued to grow. The court heard that the mother was involved in a relationship with a very violent partner with whom she was allowing her children spend time.

The court heard that one of the children had made a disclosure about physical abuse. The child had told a social worker that a man had lifted him off the ground by his legs and had banged his head against the ground. The social worker also said that the mother had sent an unknown man to collect the children from school while intoxicated.

The court was told that the children were well settled in their foster placements and that their school attendance and attendance at medical appointments were all good.

The social worker described another incident where Gardaí attended the home and found the mother agitated and under the influence of alcohol with a cut on her head. The mother admitted that the father of her second child had hit her and the child.

At that point a full assessment of the family was conducted by the social work department and the school attendance of one of the children was found to be very poor and it also transpired that the public health nurse was having difficulty contacting the family.

The court was told that the mother of the children had a relationship with a man that had been recently released from prison, having been convicted of a sexual offence. The social worker said that she had told the woman that such a person was not a suitable person to be caring for her children.

The mother was described as “a vulnerable lady with no support” who perhaps had some social phobia. The social worker said that the social work department had linked the mother in with a number of services such as a GP, the Money, Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) and Threshold, the housing charity. The mother, the court was told, had many financial arrears and placed a lot of responsibility on her eldest child to look after the youngest. She also said that there were ongoing issues around the child going into school hungry.

The social worker described an incident where she made an unannounced visit to the house and one of the children was found upstairs in bed with an unknown man. The social worker said that she advised the mother of the inappropriateness of the situation. The social worker went on to say that “we had to monitor the house very closely during that time. There wasn’t a lot of food, the beds weren’t made.”

The children were placed in voluntary care after a social worker called to the house and could not gain access but could hear loud music and could see the children inside. The social workers and Gardaí gained access to the house by ladders and found one of the children still in her school uniform “and it looked like she might have been in it all weekend.”

The social worker told the court that there were no clothes to pack for the children but there was some brand new DJ equipment in the kitchen. The second child’s father was hiding in a wardrobe upstairs the court was told.

The social worker said that when the children were settled in foster care, it was clear that the older child, who was eight years old, had been looking after her little brother and she told foster carers that she was capable of “doing it [minding her brother], doing shopping and counting money.” The social worker said that the younger child did not have a bowel movement for a number of days when he came into care and he imitated a cat and that the older child did not know how to ride a bicycle or sit on a swing and had an unusual gait.

The judge asked whether the children were showing any signs of psychological trauma. The social worker said that the older girl “is extremely parentified” and was attending a psychologist.

The social worker said that the girl was “very closed” and feels that it was her fault that the children came into care because she was not taking care of the house. The court was also told that the older girl worried a lot about something bad happening to her mother and frequently asked the family support worker to check on her mother. The court was told that the girl had symptoms of post-traumatic stress although she had not been diagnosed with any such disorder. In contrast the court heard that the younger boy was “forthright and confident”.

The court heard that after the children initially came into care. They were returned to their mother’s care but the situation began to deteriorate once more as the mother was not attending appointments and the youngest child’s crèche attendance was poor. The mother also had a violent partner with whom she was spending a lot of time.

The mother applied for a barring order in respect of this person on the encouragement of the social work department. The court was told that the youngest child had drawn pictures of this man saying that he was not a nice man and that he hit the mother and the children.

The court was told that the mother was a bright and able person and that she had in the past “worked well with services.” Neither father had taken any steps to have a role in the children’s life. The social worker said that the mother was unable to care for her children due to a lack of capacity, wilful neglect in terms of their physical and mental needs and an inability to work with support services as well as a tendency to focus on her own need to be in relationships with men who are violent over her children’s needs.

The judge asked had there been any recent contact with the mother. The social worker replied that there had been no contact with the mother in four months and that she was believed to be living outside Ireland. She said that there ha been some phone contact but the mother, when speaking to the children, told them how sad she was that they were not in her care and told them that she cried all day.

The social worker told the court that she had met the children on numerous occasions and that the older girl had said that she would like to return to live with her mother but if that were not possible she wanted to live with her brother in the foster placement. The older girl recalled that her mother and father did not get on but was interested in contact with both of her parents.

The younger child said he would like to go and live with his mother or his initial foster mother but he liked where he was living and it “made him feel safe”. He also liked his school and his friends. He told the social worker that he worries about his mother and “hopes she is ok.”

The boy said that prior to coming into care the children were left on their own for weekends and locked into the house.

The social worker: “There is no evidence to suggest that she would take steps to look after them in the future. She has never been able to maintain a family home for any period of time. She didn’t look for alternative accommodation when she was homeless for over a year.”

The judge asked whether the mother had been assessed and was told that she had attended her GP but she had not had a mental health assessment. The judge also asked how the children’s physical, emotional and educational needs were and was told that the girl was partly deaf but her mother had never brought her to appointments. “All the needs were neglected in her mother’s care.” In relation to the younger child the social worker said that he was quite a confident and able boy and his needs would have been better met as he had spent longer in foster care.

The court was told that the children had “never had a period of time were they knew what was going to happen next.” The social worker said that she thought it was important that the children had stability, particularly considering they were in a long-term foster placement and were well settled. The social worker said that the children had experienced extensive neglect and their health, development and welfare had been and was likely to be avoidably impaired or neglected.

In granting the Care Order the judge said that if there was any view that the children be returned to their mother, she should be assessed for a personality disorder. The judge also said that he was satisfied that the necessary therapeutic interventions were taking place for the older child and directed that the younger child be psychologically assessed. The judge left the issue of access within the discretion of the CFA.