Care orders for three children following failure of reunification of mother with one child – 2024vol1#33

Dublin District Court granted care orders for three children with the consent of their mother. There were two different fathers who did not participate in the proceedings. The oldest child (A) had a disability.

The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL)told the court that there was an issue in relation to child A’s assessment of need under the Disability Act. The child’s assessment of needs timeline would be out of sync with what was dictated by the legislation and by the HSE.

The CFA solicitor said that they were in agreement on the holding of an 18-month review in line with the GAL’s recommendations and they were also in agreement on the assessment of need and to come back before the court for a review before the end of May 2024.

Social worker evidence

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) social worker said the mother did not have the ability to care for the children. There had been an attempted reunification of A with her mother, but the girl had been taken back into care following allegations of physical abuse. The social worker said that the mother had a period of non-engagement where she could not be contacted by phone but she did accept that the mother had re-engaged in the previous number of weeks and had enjoyed one supervised access with child A.

She confirmed that the intended access schedule would be that the mother would have one supervised access per week and that a schedule would be drawn up. The social worker confirmed that the mother had agreed to her liaising with her mental health team in order to obtain an update on how she was doing.

Child A was currently in a foster care placement and that there was informal contact between her and the two younger children. The social worker outlined the supports that were to be offered to child A and she said he was on a waiting list for play therapy (due to commence in two months’ time). He was also on a list for an assessment of need. A person had been identified to provide support to the foster parents.

The CFA solicitor asked the social worker whether the threshold was met and she said yes. She was asked if the care order was necessary and proportionate and she said yes. She said that no shorter order would meet the needs of the children.

In relation to the other children, the court was told that they had had a number of hospital appointments, they were very young and vulnerable and the mother was not able to care for them. They had been with the same foster family since being received into care. The mother had video calls with them, she had a one hour visit in person every two weeks and that was to be subject to review.

The social worker said that the in-person access between the mother and the younger children was supervised. The foster carer was very supportive of the mother and provided emails and updates to her. The social worker said that a care order up to 18 was necessary for them, she also referred to the fact that reunification had been tried with child A and had failed and no other order was suitable.

The CFA solicitor asked the social worker to confirm that she was aware of the statutory requirement for her to consider reunification on an ongoing basis and she confirmed that she was aware of that requirement. A care order review at 18 months was agreed and in relation to the assessment of need for child A it was also agreed that an update review was required to make sure that it was done.

Mother’s solicitor

The solicitor for the mother indicated that her client had an improved prognosis, she was currently in stable accommodation and was no longer living in a tent, she was adhering to her medication. She said she was abstaining from any substance abuse and she had been providing urine analysis, which had been negative for substance abuse. The mother had consented to the social work team liaising with her mental health team and she was complying with her medications.

She asked the social worker if they would provide assistance to the mother in securing long term accommodation. The social worker said she would and the CFA solicitor said she had separately spoken with the team leader and that they would provide assistance. The solicitor for the mother also asked the social worker to chase up with the counselling team to see where she was on their waiting list and if necessary to obtain funding for a private appointment for the mother.

The solicitor also asked the social worker if consideration could be given for the younger children to be baptised in an Orthodox Church and for the foster carers to bring them to church from time to time.


GAL solicitor

The solicitor for the GAL referred to both child A’s assessment of need and the play therapy. The social worker said that if the care order was made the children would move to a ‘children in care’ social worker and there would be a transfer meeting.

The solicitor referred to the need of the younger children for assessments, and asked that they be kept on a list for a private as well as a public appointment, to see which appointment came up quickest.

The social worker confirmed that the children had monthly sibling access which they believed was adequate for now. She told the judge that they had access once a month with their father.

The GAL was not present in court for health reasons but the solicitor indicated he had spoken at length with her that day.

He said that there two reports before the court and that the GAL was impressed by the mother’s engagement with her mental health and that the mother consented to working with the mental health team. He said that the review should look at her mental health engagement and heraccess with the children.

The foster families were working hard and that they were good advocates for the children. There were ongoing outstanding welfare needs for the children. The younger children (child B and C) needed a paediatric review, child A needed to have an assessment of needs done. He said there was ongoing advocacy and lobbying work to be done in order for the statutory timelines to be met.

The solicitor asked the court that if the judge was minded to make the care order that he would also, in parallel, lift the in-camera rule to allow the GAL to remind the HSE to engage with the case and with the assessment of needs before the 18-month review was done.

The GAL was supporting the making of care orders to the age of majority as reunification plans had been attempted but could not be achieved.

Judge’s ruling

Making the care orders for the three siblings the judge noted that the proceedings had been before the court since the middle of 2021. He noted the support of the GAL and the social worker and that the mother was consenting to the orders to the age of majority. He said that there were many positives to be taken from the case but it was a sad day for any parent to hand over the care, control and custody of their children to the CFA. He complimented the mother on her engagement with the mental health team.

He said a lesser order would not sufficiently address the concerns and the children were entitled to certainty and safety. He made an order for a review to be undertaken in 18 months’ time and for the case to come back before the court for mention in relation to child A’s assessment of needs.

He acceded to the request to lift the in-camera rule to allow the GAL to engage with the HSE in relation to the child’s assessment of needs. He said that play therapy and life story work should be ongoing and an update should be provided to the court at the next review date. Access should be per section 37 of the Child Care Act and should be supervised. The GAL should stay until the review date for child A and should be discharged within two weeks in relation to the other children but should be reappointed six weeks before the 18-month review.