Care orders for three children with special needs – 2013vol2#3

Care Orders were granted for three children, with the consent of their father, in a provincial city. All three had special needs. The mother was not in court.

The HSE solicitor said that the children had come into care under an Interim Care Order in November 2010. The HSE was now applying for a full Care Order, after doing all it could to keep the family together. The mother’s two older children, by different fathers, were already in care.

The principal in the school attended by the children said he was aware that the eldest child, A, had special needs before he came into the school. He found it difficult to communicate and had a very short attention span. There were problems with his attendance. The principal applied for extra resources to deal with the boy’s speech and language difficulties.

After the child went into care in November 2010 he noticed consistency of care and of approach from the foster parents, and the child could communicate better.

He had found that the father was trying very hard and was more consistent than the mother. On the whole he dealt with the parents separately, but unfortunately if the parents were together they would argue, including having serious arguments at the school gates. A had overcome a lot of difficulties, though he was still behind his peers and had repeated second class.

The second child, B, had significant educational needs and significant behavioural difficulties. His speech was unintelligible. He took other children’s lunches and scribbled on their books. He had repeated senior infants three times. The school got a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) for him.

Over the last three years the school saw positive movement in his behaviour, but because of his speech and language difficulties there was not as clear an improvement as with A. “The consistency of approach certainly benefitted him,” the principal said.

The speech and language therapist who had been working with the boys told the court there was still a lot of work to be done, though progress had been made. B had first been assessed in 2008, when he was two. There was significant delay in his development. He had had blocks of therapy since then. He had a higher level of need than his brother. “I have concerns for him in the future,” she said. “The foster parents are doing all they can at home.”

The third child, C, showed some speech delay.

Asked by the HSE solicitor if it was significant all three had speech and language delay, she said it could relate to violence in the home and the level of stimulation the children received. C had less delay than her older brother, and she was taken into care earlier. This could be relevant. “You have to look at all the factors, the whole environment,” she said.

Asked by the judge if she was satisfied with the progress that had been made in the sessions the children had, she replied; “I would prefer there to be more progress. Compared with children of the same age A is significantly behind.”

The social worker said that the social service department knew the mother’s family for a long time and two of her siblings were in care. The mother’s two older children were also in care.

The department had a pre-birth conference before child A was born, and outlined a support plan. They started intervention and tried to support the family. A safety order was granted at one stage and the mother and children spent some time in a refuge. The children witnessed aggression and violence between the parents and the guards were called on 40 occasions in all. The children would talk about the guards coming, ambulances being called, bleeding.

There had been a huge improvement in the two boys in the past two and a half years, when they were receiving consistent care. B had a very short attention span. He had improved, but his behaviour could still be challenging, he tried to push boundaries. A’s social skills were really coming on and he made friends easily. He was very happy, and the foster parents were very positive about the natural parents and encouraged meetings with them.

“The parents genuinely want to see the children doing well but they are caught up in their own issues and problems and their own relationship. The children would like to see their parents get on with each other. They worry about their mother,” the social worker said.

Asked if the HSE had considered a Supervision Order, the social worker said that this had been discussed but then an Emergency Care Order was needed because the situation had gone too far. At a case conference in June they considered that nothing had changed and the situation of the mother was probably worse. Both parents were at the case conference and argued. It was decided reunification would not be possible and to look for a Care Order. The HSE also decided to look for a parenting capacity assessment.

The guardian ad litem said she saw the children five or six times, twice with the mother and once with the father.

The foster parents were very gentle people, there was no shouting in the house. They were very positive about the children, despite their very challenging behaviour, especially in the beginning. A was very active and was always looking for food. He had no understanding of routines like meals, going to bed, having any structure to the day. He wolfed down food and was very slow to use cutlery.

B could not use the toilet and there were huge issues around food. He would get up in the middle of the night to check if there was still food in the fridge. He wolfed food down without pausing to breathe. The foster parents now left food beside the bed at night so that he would not get up.

There had been an issue about C being moved abruptly from one foster home to another (not with her brothers). This resulted in her having attachment issues and she had huge issues around other people going near her foster mother. She was now doing very well and they were very committed to assuring her she was safe and secure.

At access the children were vying for their parents’ attention. B was very provocative to both parents, testing them.

The paternal grandmother and her female partner wanted to foster these children but they had not passed the fostering assessment because of a minor criminal matter they had not mentioned, going back 29 years.

They were very much in charge when the children visited them. “The children have a very good relationship not only with their grandmother but with their grandmother’s partner. They would like more involvement and that would be important for the children,” the GAL said.

The GAL said that the children still had significant difficulties but had come a long way. “I think since 2007 the writing was on the wall about the capacity of the mother and father to meet the children’s needs. Their own issues impact on their ability to care for their children.”

The psychologist who assessed the parenting capacity of the parents gave evidence of interviewing them both. The father had limited cognitive ability and had attended a special school for a while. He had a very volatile relationship with the children’s mother, which had a detrimental effect on the children.

“This kind of conflict has a very detrimental effect on the development of children, including their speech and language development,” she said. “A lack of consistency and structure also has a detrimental effect.”

She said she had observed the children’s visit to their father and it was obvious he loved them very much and there were a lot of positive interactions with them. However, he had difficulty in managing them when they were difficult. She did not think he could care for them on a 24-hour basis. He had difficulty in managing his own life and a lot of anger. He was not equipped emotionally or physically to parent his children at the moment.

The mother had had a very difficult background which would have had an impact on her later life. She had a lot of trauma to disclose at the meetings, there was a lot of distress and crying. She said she had a difficult relationship with the children’s father, with a lot of violent altercations. She was not in a position to parent effectively.

“Parents pick up parenting skills from their own parents. She was neglected as a child and neglected her own children in turn,” the psychologist said. Asked if people could be equipped with parenting skills if they did not have them, she said: “That is up to the personality. If there is motivation to change your life you can break the cycle. She does not seem to have that motivation.”

There was also a problem with her cognitive ability, which affected her employment prospects, and she had also been in a special school for a while. She had elevated depression scores. Her relationship with the father was very volatile – he was the best in the world one moment and the worst in the world the next.

She loved the children but did not have the tools to care for them on a day-to-day basis. “The children have their own difficulties and she can’t cope with them. She has difficulties in coping with her own life and does not have the capacity to cope with children. She has issues relating to anxiety, early drug use and self-destructive behaviour. Overall she is not emotionally or physically able to care for her children.”

Asked by the GAL solicitor if one parent showed more parenting capacity than another, she said the father was probably in a slightly better situation than the mother.

Asked by the judge if he wanted to say anything, the father said he had no concerns about the foster parents and thought they were very good for the children. He enjoyed access and would like to have more.

The HSE solicitor said that he had not yet sought guardianship, and the solicitor had urged him to. The father said the mother would not agree, and the judge said that even if she objected, the court could award it unless there was a good reason not to.

The HSE solicitor said he would write to the Legal Aid Board and get them to help him in every way to make a guardianship application.

The judge said if he could not negotiate improved access with the HSE he could come to the court to look for it. The judge granted the orders sought, and pointed out to the father he could return to court if the situation changed.