Care orders granted for three children where concerns for mother’s mental health – 2024vol1#27

See also:


Care orders were granted for three children who had been in interim care for about a year following a mental breakdown on the part of their mother.

The CFA solicitor told the court that although the mother had been served with the court papers she was not present in the court. She outlined to the court that the proceedings had commenced with an emergency care order followed by an interim care order and they now wanted to proceed with the care order hearing.

The court adjourned a Section 47 application from the guardian ad litem concerning funding of €4,000 for a bathroom in the foster carers’ home.

Social worker evidence

The social worker said the family had been known to the social work team for a long period due to the mother’s mental health. The file had been open and closed following an initial referral back in 2014.

In the summer of 2023 a section 12 was invoked following a call from the school principal. The school attendance officer had reported that the children had not been in school. When a visit to the home was conducted the mother was under the influence of alcohol and both the social worker and the gardai were called.

The mother had drunk a number of cans before they arrived and while she usually was quite standoffish with the social worker she was very touchy and welcoming when she arrived. The mother felt the boys did not need to go to school if they did not want to and she said the cans helped her be better. At the time she spoke about spirits, voodoo and cultural issues. The social worker said the boy’s bedroom was chaotic, the beds were not made, there were no covers on the beds and the house was dirty.

The oldest sibling was very upset. The Gardai invoked the section 12 and the mother had not been in court since.

When the social worker went back to the house the next day the mother was still drinking. The social worker said the mother had suffered with her mental health for a long time and was refusing to take her medication.

The mother had been known to the local mental health team. Initially they had been doing a lot for her, provided her with a lot of supports and she was receiving injections and medications. She said for a time the mother reached the baseline, her mental health had been up and down but she had remained in the community. The mother had not engaged with mental health services in the last 10 to12 weeks and she had refused to take her medication.

The social worker said the mother was aware of the court proceedings and she had met with her a number of times. She said she did not want to see the boys. When the social worker met with her she kept bringing in erratic topics of conversation. She was told that the mental health team could not continue if she did not engage.

The social worker said a complicating factor was that the mother suffered with HIV and had not taken her medication for that since 2019, which could lead to cognitive delays. The mother’s mental and physical health had declined. The social work team had tried to get her to engage with an infectious diseases unit but she had refused.

The social worker said the mother was very loving and affectionate, she loved her boys and was ecstatic smiling at them, but that she could not make the connection with harm. She insisted the alcohol made her happy.

The social worker said access was every three weeks and the boys wanted to see their mother. However, the mother did not answer the phone. They had made her a plan, access had been arranged the previous week and then the mother did not want to attend and it was rearranged. She was able to interact with the boys and asked how they were. She needed a lot of supports.

One of the children had a query of a dyspraxia diagnosis as he was falling a lot and had difficulty with motor skills. She said the foster carer was involved in all aspects of care and the social worker team was supporting the foster carer on the occupational therapist’s recommendations. The decision on the home was with the fostering team and not with her. The boys wanted to go home but the mother was still drinking and the boys were worried about her and said she was saying weird stuff.

The social worker said that there had been some disclosures regarding the mother’s partner and that a referral to the gardai had been made. The social worker had met with the partner and the garda notification had issued. He was not involved in any access or phone calls. The partner completely disregarded any allegations of physical abuse, he blamed the mother and said the boys were loud and boisterous and he did shout at them.

The solicitor for the GAL asked about the configuration of the foster carers’ house and the social worker said downstairs was the foster carer’s bedroom and ensuite and upstairs was a boxroom where the daughter stayed. In the attic was the brothers’ bedroom and they also had their grandad staying there who was incontinent. The social worker said the foster carers’ ensuite was used during the day.

The attic conversion of €15k was funded by the CFA. The clinical occupational therapy (OT) assessment had recommended the reconfiguration of the attic. The judge asked who had made the decision and was told the fostering team. He said the decision makers were not in court.

The social worker said the children were well settled, the foster carers were available long term and were long term matched. He said it was unusual for all three to be placed together.

The social worker had no issue with the GAL’s recommendations and said that there was a lot of work to do and a number of occupational therapy recommendations.

GAL evidence

She provided an overview and update on all of the three children and she said child A had been the first to report physical abuse from the mother’s partner. The GAL had facilitated a call between child A and his mother. She said he was struggling with his peers and she was concerned about his social interaction.

She said child B did not eat properly and they were trying to get him to try different foods. She said his aunt lived nearby and was a positive support. His father had grown up in care.

Child C was very tall and was clumsy and awkward and he had a query of dyspraxia.

The GAL had met with the mother and she had a lot of good qualities but she had a fondness for men and alcohol. The GAL had encouraged the mother to attend court and she was aware of the court process. The GAL said the mother had another child in the south of the country.

The foster careers took the children on a short-term basis on the basis that an aunt might come from South Africa to look after them children but it had become apparent that this would not work. The placement, and the fact that all three were together, was appropriate for the children. There would be consequences if the placement could not sustain the boys. She did not think they would get a placement together somewhere else and that would entail another transition and a change of school. The foster carers were dedicated.

Things had become complicated as the grandfather had moved back from Spain and under the foster carer regulations the attic was not classified as a bedroom. She said the house was a standard three-bedroom house with a boxroom. The narrow issue to be resolved was the cost of the bathroom. She said it caused difficulties in the mornings in a busy house.

The GAL said that there had been a number of meetings and hygiene had been a cause of concern.

Judge’s ruling

The judge said that there were a number of outstanding issues. He had seen the revised plan and that the OT assessment had been done after the child in care review. He said another child in care review would be needed after the OT assessment. It was felt quarterly reviews would be required and the case would need court oversight.

The OT report highlighted a real and immediate risk for one of the children regarding the shower as there was a big step up to get into it.

The judge said it was understandable that the GAL had brought the section 47 application but that the decision-maker was not in court. The CFA had said the recommendations would take time, the OT assessor had had to go out to the house and the child in care report would need to be updated.

The judge said the father was deceased and the fact that the mother was not present in court for the proceedings spoke volumes. He said it was clear she was someone with significant difficulties including alcohol and mental health and that she had other priorities.

He had the benefit of having dealt with the case before and he had reviewed the reports in the care order booklet, including the emergency care order and interim care order reports and he had heard the evidence of both the social worker and the GAL.

The threshold criteria was set out in Section 18 of the Child Care Act 1991 and having considered the reports the evidence was clear the children’s health, development and welfare were impacted, they had been neglected and suffered emotional abuse and the mother’s mental health and alcohol abuse had impacted on the children. He said the mother had a lack of insight, that services had been offered to her and she had not availed of them. The judge was satisfied the threshold of section 18 (1) (c ) was met.

In regard to the proportionality of orders to age 18, he said Section 24 of the Child Care Act 1991 sought to balance the rights of the parents and the fact that the mother was not present spoke volumes. The children were together in one foster care placement and they faced challenges. He said the order to 18 was proportionate, that the children needed consistency and stability.

He said if a qualified social worker was unallocated for a period of three weeks the case was to be re-entered. He also included in the care order provisions a reference to education, child in care reviews and education. The children would need quarterly reviews and would require a level of support and every effort should be made to secure the placement.

Earlier the court had heard a section 47 application in respect of renovation works at the foster carer’s home where the CFA had refused one element of the renovation works, €4,000 for a bathroom. The refusal had been referred to the area manager.

The foster carers had made an initial application for the attic conversion and had obtained a home improvement grant of €15k. The additional bathroom works valued at €4k were not deemed essential as there was already both a main bathroom and an en-suite bathroom in the home. Quotes had been initially provided without the bathroom.

The GAL had appealed the decision to the area manager and no response had been received. The fostering team said they needed a final quote. The solicitor for the GAL said that an appeal had gone in and the question now was the €4k. The solicitor said it was quite staggering that €75 million was being paid to SEA’s and that there was a refusal of the €4k. He said the foster carers were planning for after the children turned 18.

The judge adjourned the section 47 application for a short period and said that once the OT report was done they should come back to court in four months. He said it was disappointing that there was no decision from the area manager.

The judge thanked the social worker and the GAL for their commitment and involvement in the case.