House extension to be built for close relative of children in care – 2014vol3#1

The Child and Family Agency was asked by a judge to provide for an extension to a house so that a woman could care for two children in care who were closely related to her, subject to funding being available.

The mother had four children in care and the case involving the two younger children came for review before the judge in a rural town. The two older children were in the care of the close relative, and the mother had regular contact with them a few times a week.

The two younger children, who had a different father, were in foster care with foster parents but the placement was breaking down because of the children’s behaviour. The court was told that, despite the fact that the children fought a lot, they had a strong sibling bond and there would be life-long effects if they were separated. However, it was very difficult to source a foster placement where they could be together. A psychologist had examined the two children.

“The children are challenging individually and together,” the social worker said. “They don’t observe boundaries, [C] lashes out. They fight all the time. While they have a difficult relationship they love each other and rely on each other.”

The social worker added that the parents were not in a position to care for the children and the mother was not looking to have them back at the moment, though she did hope to in the future. She agreed with the mother’s solicitor that the mother had undergone 14 months of psychotherapy and was doing well.

Asked if C was treated differently to his younger sibling, D, in the foster placement, she said: “He definitely has a different bond. C was two when he was placed. His sibling was six months. Two is a difficult age.”

“[C] thinks no-one loves him. He said that in the psychological report. That’s heart-breaking,” the judge said.

The mother’s solicitor said the child was very capable and self-sufficient. He prepared his own lunch, and had prepared meals for the whole family, though he was very young. Asked about plans for his future placement the social worker said there was nothing at the moment in the local fostering pool. “We’re looking at other options,” she said.

The psychologist who examined the two younger children told the court said C was a bright, chatty boy. His literacy skill was above average for his age, and he scored nine out of ten in most school tests. He enjoyed sport. But he was “the most angry person in the house”, and described himself as “the most trouble in the house”. He was unable to identify anyone he loved. His self-esteem was at “rock bottom.”

She said the bond between the two boys was very significant for the future, as was their bond with the close relative. C was doing very well academically, but had problems in his relationships with peers. He had had a very difficult start in life, already showing aggressive behaviour by the age of three. Both children were bright but their ability to relate to other children lagged behind by about three years, so they were behaving like pre-school children.  “It is a troubling case. They would challenge the most experienced foster carers.

“All things being equal I would like to see the children together. It won’t be easy. We might find it won’t work. But I don’t think we have reached that point yet.”

An educational psychologist who assessed the children said that C was at the 12th percentile in “average adaptive behaviour”, meaning that 88 per cent of children would exceed him in their ability to take instructions and perform tasks around the house. He had problems in sharing and socialisation generally. D was also below average in receptive language. They would both find it difficult to manage their day-to-day lives.

The mother told the court she was “worn out” telling the HSE about problems C was having in his foster placement. “I knew this placement had broken down years ago. My access was one hour once a month, that’s 12 hours a year. I said that people were not showing [C] love. He was diagnosed with attachment disorder when he was taken away from me. I don’t want the same to happen with [D]. I am working towards getting them back. [A and B, the older children] are very happy with [my relatives] and seeing me regularly.”

She said she had told the social work department about the problems in the foster placement. “I don’t trust the HSE to look after my children. If the children are in the care of the HSE and they make mistakes they should be held responsible. When I made mistakes I was held responsible.”

The father of the older children told the court he had all the access he wanted with the children. He had little dealings with the HSE because it was not necessary. The father of the younger children said there was no access between his family and the children. He said he knew the children were in care because of alcoholism, but his father would like to have access to the children, and so would he.

The close relative, who was also in court, said she would love to take the two younger children, but did not have the room. “It breaks my heart I can’t take them,” she said. She explained that they lived in a small three-bedroom house and the two older children had a bedroom each as they were of different sexes. She and her husband had the other room.

“Isn’t that the solution?” the judge asked. “My firm view is that the two children should be kept together. They should be moved from their current placement. The [relatives] have said they would love to have them. Is there any possibility, considering the cost to the State of these two little children, that funds could be made available to [the close relatives] to build an extension? That is the ideal solution. It is time to talk.”

During a brief adjournment talks took place between the Child and Family Agency, lawyers for the parents and the relatives and when the matter returned to court the solicitor for the CFA said an order would be drawn up stating that provision would be made for all necessary measures to be taken so that the younger children could move to the home of their close relatives.

The judge ruled that any placement involving the two children be on the basis that they remain together, and that the children be placed with their [named] close relative, subject to the appropriate funding being authorised by the CFA for any relevant construction work for housing.