Interim Care Order for baby with very young parents who spent time in care – 2014vol3#12

An Interim Care Order for the baby of very young parents was extended by the District Court in a provincial city, which directed that both parents undergo psychological assessments and that the mother receive appropriate therapy. Both parents had spent time in care.

The baby was taken into care under an Interim Care Order shortly after birth. The teenage father, who had been in care himself, had begun a parenting assessment. He was living with relatives. The mother was living with several members in her extended family in what the CFA solicitor described as “very chaotic” conditions. The solicitor said the young couple were looking for their own accommodation and wanted to resume full-time care of the baby.

The social worker told the court that baby would be at risk in the care of the father, who had put himself forward as a full-time carer. He had shown “very impulsive behaviours” in the past.

Following the birth the mother and baby had entered a therapeutic parent and baby unit, but the mother had found it very difficult to engage with the professionals there. She had had a very traumatic upbringing and had spent time in care herself.

It was hoped in the future she would engage in mental health services, specifically those aimed at adults who had suffered abuse and neglect. She had difficulty in caring for her child and also found it difficult to understand the care proceedings. Her after-care worker was explaining to her what was going on.

“The baby would not be safe with these parents,” the social worker said.

The mother’s solicitor said that there had been a high recommendation for the mother to receive therapy and support. What was being proposed fell short of that. She needed more than a referral to a service for adults, she needed encouragement to get psychological help.

The father’s solicitor said that some of the allegations against his client were quite serious, for example, threats of violence against the mother and child. To what extent did the social work department try to establish their veracity?

Social worker: “I spoke to him and he denied them.”

Solicitor: “The denial is not in the report. So it is not accurate.”

CFA solicitor: “It is not inaccurate, it is incomplete.”

The father’s solicitor asked the social worker why the social work department was conducting a parental capacity of the father, if they were not considering allowing him to care for the child. “You are going through the motions. You have made up your mind about his parenting capacity. You are ruling him out.”

Social worker: “That’s the direction I’ve been given by the social work manager.”

Father’s solicitor: “They have already decided he should not be considered. So why a parenting capacity assessment?”

Social worker: “We need it for access.”

The solicitor asked her if the social work department would consider placing the father with the baby in the parent and baby centre, and she said he had been physically aggressive towards staff when he was in a special care unit himself. He would not be accepted in the centre because he had threatened staff in the past.

The solicitor said the father was now living with his relatives. “He held them hostage in the past,” the social worker said. “That is denied,” the solicitor said.

The solicitor said that the father suffered from ADHD, this was diagnosed and he was now on medication that had stabilised his behaviour.

The CFA solicitor asked the social worker where she had got the information about the father’s past, and she said she had got it from his social worker. He had been in a number of placements that had broken down because of his behaviours. The father’s solicitor said his placement in a residential home had not broken down and he had completed a programme.

The judge asked if the CFA had considered a psychological assessment of the father and the social worker said they felt a social work assessment was sufficient.

The baby’s guardian ad litem said that a decision had been made to reduce the mother’s access to fortnightly. The GAL had advised against this, as it would increase the feeling of hostility towards the foster family, which would not be in the interests of the baby in the long term.

The GAL said the mother struggled with talking therapies, but may benefit from other forms of therapy. “Even if the baby is in care until she is 18, she will be inextricably linked to her mother. Promoting the mother’s welfare is linked to hers.”

Replying to the CFA solicitor, who said she seemed to be more concerned about the parents than the baby, she said: “[A] is the child of these parents. We need to treat them with respect. There are a number of events over the years which will be of importance. It is very important that [A]’s experiences, if she is in care until she is 18, are as stress-free as possible. I have seen situations of conflict and misunderstandings. It is important that growing up in care is as stress-free as possible for the child.”

The father, who was seeking access to the baby, told the court he had not seen her since she was born. He was out of the country when she was born and her parentage was established by a DNA test.

“I was messed up growing up without a father,” he said. “I was told after the DNA test access would be started but it didn’t. I would like to see the child twice a week for two and a half hours.” He said he had no objection to it being supervised.

Asked about his past behaviour he said: “I was young. There was a lot of hard things going on. My grandparents passed away. I was lonely.”

He acknowledged there had been trouble in two placements, but said he had spent six months in a residential unit where there was no trouble and he did his Junior Cert, and he had spent a year in another unit in another jurisdiction and there had been no trouble there. He was studying for the Leaving Cert and was staying with relatives, who were doing a lot for him. “I was 14 or 15. I’ve changed. People don’t see that.”

Asked if he was a risk to his daughter he said: “No. I would never hurt her. The allegations [about threats] were never true. I was not even aware of them until I saw them in the reports.” He said he wanted to be assessed as his daughter’s carer, and he could look after her with the help of his relatives.

He told the CFA solicitor he had been before the courts three times on criminal charges, the first time charged with criminal damage in his placement.

CFA solicitor: “Anything else?”

Father: “Shoplifting. Theft.”

Solicitor: “What did you steal?”

Father: “Two bars of chocolate.”

He told the solicitor he would not object to joint access with the mother, and the solicitor asked if this could be left to a child-in-care review meeting the following week.

The judge told the father: “I want to know what courses you are attending in after-care. I am going to ask for confirmation that you are attending everything you should. You need to cooperate with the Agency.”

His solicitor said the father was consenting to the extension of the Interim Care Order for six to eight weeks provided he had access. The judge extended the order, and gave liberty to apply to the court relating to access.

She directed that psychological assessments were to be carried out on both parents, and that the parties engage with the recommendations from the parent and baby centre in relation to therapy for the mother. She asked for a report from the access worker about the father’s engagement with the access services when the case returned.