Interim Care Order for 17-day-old baby – 2014vol4#3

An Interim Care Order was renewed for 14 days for a 17-day-old baby [B] born two days after his mother arrived in Ireland from the UK. The mother acknowledged she left the UK to give birth as she feared her child would be taken into care. Another baby had been taken into care and adopted two years previously.

The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency said the agency considered it was in the best interests of the child to remain in care pending High Court proceedings to repatriate the baby to the UK. The baby was doing well, had daily access with his mother, and was being fed a mixture of expressed breast milk and formula.

A social worker from the mother’s UK local authority area told the court there had been an anonymous referral of concern about the mother three months earlier. The social work department contacted the social work department in the local authority area where the mother and her husband had previously lived and looked at the files on the older child [A], who had been taken into care at eight weeks arising from the father’s history of drug misuse. The mother was very agitated, shouting and screaming. There were psychological and psychiatric reports on the mother indicating a co-dependency relationship between the couple.

The mother’s solicitor said she had not seen these reports and the CFA did not have them. The CFA solicitor said the witness did not have them either, as the law in the UK required a court order to obtain them from the local authority that had them. He asked the UK social worker to describe from memory what was in the reports.

She said they said that both parents suffered from borderline personality disorder. Neither of them accessed mental health services. They then moved to her local authority area, where they were cooperating with the social services there. Then social services learned they had left the area and they contacted the police. There was a national alert, and contact made with the Irish police. The police intercepted text messages indicating the couple were moving to Ireland.

CFA solicitor: “Was that in the best interests of the child who was about to be born?”

Social worker: “No. They placed the baby at huge risk by moving so close to the birth.”

The CFA solicitor told the court there was an application in the High Court to move the baby back to his local authority area.

The mother’s solicitor asked the social worker what files she had from the previous local authority. She said she had social work reports but not the psychological reports.

Mother’s solicitor: “But the social work reports hang on those psychological reports. The mental health issue is your main concern.”

Social worker: “And her ability to work with us.”

Solicitor: “You didn’t try to have those reports available though they are so central?”

Social worker: “It doesn’t work that way. I reported on them to my team leader.”

She acknowledged that an emergency protection order application had been made to the UK court the week before the baby was due, and had been refused.

Asked what work was done with the parents, she said she had had four meetings with them. The mother’s solicitor said that the father was working with a drug team for the past number of years, so he was dealing with his drug issues.

“Yes, he was engaging, but he was not fully honest with us,” the social worker replied. She added that the father was on an opiate-replacement drug.

Asked why no in-between measure, short of taking the baby into care, had been sought, the social worker said that the evidence from 2013 (when the previous child was taken into care) was that the parents could not work with that.

“That was from another social worker, it was historical in relation to another child,” the solicitor said.

The judge said, in relation to the mental health concerns, that the most worrying aspect was suicide ideation. He asked had there been any episodes of self-harm on the mother’s part. The social worker said she had tried to self-harm.

The Irish social worker for the child told the court that the family came to the attention of the social work department via the Gardai, who had been called to a flat by a member of the public who heard screaming there. They found the mother in bed in a lot of pain. She was brought to hospital and had the baby the next morning. The CFA then obtained an Emergency Care Order. The doctor wanted to monitor the baby for a day or two.

The judge said, referring to the ECO application: “I had the impression the baby was free to leave the hospital at any time. Now you are saying the doctor was not prepared to discharge the baby.”

“The doctor said the baby was medically fit for discharge,” the social worker said.

The CFA solicitor said: “You seem to be suggesting the Emergency Care Order was obtained under false pretences.”

Judge: “Believe me, if I thought that you would know. That is not what I am suggesting.”

The CFA solicitor resumed his examination of the social worker, who said the baby was bonding very well with his mother, who was relating very well to him, feeding and changing him at access. Asked why she thought the child was at imminent risk, she said: “We had information the parents had fled the UK. They had no connection to [our city]. We applied for an Interim Care Order.

“The baby requires warmth, stability and a consistent and stable environment. Given her history the mother is not capable of providing that environment. She is in a very precarious financial situation. The father has returned to the UK, she said he is intending to come over. If the court grants an Interim Care Order, we will continue daily access.”

Asked if she supported the CFA application to return the child to the UK, she said: “The child should be with his extended family. He had no connection to Ireland. He has a lot of family connections in the UK.”

Mother’s solicitor: “You saw nothing to give you concern here?”

Social worker: “No.”

Asked if, in the light of the reported mental health issues, she had seen any inappropriate reactions from the mother, she said: “No. She is very warm, bonding with the baby. She did say she wants to stay in Ireland, look after the baby, get a job.” She agreed it would be useful to have the psychological reports.

The mother gave evidence, and was asked about her history of self-harm. “I haven’t self-harmed in over two years,” she said. She said she had no thoughts of suicide. She was taking medication for pain relief as she had a number of back injuries. She was not taking any medication relating to her mental health. She had been taking medication for epilepsy, but she stopped taking it when pregnant as it was bad for the baby.

Referring to her decision to leave the UK, she said she had offered to stay in a mother and baby unit following the baby’s birth, and when this was rejected by the social work team she decided to leave. “I was in contact with friends who offered support in [this city].”

She denied she had intended to have a home birth, she knew she needed to go to hospital because of her back problems. She had a bag packed to go to hospital. She said she had friends and accommodation in the Irish city and would cooperate with social services there.

Asked about her back injuries, she said she had been physically abused by her father as a child. She had a poor relationship with her mother. She had spent time in a children’s home. She agreed with the CFA solicitor that these experiences may have impacted on her life as an adult, and led to her self-harming. This took the form of cutting her arms.

Asked if she thought she needed any support at the moment with her mental health problems, she said she did not think so, she was not self-harming.

Asked about her decision to come to Ireland, she said this was suggested by friends in the UK about two weeks before she made the decision. Asked why she had not called an ambulance when her waters broke (in the flat) she said that labour had not started. “If labour has not started they send you back home.”

Asked why she stopped cooperating with social services in the UK, she said: “We lost trust in the social workers. I find the Irish social services interact much better. They are very fair.”

CFA solicitor: “The Irish social services are applying to keep your child in care. Surely that is not very fair?”

Mother: “No. I understand they have to do assessments etc.”

The judge asked her how she had got the flat she was living in, and she said through friends. Asked how she knew them, she said through friends in the UK.

Asked about the flat, she said it had cooking facilities, a fridge-freezer, “everything you need.”

The judge rose briefly to consider his decision and when he returned said: “The matters relating to the long-term future of [the baby] are for the High Court. I hope these proceedings will proceed apace.

“I heard the evidence of [the UK social worker]. The psychological reports are very essential in this case and they should be obtained either by the CFA or the local authority.

“I have some sympathy for the mother. She has had a difficult life. She is coping exceptionally well. It is important she registers with a GP here and gets the services she needs. In relation to the application here, the concerns of the CFA have been outlined cogently by the social worker.

“I don’t accept that [the mother] is a flight risk. She came here to escape social services in the UK. She is not going anywhere. The only place she can go is to the UK.

“On the other grounds of concern, I have considered very seriously a Supervision Order. I have considered her living situation. She is socially isolated. She has a borderline personality disorder. I have no concern she would harm the baby. But I have a concern she could be a risk to herself, living alone in an apartment. The risk to [the baby] is not sufficient to extend the Interim Care Order for 28 days. I will extend it for 14 days. In that time I want the mother to access the services she may require and the social worker to assist her. The social worker was very fair in her evidence.

“I have concerns about the level of access and the social service department should look at whether it can be increased. There should be a little flexibility, given there can’t be access at weekends.”

He extended the order for two weeks.

When the matter came before the court again the father had arrived in Ireland. Neither parent consented to the extension of the Interim Care Order, but the social worker said that the mother’s social and financial isolation was “not advanced” by the arrival of the father, and the order was extended. The court heard that access was going well.

The High Court will hear the Article 15 application, for the return of the child to the jurisdiction where the parents were habitually resident, early in the New Year.