Consent to care order where mother ill, father in custody – 2019vol1#36

A care order was extended in Dublin District Court until the age of 18 years in respect of a primary school age child. Both parents consented to the application. The father was in custody and had a history of drug misuse. The mother suffered from a number of health complications. The GAL was supporting the application. There were concerns regarding access as the child was engaging in anti-social behaviour.

The solicitor for the CFA said the first care order was made in 2018 and was due to expire shortly. The child had been placed with his paternal grandparents since 2015. The father was satisfied for the child to remain with his paternal grandparents.

During the care order the father had been incarcerated on two occasions but had stabilised his drug use in prison. The mother had been diagnosed with a serious illness in 2004 and suffered a health crisis due to a lack of managing the illness. There was an issue with her liver health and she was due to start treatment.

Access was taking place three days per week during the weekend and was not supervised.

The mother wished to keep the access unsupervised. The mother’s two daughters were often present in the home with their own children during access. There were concerns from the school regarding the presentation of the child after access. The social worker referred to the environment in the mother’s home as unstructured. During the weekend, the social workers had asked for an idea of the child’s routine and access but the mother found it difficult to provide any idea of his movements. The child was saying he could stay out as long as he wanted and that caused a concern.

The school principal reported that the child was engaging in anti-social behaviour with older boys when he was in the mother’s care during access. The social workers spoke to the family about the concerns and the family assured them that they would supervise the boys, but there were further reports of anti-social behaviour.

The foster carers also had concerns about the child spending time with one older boy in particular, who lived near the mother. The social worker said: “I met with the child in March to speak to him and he said he spent times with the older boys throwing stones at cars.”

The child did not see the worries of associating with older children who were engaging in anti-social behaviour. The social worker said: “Children can socialise with older children, but  he is [only at primary school]. [Associating] with older children [involved in anti-social behaviour] can lead to criminality and drugs.”  The older boys came to the mother’s house at access and a structured access plan would stop anything happening down the line.

The judge said: “It seems difficult to do that [supervise the children]?”

The social worker said spending time on the green with older boys was fine once an adult could see the child. The social workers asked the older sisters to be part of that safety plan.

The mother said the child knew he was too young to play with the older boys but admitted he was an impressionable child who was easily led. The child said he wanted to stay for an extra night with the mother and would be upset going home.

The social worker said reducing access would be a last resort. During the summer the social workers could organise one overnight access to establish if confidence could be built up.

The mother said: “I get [medical treatment] during the week and access means everything [to me]. He is my child.”

Communication between the mother and the social workers was “not great” due to the fact the mother did not have a phone. The mother found it difficult to stay in touch with the social workers as her previous phones had gone missing and were broken. The social worker said: “We need to complete an assessment to make sure the child is safe and we could implement phone access with the mother.” The mother contacted the child’s grandmother when there were any issues and the social workers could call to her home at any time.

The judge said to the mother: “I have to look at what is best for the child and then I am being told the social workers need to be able to contact you and [for you to] have a phone. It seems that would be important [for] you to give me an assurance you will get a phone, mind it and make sure it does not get mistreated.”

The mother said, if she had to get a phone she would get one.

The GAL was supporting the extension of a care order with a review in two years’ time. He said the child was a lovely young man with a lovely personality. There were no concerns about the child’s placement. The paternal grandmother was committed to the child and he was thriving in her care. The child and grandmother shared a special bond. The child’s primary attachment figure was his grandmother and she always put him first even ahead of her husband. The grandmother liaised well with the school and attended all the meetings. The child also loved his mother and father and looked forward to seeing the mother.

The GAL said: “It is a delight to see the young boy and it is a reflection on his parents that he is doing so well.”

At school the child was a model pupil and was making friends. He struggled with his academics but worked hard. A referral had been made to the community child care services for life story work to be carried out with the child about his care status and a referral for play therapy as he could appear frustrated and have outbursts. The referral had been made by the social worker in 2018 for the play therapy but no progress had been made to date.

The appointments with the play therapist was allocated on a priority basis and the play therapist was at full capacity at this time. The GAL said the life story was extremely important as the child was anxious and asked why he was in care. The GAL said: “The plan is not to stop the weekend contact straight away as the child is going down the right route and the play therapy will help him to stay on the right trajectory.”

The judge said: “It is a concern that the child is not the most urgent case for play therapy.”

The GAL said: “We are well past the date by which it [the play therapy] should have started. Now is the right time to make the right decisions.”

The judge noted the consent of the parents and was satisfied to extend of care order until the child reached 18 years. He said access was subject to the mother having a phone and being available to the social workers.