Court refuses to discharge care order – 2018vol2#37

The judge in a District Court in a provincial city refused the application of a mother to discharge a full care order.

The court heard evidence that the child had been the subject of a full care order from the age of two and was placed in the care of a family member. The mother lived five minutes away on foot and has supervised access once per week. The child was taken into care because of allegations of abuse by the mother. The mother had a history of alcohol and drug misuse.

The social worker said that in the past there were outbursts of violence against the child when the mother was under pressure or irate. The social worker said that the order should not be discharged at this time, as it would not benefit the young child.

The mother said that she had ceased all drug use for over two years and had obtained a stable address. The mother was scheduled to commence a parenting course early next year and had attended cookery and creative writing courses. The mother was of the opinion that because she was sober and had a stable address the order should be discharged. Failing that, the mother sought increased access, including unsupervised and overnight access.

The mother gave evidence and acknowledged that she was not ready to have full custody of her child at the moment. She said that she really wanted more access and that in future she wanted to have him returned to her care.

The judge asked when the mother had completed residential treatment and directed that those dates be clarified. The judge said she was also concerned about the mother’s mental health. The mother said she would give the Child and Family Agency permission to obtain information from her general practitioner. The judge also asked the mother to engage in the parenting work with Barnardos.

The judge found that it was not in the best interest of the child to discharge the order. She appointed a guardian ad litem in order to obtain the wishes of the child and increased access to include unsupervised access.

The case is listed for review in three months’ time in order to keep pressure on the social work department regarding the parenting course.

Extension of care order
The judge granted an extension of a full care order in respect of a young child. The judge was not satisfied that the Child and Family Agency was dealing with the question of access appropriately. The child is in a family placement. The father was present and represented. A guardian ad litem had been appointed previously.

Over the past 12 months the father had been getting unsupervised access with the child, until it was alleged that he was intoxicated during an access visit. The father had since attended a residential treatment centre and there was no evidence that he was a threat to the child. The social worker gave evidence that supervised access resumed when the father submitted clean urine tests, nine months after the incident. The guardian ad litem was of the opinion that the father was not a threat to the child and that unsupervised access should be resumed immediately.

The social worker gave evidence that they were being led by the appointed psychological expert in relation to access. The judge was dissatisfied because the psychologist who was providing his opinion regarding access was not present and asked: “Why am I being told about something a man says when he’s not here to give evidence. You are coming into me here with hearsay evidence and they cannot cross examine him.” The social worker also gave evidence that “theraplay” sessions with the father would be conducted in the spring time and that this will be in addition to his fortnightly supervised access.

The father stated in evidence: “I find the supervised access strips me from my fatherhood. I can’t make a promise to her because it’s dependent on the social workers. She looks to the social worker before she answers even the most simple question… I’ve never harmed her in any way, all I do is to play with her and warn her about dangers and bring her to play in the forest. I know that from four to eight is essential around her nurture and nature. It makes it so difficult for me, I haven’t had the best up-bringing and I have a lot of love to give.”

The judge said that she wanted access increased and for it to go back to normal as soon as possible. Her view was that the Child and Family Agency had been much too hard and difficult with the father and she was impressed by his level of insight. The judge said that access should take place in the child’s foster placement as the father cannot engage with his child properly in a play centre.

The case is in for review in three months’ time to ensure that this has taken place. The judge also gave liberty to the father to apply to the court if access is not increased according to her directions.

In another case the judge refused an application for increased access of a young child who suffers with a disability.

The child had been in care since birth and due to her medical condition, there are several experts and professions involved in her care. The child attends with physiotherapy, occupational health, speech and language therapy and a dietician. The child uses a form of sign language to communicate with her foster mother.

The social worker gave evidence that the child is healthy and well and the foster family are happy with her progress. The judge asked if adequate supports are in place for the foster mother and the social worker said that they were.

In relation to access, the judge heard evidence that the parents have supervised access once a month for an hour. The social worker said that access can be quite chaotic and the parents want to take a lot of photographs and they bring a lot of food with them to enjoy with the child. These issues have been highlighted to the parents and the social worker said that the last access visit was much more relaxed.

The mother made an application that the child be allowed to have access with her parents and the social worker said that the focus needs to be on the quality of access with the mother and the child. The social worker said that the current access is meeting the needs of the child.

The father was of the opinion that because they had fully cooperated with the social work department access should be increased. However, the social worker said that the question of increased access would be determined by the independent experts. A meeting of those professionals was due to take place in the new year and following that a child in care meeting will talk place.

The judge read the report of the psychologist and pointed out that the report said the next step would be for the foster mother to leave the room at access and that has to be discussed at the next child in care review.

The guardian ad litem informed the court that the child’s development had been very fragile and delayed and her foster placement has been central for her progress. The GAL said that the parents love her and want to see her as often as possible and that due consideration will be given to their application at the professionals’ and child in care review meeting.

The judge refused the parents’ application at this time and directed the matter be reviewed after the professionals’ meeting and the child in care review meeting in three months’ time.