District Court concerned about delays in assessments due to Covid-19

A District Court judge in a regional city expressed concern regarding the delays in assessments of two young children. The judge made interim care orders for three months in respect of the children, where assessments were delayed for over six months, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The judge was conscious of the delay and sympathised with the parents and asked that the appropriate pressure be put on whomever to get the assessments completed.

The social worker explained to the court that the Child and Family Agency (CFA) were seeking an extension of the interim care orders in order to complete a risk assessment for both the mother and father. The social worker said that there were issues surrounding domestic violence and the ability of the mother to put the needs of the children first.

The social worker told the judge that the professional employed to carry out the assessment had an underlying condition and was shielding during the first lockdown. Following that he was hospitalised for two weeks and the social worker handed a letter to the judge outlining that position.

The social worker then told the court that further delays arose because the interpreter was also shielding due to a family member’s medical condition. She said that he was only interpreting over the phone and the mother found this too difficult. As a result, an alternative interpreter was sourced and he was due to meet with the mother a number of days later.

The social worker said that she was confident that the assessments would be completed within three months and she hoped that no further restrictions would impact the assessments. The social worker said that the threshold continued to be met and she emphasised that the assessments needed to be completed before any decision about the children’s long-term care could be made.

The guardian ad litem (GAL) was supportive of the application and asked that the matter be listed four weeks later for mention, to ensure that the assessments were progressing as promised. The GAL was concerned that the matter had been before the court for over a year. The GAL told the judge that the children had recently been placed together and the placement was a good placement and the foster mother was very warm.

The father gave evidence and told the judge that there had been a very long delay and this had caused him great frustration. He said that he was attending one-to-one meetings with Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE), which were cut to 45 minutes due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Father’s solicitor: “Is there anything in particular you would like to say to the court.”

Father: “I would like it to come to an end soon as it just feels like it’s going on and on. I don’t want my children to grow up in care and spend another Christmas away, it’s killing me… I am afraid the goal-posts will be moved and in another three months, it will be another three months.”

The judge was satisfied that the threshold continued to be met. She acknowledged the frustration of the father regarding the restrictions on services. The judge said: “I sympathise with all persons before me and we would all dearly like if life could go back to normal and I am anxious that the appropriate pressure be put on whomever to get the assessments. The judge concluded by saying: “These children need finality”.