The District Court granted a section 18 care order for a young boy until the child reaches the age of 18. The child had been in care since his birth and the foster carers had commenced the adoption process to which the parents, who were not in court, had indicated their consent. The District Court also granted an extension of an interim care order for the older teenage brother who was the subject of a special care order in the High Court on the same day. The applications were supported by the guardian ad litem (GAL).
Evidence was given by the allocated social worker that a referral to special care for Child A had been accepted and that the application for special care was before the High Court on that same day. The social worker told the court that she had made contact with the legal team in the High Court just before coming into the court room and they had indicated to her that the parents had not attended at the High Court either.
The social worker said that the risks for Child A remained the same and that he had a high level of absconding. Child A was residing in a residential unit but had been leaving the residential unit at 5 am with no explanation as to where he was going. Child A subsequently disclosed that he was leaving the residential unit to rob and sell bikes and to sell crack cocaine. The social worker told the court that she had discussed this with gardaí.
The solicitor for the CFA asked the social worker to describe her contact with the parents since the last court date and she said that she was due to meet them on one occasion but they were not at home or did not answer the door. The social worker said that on a re-arranged date, the parents welcomed her into their home and showed her pictures of Child A. The social worker gave evidence that the parents were difficult to contact as they had no phones and neither had obtained mobile phones to date and the main avenue of contact was through the aunt. The parents have indicated to the social worker that they want to work towards Child A returning home to them but that they need to do an assessment.
Social worker: “They have a level of nervousness working with the social work services.”
The social worker told the court that the parents had struggled with addiction for a number of years. The father was not engaged with the addiction clinic any more and he had told the social worker that he did not require methadone and was not using any drugs. The social worker said she was in contact with the previous clinic trying to confirm this. The clinic did not confirm this information but informed the social worker that the father had disengaged with the clinic in July.
The mother told the social worker that she had a “couple of slips” using cocaine and she was on a high level of methadone. The social worker was waiting for confirmation of this information from the clinic. The social worker expressed the opinion that the parents were not in a position to take care of the children.
The social worker gave evidence in respect of Child B to support the application for the full care order until the age of 18.
Social worker: “His circumstances and life are very different to [Child A].”
The social worker told the court that Child B came into care straight after he was born. He was placed in his current foster placement, had remained in the same placement since and the foster carers wanted to adopt him. The social worker said that Child B was aware of the fact that his foster carers wished to adopt him and he wanted to be adopted.
Social worker: “He is frustrated with the amount of time it has taken.”
The social worker told the court that the parents were in agreement with the adoption but the formal process of signing papers had not happened. The parents had had no involvement in the care of Child B since he was born. The social worker said that Child B saw his father last year and before that he last saw him in 2013. She said that for Child B his life was with his foster carers. “He would like to see his brother but for him his foster family is his family and he would like to be adopted.”
The social worker said she had explained the care proceedings and the adoption process to the parents.
Social worker: “The mother consented and said she wants to do anything she can to make the adoption possible as she knows it is what he wants and is in his best interests.”
The court was told that Child B was progressing well in his foster placement, that he had some health issues and had an appointment for an issue with his eye. The social worker said that Child B would like to see his brother and she had no objection to them seeing each other but that the delay has been because of Child A requiring special care.
The social worker said that Child A was in voluntary care since his birth to July of this year, the parents’ engagement had been minimal and they were difficult to contact but that when they engaged, they engaged appropriately. The court was told that the parents had no mobile phones, they did not respond to letters or legal correspondence, but the social worker told the court she was satisfied that the parents were aware of the proceedings.
The social worker said that it was her professional opinion that a care order for Child B until he reached the age of 18 was proportionate and necessary.
The solicitor for the GAL indicated that the GAL supported the interim care order for Child A and the full care order for Child B.
The solicitor for the GAL said that Child B wanted the adoption concluded at the earliest opportunity and the GAL recommended that this be expedited as soon as possible. In response to a question as to how long the adoption process would take if a full care order was granted, the social worker said it was hard to give an estimate as it would be a matter for the adoption team. The social worker said that with a care order in place the process could be a year but if there was consent to the adoption “it could be quicker”.
The solicitor for the GAL told the social worker that the GAL’s final recommendation was that he would remain involved until the adoption went through for the purpose of allowing him to progress it on behalf of Child B. She said that this might assist the parents in signing documents and getting legal advice. The social worker said that an independent solicitor was to attend the parents’ house but that she did not have an update.
Judge: “Did they express any reason why they would object to an adoption order?”
Social worker: “They don’t object at all, there is clear consent and they just need to sign papers.”
The GAL told the court that Child A was a very engaging child and a nice teenager but he had grown up with a lot of difficulties. The GAL had spoken to him a lot about his childhood and said it was normal for the child to steal and take from shops what he wanted. The GAL said that Child A was well known for petty thefts such as stealing sandwiches and also for participating in robberies. The GAL said that Child A knew that the behaviour was wrong but that it was “normal for him”. Child A was not involved with any daily routine and had high anxiety about returning to education.
GAL: “ He is very capable but refusing to attend.”
The GAL described to the court Child A’s daily routine. He would wake up at 4.30 am and leave the unit at 5.30 am. The GAL said he had spoken to Child A about this in September and his response was that he had trouble sleeping and his “mind races at night”. The GAL said that he referred to his phone ringing and he wondered if Child A was drug dealing. The GAL told the Court that when he spoke to Child A in October he said that he had been stealing bikes and selling them and also selling crack cocaine.
GAL: “ He is very naïve about it. He told me his friend’s name and that he put drugs in his hoodie and went off to sell. He did not understand the seriousness of it but he knew it was wrong. He doesn’t understand the danger he puts himself in.”
The GAL said in these circumstances it was positive that an application was being made for a special care order in the High Court on that same day.
The court was told that Child A was behind academically but that he had no learning difficulties and this was due to disengagement. The GAL said that he had read the school report from his primary school which said he was “bright”. The GAL said that the disengagement with education was the lifestyle he grew up with and was the norm for him.
GAL: “He is nervous of the possibility of special care but I think he is recognising that it might help him.”
Judge: “The fear of the unknown.”
GAL: “He is at a crossroads where he still has good morals…Hopefully a special care order will be granted today… He doesn’t want to go to special care but I explained to him it is in his best interests and once he gets into routine he might like it.”
The GAL said that Child A had a lot of questions about “is he locked up” if a special care order is granted. The GAL said that he explained to him that it is “not like a prison” but that it is “just a place that involves routine”.
In respect of Child B the GAL said that he had been recently appointed to him in August and he had met him twice. The GAL told the court that they boy was into soccer and sports and lived with a foster sibling who is younger.
GAL: “He says he loves it there and wants to stay for the rest of his life.”
The GAL said that he spoke to the school principal who said that Child B was very capable and excelling at school. His placement was home to him, he called his foster carers “mum and dad” and he looked for hugs and emotional warmth. The GAL said that his view was that he wanted to be adopted and the foster carers had been approved as appropriate adoptive parents. The GAL said that the parents had verbally consented to the adoption but that “their life is chaotic and they have not been able to prioritise it”. The GAL told the court that the parents had said that they would sign the papers but had not got around to it.
GAL: “My recommendation to the social worker was to fund an independent solicitor to go out to them to get the papers signed.”
The judge said that Child B wrote a letter to the court and described it as “heart-breaking”.
Judge: “It has been in process for three years… any means to get it completed needs to be done at this point.”
The judge asked the GAL if there was anything that Child B needed at that time. The GAL said that the foster carers did everything but that he had an issue with his eye that may need surgery. The GAL said that it would be great if the social work department could see if that could be prioritised but other than that issue all his needs were being met.
The judge said that she was satisfied that the threshold was met for making the orders sought by the CFA, extended the interim care order for Child A and made a full care order under section 18 until Child B reached the age of 18.
In respect of the GAL remaining appointed to Child B until the adoption process had completed, the CFA solicitor asked that the GAL appointment “not be indefinite, but maybe for six months” and the situation should be reviewed at that stage. The judge agreed to that suggestion and directed the GAL to remain in place for Child B for six months and the case to be reviewed in four months. The judge said that she added a note to the file in respect of the adoption that the “CFA is to arrange for a solicitor to visit parents in respect of the declaration of adoption”.