Dublin District Court grants full care order to 18 years of age for very young baby abandoned by mother – 2023vol2#26

A Dublin District Court judge granted a full care order in respect of a young baby girl who he said had been essentially abandoned by her mother despite the best efforts of the social work team to keep the mother in the baby’s life. The baby’s mother had been served with the current proceedings but was not present in court. The baby had an emerging disability diagnosis.

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) made the full care order application to the court in respect of the infant. The CFA’s solicitor told the court that an interim care order had first been granted just over ten months previously and the child’s mother had not really engaged with the CFA during that time. She said that the child’s guardian ad litem (GAL) supported the CFA’s application for a full care order.

The child’s allocated social worker told the court that the CFA had received a referral in respect of the baby girl approximately 10 months earlier. The baby had been attending a Dublin maternity hospital when, all of a sudden, there had been no sign of the baby’s mother. The mother had told staff at the hospital that she had Covid. Subsequently, the baby’s mother had emailed the social work unit to tell them that she was in a psychiatric unit and that she was not able to care for the baby and that she had no supports.

The social worker said that this pattern had continued and the CFA had no choice but to take the baby into care when she was discharged from hospital late last year. The social work team was aware that an older sibling of the baby was in a foster placement outside of Dublin and as a result, they had sought a foster placement in the same general vicinity. Unfortunately, the first foster placement did not work out. The foster parents already had a child with special needs and they had underestimated the demands of minding both children. As a result, it had been necessary to find a second foster placement. The baby had remained in that placement since. The social worker said that the baby’s sibling had been adopted by its foster carers.

The social worker said that many attempts had been made to contact the baby’s mother. The mother had wanted to be contacted by email only. There had been some sporadic email correspondence in which the baby’s mother had agreed to meet the social worker. However, the meeting had not proceeded and could not be rearranged. The social worker had also tried to contact the mother using WhatsApp but the mother had not responded.

She said that there was no indication as to who might be the baby’s father. The team knew the man who was the father of the older sibling and he had had a few visits with that child. However, they did not know if he was the father of this baby.

The social worker said that the baby’s current foster placement was expected to be a long-term one. The foster carers were very experienced. They had fostered and subsequently adopted a child previously and they were very committed to this baby girl and already adored her. The social worker had no hesitation in recommending them as a long-term foster placement. The baby was doing very well. There were five other foster siblings in the home; all were doing very well in the placement and they were getting on very well with their new foster sibling.

The social worker said that the baby’s health was generally good. Her weight was fine and an identified ophthalmological issue appeared to be improving. She had had the usual head colds. She was still attending a neonatal consultant in the maternity hospital. The consultant had indicated that the baby appeared to be developing a disability as a result of her birth. She said that the baby’s prognosis was high risk but that the extent of the disability was not yet known. She was getting physiotherapy every day and may require braces in future. It was not possible to give a long-term prognosis at this time but everything that should be done was being done.

She said that she had referred the baby to children’s disability services and had just completed the forms in respect of this referral. She said that if the court decided not to grant the full care order and the baby remained under an interim care order, she would require a parental signature on these forms. However, this could be dispensed with if the court decided to grant the full care order.

She confirmed to the judge that the CFA was seeking a full care order to 18 years of age.

The solicitor for the GAL noted that the baby’s allocated social worker was in fact a principal social worker and in that context he asked the judge to make an ancillary direction that the matter would be re-entered in the event that the baby had no allocated social worker for more than four weeks.

The allocated social worker clarified that although she was a principal level social worker, it was a different role to that of an operational principal social worker. She said that she had been allocated to this baby since the start and that she did not expect any change in those circumstances. She said that it was in the baby’s interest that she remain as her allocated social worker and she had already indicated that she was happy to continue in that capacity.

In response to the judge’s questions, the social worker said that she had never met the baby’s mother and the mother had had no contact with her baby. She confirmed that the possibility of the baby being adopted by her foster parents was very much on the table and that the CFA would recommend the baby’s adoption, the longer she remained in care. The social worker said that she did not believe the baby’s mother was able to have in-person contact with her baby. Essentially all contact to date had been by email. She hoped this would change eventually for the baby’s sake.

She said that the foster carers would ensure that the baby had contact with her older sibling. They were already planning a visit in the coming months. Although that older child had been adopted, the social worker team wanted to encourage contact between the siblings.

The GAL told the court that she had been appointed as GAL in advance of the CFA’s initial interim care order application. She had recently been reappointed in advance of this full care order application.

She said that she had made efforts to contact the baby’s mother via email and WhatsApp. She had had no responses to any of her emails at all and while she could see that her WhatsApp message had been delivered to the mother’s phone, she had received no response to this message either.

Although she had had no direct contact with the mother, she was aware that she had been unwell and struggling.

She said that she had no knowledge about the child’s paternity. The baby had been with her current foster carers since she was about two weeks old. They were excellent carers and very cognisant that the baby had a sibling with another family. They wanted only what was best for the baby up to and including adopting her. The foster carers had been through this process with one of their other foster children and had maintained contact with that child’s original family also.

“The baby is absolutely spoiled in the foster carer’s house; everyone in the family is completely smitten with her,” she said. The foster carers had already received long term approval as a placement for the baby and were in a position to keep caring for her.

The GAL told the court that she had also spoken with the rest of the family in the household – one of the other foster children, aged 10, was particularly excited – but she said that all of the family were on board.

She said that the baby had been born prematurely at just 28 weeks gestation. Although she was doing extremely well, the GAL said that the baby had additional medical needs and had had to attend various hospital and medical consultations and so on. She said that the foster carers were well aware of this. She said that the baby was currently being seen by an ophthalmologist, but it was hoped that the issue would resolve soon and that she would be discharged.

She also had had a brain MRI scan which had identified a disability. She said that the foster carers had noticed some symptoms of stiffness. However, the baby continued to make developmental progress, clapping etc. The carers were very dedicated to ensuring that the baby ultimately reached her full potential as she grew. She said that the baby had been referred to disability services for further investigation and to ensure that any additional long-term needs would be met.

The GAL said that she agreed that a full care order until 18 years of age was proportionate in the circumstances. No progress whatsoever had been made with the baby’s mother who was in fact struggling herself. She hoped that there might be a time that the baby’s mother would be in a position to come to the table. However, she said that the baby was currently in a very good position with a family who wanted to care for her long-term.

She acknowledged that as she became older, the child would have questions about her mother and why she had been abandoned, but the GAL was fully supportive of the long-term care order being granted at this juncture. She said that the full care order to 18 years of age did not rule out coming back to court in the event that circumstances changed. The foster carers were fully supportive of engaging with the baby’s birth mother. The GAL said that the baby required consistency of care. There was no real option, in her opinion, to the granting of the full care order.

The GAL recommended, in light of the baby’s emerging diagnosis, that the matter would be reviewed in six months’ time, particularly as the baby had not yet had a specialist appointment about her potential future needs.

She also said that the baby would need a passport in the coming months as the foster family hoped to go abroad on holidays next year.

Having considered the reports and oral evidence presented to him, the judge granted the full care order as sought by the CFA in respect of the baby until she turned 18 years of age.

He said that this was a very sad case in which the mother had simply abandoned her child despite the best efforts of the social work team to keep her in the child’s life. She was fortunate, however, that despite an initial foster placement that did not work out, she had now found a safe harbour in her current foster placement. She was obviously the princess of the family and she was also very fortunate to have the current allocated social worker for the long term.

He was satisfied that the CFA had all of the required proofs for the full care order and that they had no knowledge of the baby’s paternity. He was satisfied that the order was appropriate and proportionate.

He directed that the matter be reviewed in six months’ time to see what services may need to be provided to the baby at that time and that the GAL should remain appointed until after this review at least.

He also agreed with the GAL’s application that the matter be re-entered in the event that the baby had no allocated social worker for more than four weeks and made a direction to that effect. However, he placed a stay on this element of the order in light of the fact that the baby’s allocated social worker, while formally a principal social worker, had no management function.

He included in his order that sibling access was to be encouraged but he acknowledged that the respective foster families had already put arrangements in place in that regard.