A full care order was granted in respect of a young teenage boy until he was 18 with the consent of his mother. The boy’s father was deceased. The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court that the Agency was of the opinion the boy’s welfare had previously been neglected and that it was very likely this would occur again.
She said that there had been a substantial number of previous social worker reports submitted to the court in respect of applications for the boy’s interim care order which substantiated the Agency’s view of prior neglect. However, the Agency was satisfied that the mother’s consent was specifically given to the granting of a care order under section 18(1)(c) of the Child Care Act 1991, in circumstances where the child’s health, development or welfare was likely to be avoidably impaired or neglected.
The boy’s allocated social worker gave the court a summary of the risk factors that had impacted on the respondent mother’s ability to care for her son. These included the respondent mother’s drug use and her ability to put her son’s needs before her own. The social worker said that the Agency had also been concerned about the respondent mother’s home environment and her safety network.
The social worker told the court that the boy was in a stable placement with his maternal grandparents since he had first been placed care under the interim care order. He had made it clear to the social worker that he wanted to stay in this placement. The social worker said that she was satisfied that the placement with his grandparents met the boy’s needs.
The social worker told the court that the boy had been meeting his mother on a monthly basis. She said that there had been some concern regarding the access arrangements and his mother had struggled to attend the access visits on a regular basis. However, the last access visit had gone well. She said that initially the boy had been quite concerned about his mother’s welfare when she did not attend visits. However, over time, he had become more concerned for the inconvenience experienced by the social workers. She said that the boy had understood that his mother had not been able to manage the access.
The social worker told the court that the possibility for reunification remained but the Agency was concerned the mother had not been able to consistently demonstrate that she was drug free. She said that there was agreement between the Agency and the mother regarding a pathway towards possible reunification.
In particular, it was planned to have a review of the care order after 18 months and in advance of that review the mother needed to provide the Agency with six months of samples that were drug free. There had been a long running saga between the Agency and the boy’s mother in respect of her undergoing a parental capacity assessment. However, the social worker said that before this could even be considered, the mother needed to provide the Agency with three months of drug free urine samples.
In respect of the access attendance, the social worker noted that this had been difficult over the course of the past two years and if the mother could not attend she needed to inform the social worker in advance so as to avoid disappointing her son.
The social worker told the court that the mother had denied that her difficulties were due to drug use but were as a result of her suffering from persistent migraines. However, the social worker said that she needed to provide the Agency with medical evidence to support this assertion.
The social worker also noted some concerns about the mother’s social network, but said that these concerns could be dealt with at a later stage.
The social worker confirmed to the judge that the above issues were an evidential threshold that the mother had to meet before any reunification process could be considered and that the CFA recommendation was that the young boy remain in care until he reached 18 years of age.
The barrister representing the mother informed the court that there were divergent views as to why the boy’s mother had not been able to engage with the Agency. The Agency’s view was that the issue was drug use but that the mother’s view was that she suffered from migraines. She asked the Agency to clarify, if it turned out that migraine was the substantive issue, that the plan set out above would be reviewed.
The solicitor for Agency confirmed that if the mother provided them with medical evidence of migraine, it would take this on board and would relook at the plan to include migraine as an active problem. However, she reiterated that the mother had not been able to provide the Agency with any such evidence up until that point. She said that if such evidence did not emerge, then the plan would be as described, that the mother would engage in a parental capacity assessment once she provided them with clear evidence that she was drug free for three months, and that access plans would be reviewed with a view to increasing the access arrangements, if and when the mother provided them with evidence of being drug free for six months.
The solicitor for the Agency agreed with the mother’s barrister that significant progress could be made by the mother and that if this occurred, there would be a willingness on the part of the Agency to engage constructively with the mother.
The boy’s allocated social worker emphasised that this was a family placement and that the family were very willing to give the boy’s mother the benefit of the doubt and to work with her. She said that the door was not closing even with the granting of the care order up until 18 years.
She also confirmed that the Agency would notify the Legal Aid Board of any positive report in respect of the mother. She also said that the care order was not the key piece of the puzzle and that if the young boy trusted that his mother was stable then the care order would be much less relevant to their engagement. She added that by the time of the care order review in 2024, the young boy himself would be older and would be able to voice his own opinions.
The court then heard from the guardian ad litem (GAL) whose report was handed into court. The GAL told the court that he had been assigned to the young boy for over two years. He said that the boy was very settled in his placement. He said that when he had first met the young boy he had been keen to go home eventually, but as time had gone by and he had been disappointed by his mother’s failure to make some access visits, he had become quite ambivalent about the access arrangements. However he said that there was contact between the boy and his mother.
He told the court that the young boy was a very bright lad, smart intellectually but also very mature for his age. He had a good sense of humour. The GAL told the court that all of the boy’s needs were being met in his placement and he felt that the granting of the full care order was the sensible way forward and in the boy’s best interest.
In making her orders, the judge addressed the boy’s mother. She acknowledged that it had been a very difficult process for the mother to consent to the granting of the care order for her son. She told the mother that this was the start of another journey, one which had potential for continued engagement with her son. She said that the mother was very fortunate to have this opportunity.
The judge said that she was satisfied that the threshold had been met to grant a full care order in respect of the young boy until he reached 18 years of age. She acknowledged the consent of the mother and made the order under s18(1)(c) of the Child Care Act 1991. She directed that a review of the care order be conducted in 18 months’ time and approved the planned trajectory outlined by the CFA to establishing reunification. The judge also directed that the GAL be discharged the following week and that he be reappointed six weeks in advance of the care order review.