Dublin District Court refused Care Order and extended interim care order to allow time to identify child’s father, adoption sought – 2023vol2#21

The Dublin District Court judge refused the Child and Family Agency’s (CFA’s) application for a full care order for a young girl of school-going age, who had been in care almost all of her life, as information about the possible identity of her father had come to the attention of the social work team the previous day. Her mother had left the country and had a new family, and wanted no contact with the girl.

While the judge acknowledged that a full care order was most likely in the best interests of the child, she said that such an order was premature in light of the new information received. She granted a 28-day extension of the interim care order to allow time for the social workers to try to ascertain if the man identified was in fact the young girl’s father.

The mother of the young girl was originally from another European country. She had married and had another child and been living abroad with her new family for the previous 18 months. The solicitor for the CFA told the court that the mother did not want anything more to do with the young girl left behind in Ireland.

The young girl has been with her current foster mother since she was six months old. Her foster mother had applied to adopt the girl and had been allocated a social worker for the adoption process the previous week. It was in the context of the adoption process that the name of a possible father for the young girl had come to light. The mother had named three men as possible fathers of the girl. One of the men named had cared for the young girl, along with his mother, when she was a very small baby for about six weeks. However, he had had to give the child up when he found out that he was not in fact her father.

The mother had provided the adoption social worker with a Facebook picture of one of the other two men but no other identifying information. The mother told the adoption social worker that she had met this man using a dating app for one date only. She had informed him of the pregnancy, but he had told her that he did not want anything to do with it.

The adoption social worker had doggedly followed up on this information and had managed to identify the man. However, he had not been contacted yet and a DNA test would be required to confirm whether or not he was in fact the child’s father.

The CFA’s allocated social worker told the court that she had been informed of the putative identity of the child’s father the day prior to the court hearing. This man had had no involvement at all with the child to date. The information had placed the adoption process on hold for the time being.

The CFA’s solicitor believed that a full section 18 care order was in the best interests of the child to give her stability and because, even if this man was found to be the child’s father, he was not her legal guardian.

However, the judge said that it would be a bit premature to proceed with the full care order hearing at this time. She asked whether the CFA had a responsibility to chase down the putative father. The CFA’s solicitor said that the CFA did not have any such legal responsibility. The child initially was provided with CFA care under section 5, which relates to child who are homeless. The child was not taken into care under a voluntary agreement as the mother had not signed such an agreement. Instead, the child was taken into care by way of a judicial interim care order.

The CFA’s solicitor asked the judge to consider granting a short section 18 care order that would be subject to review within a certain period of time to provide some certainty to the child and her foster mother. However, the judge was not willing to make such an order on the basis that this would be a full care order “by the back door”. The judge said that it was too early to worry about certainty at this point in time and that she would look at extending the current interim care order for a further 28 days to allow the social workers time to approach the putative father.

The judge then asked to hear the evidence of the child’s allocated social worker.

The allocated social worker told the court that the child was doing very well in her current foster care placement. She was happy, content, a lovely outgoing and confident young girl. She was in a placement with her younger foster brother with whom she had a good relationship. The relationship with her foster mother was excellent.

The social worker said that the young girl had shown some anxiety in the last few months that she had linked to the leaving of her mother, whom she had not seen for approximately 18 months. The girl was in primary school and her school reports were positive.

The social worker told the court that the girl’s mother had cut all contact with her now. However, she had a half-brother who lived with his father in Ireland. The young girl was in regular contact with her half-brother. The social worker said that she was satisfied that the young girl’s needs were being fully met in her current foster placement.

The social worker confirmed that she now had a telephone number and email address for the putative father. She accepted that a third name had also been provided to them and she agreed to check whether there was any information on files that would allow them follow up with this person. However, she said it was unlikely that she would be able to do this within a 28-day time frame.

She confirmed that the girl’s mother has been very clear that she did not wish any further communication with any officials or professionals and that the CFA was not to contact her again. The social worker said that she believed that the mother may have been acting under some pressure from her husband in this regard.

She said that the CFA were supportive of the guardian ad litem’s (GAL’s) recommendation that the foster carer would receive legal aid to assist her to apply for enhanced foster carer rights.

The GAL told the court that it would be helpful to have clarity as to whether the putative father might now be open to the possibility of access with the child. She said that this child had a definite sense of abandonment that would give rise to questions as she grew older. She said that the child was very clear about her wishes. The foster care placement was very impressive. The child was bright, bubbly and enjoyed her foster sibling. She also enjoyed going on holidays with her foster family in Ireland and abroad.

The foster mother was very proactive. She had maintained a relationship with the child’s mother originally but the mother had since stopped communicating. One issue that had arisen was around the requirement for the young girl to travel using a travel document. This document was due to expire next year and it could not be renewed without the mother’s consent. As a result, there was an urgency to sorting out the young girl’s care status.

The judge accepted that there was work to be done to identify/confirm the father but she agreed also that there was a need to move things along as quickly as possible as the child had been very much abandoned.

Having considered the evidence, the judge granted an extension to the interim care order for a further 28 days to allow further follow up in respect of the child’s putative father and adjourned the section 18 full care order hearing to that date.