Emergency Care Order for baby, but HSE told to avoid Interim Care Order – 2014vol1#13

An Emergency Care Order was granted for a six-month old baby in a rural town, but the judge said he expected the child to be restored to his mother when the eight-day order expired.

The social worker told the court that the baby was already the subject of a Supervision Order. There were ongoing concerns about his father’s heroin addiction. The father had been taking heroin since he was 15 and was currently on methadone, but he recently tested positive for methadone, opiates and morphine. He was not living with the mother, but the couple had an older child, now 11, who was living with his paternal grandmother.

There were concerns about the mother using drugs during pregnancy, but she was testing clear. However, the week of the hearing she had tested positive for cannabis, following her hospitalisation. This had arisen shortly after she moved into a new house. She and the baby had been found unconscious in the house and the fire brigade and ambulance were called. They were given oxygen and revived. In hospital she was tested for suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. While in hospital she tested positive for cannabis and a further test the day of the hearing was also positive for cannabis.

The mother’s solicitor asked her why the CFA was seeking an Emergency Care Order. “A slip with cannabis is not the end of the world.”

“We had previous concerns about the older child,” the social worker replied. The judge said the older child was not relevant to this case.

Judge: “She proved positive for cannabis and you are very worried that she is not able to look after the child at this time?”

Social worker: “Yes, Judge.”

The social worker agreed with the solicitor that all the drug tests on the mother since the previous September, before the baby was born, had been clear. The solicitor said the mother would give evidence that she never smoked cannabis, but she was around people who did. “Given there is a Supervision Order in place could she not take daily drug tests? Would that not satisfy your concerns?”

The mother told the court that two people in the apartment below her smoked cannabis, but she never did. “Are you seriously asking us to believe that you tested positive because of the people under you?” “Yes, Judge, because I haven’t smoked it,” the mother replied.

Asked why she and the baby were unconscious, she said fumes were coming out of a vent in her apartment. Later the landlord checked the chimney and said it was blocked.

“This is a difficult case,” the judge said. “I find it difficult to believe how you say cannabis was ingested into your system. I would hope you would stabilise yourself and get negative tests and be drug-free. I would want to be sure your residence was safe and you are not vulnerable to anti-social elements. If I do grant an Emergency Care Order it is not a slippery slope to an Interim Care Order. I would want to see you keep your child.”

Mother: “Thank you, Judge.”

The judge asked the father to give evidence, and he told the court he would like to see the baby stay with his mother. “She’s been doing so well. She has no history of drugs. She’s never been a drug addict and never took drugs.”

He said he phoned her frequently and the previous Monday could not get a reply. He was worried and went to the house, where he saw through the window she was asleep. He gained entry and found them both asleep. He smelled fumes. He phoned his brother who came and they carried the mother and baby out of the house and phoned the fire brigade and ambulance, which came and delivered oxygen to both.

Judge: “I have to compliment you. Your actions saved two lives.”

Asked how long he had known the mother, the father said for 13 years. “We are in a relationship, but I’m not living with her. I blame myself, because of my long heroin addiction. I’ve had a few slips and I’m doing great now. I’m on a waiting list for counselling. People tar [the mother] with the same brush as me and it’s not fair. She never did drugs.”

Asked if he could explain the mother’s positive result for cannabis, he said the mother shared a front door with other residents who smoked cannabis, and you could smell cannabis when you opened the front door.

The judge said he would grant the Emergency Care Order on the basis that the mother give samples and that she was drug-free and would have a Supervision Order after that.

“I want the mother to have hope. Judges are human too and it can be very gut-wrenching to see a mother walking out of this court crying her eyes out because her child has been taken from her. I won’t extend the Emergency Care Order if she is clean. I hope and pray the child will be returned to its mother. I don’t want an application for an Interim Care Order.”

When the case came back to court a week later the mother’s system was not clear of cannabis, and an Interim Care Order was granted for two weeks. When the case came back then her tests were clear of the drug, the order was vacated and the baby was returned.