Emergency care orders when young child left at home alone – 2020vol2#27

The District Court in a regional city granted an emergency care order for two young children where the mother suffered from addiction issues and had left the younger child at home alone. An Garda Síochána were alerted to the situation by members of the public, who found the young child crying at the window.

A garda gave evidence of the circumstances surrounding the invoking of section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991. He said that when they arrived at the house there were 20 people gathered outside. The garda tried to gain entry, but the doors were locked. He described how he took the child out of the house through a window and brought her to the Garda Station where he gave her a MacDonald’s meal and played cartoons on the television, until the social work out-of-hours service arrived. The garda told the judge that he could not locate the mother and she was arrested several hours later for intoxication in a public place.

The social worker informed the court that the garda contacted the out-of-hours service and an emergency placement was provided. The child’s older sibling had been staying with his grandparents. The social worker said that she met with the mother the following day and informed her that the child had been placed with an emergency foster carer. The mother told the social worker that she had fallen asleep at home and believed her brother was taking care of the child when she left the house.

The social worker said that they were seeking an emergency care order in respect of both children. She said that the family were known to the social work department and a family support plan was in place. The social worker explained that while the mother keeps a good home, which is clean and tidy, she has addiction issues and the house is a party house.

The father had not been identified and the social worker said that she would make efforts to identify and notify the father of the application. The social worker said that the mother’s engagement with addiction services had been sporadic. However, she said that when she engaged, she engaged very well. The social worker explained that in the months leading up to this incident, the services were limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The social worker told the judge that the mother accepted she has a problem with alcohol and needed residential treatment. The social worker said that when social workers arrived at the house a week previously an unknown male was present, who appeared to be under the influence of substances. The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) asked how quickly the mother could get the supports she needed and the social worker said that she could not answer the question in light of the restrictions to services.

The social worker informed the court that if the care order was granted the children would be in separate foster placements. She said the younger child would remain in her current emergency placement and the older child would go to general foster care. The social worker said that they had looked into a family placement, but the grandparents were not in a position to care for the children due to health difficulties. The social worker described how the young child had settled in well in the placement and said that the child was not frightened or withdrawn.

The social worker said that the CFA would be very worried if the children remained at home, given that the mother had accepted that she needed supports to deal with her addiction issues.

The solicitor for the mother briefly cross examined the social worker.

Solicitor: “The mother is concerned that the children would be separated.”

Social worker: “Ideally we would prefer a placement together, but given the circumstances surrounding the application they are in a separate placement and we will review that.”

Solicitor: “Are the placements stable enough for the children to remain there for the duration of the mother’s residential treatment?”

Social worker: “I don’t know, but if there was a change, we would be looking at a placement together.”

Solicitor: “And what about access?”

Social worker: “We will be looking into both sibling access and access with the mother.”

The social worker acknowledged that the mother was cooperating and had consented to the order.

The judge asked the mother to ensure the children were not distressed any more than they needed to be when they were being removed into foster care. This was particularly in relation to the older child who was with his grandparents.

The judge acknowledged the consent of the mother and said that the threshold had been met. She made an Emergency Care Order under section 13 of the Child Care Act 1991 and said that she would appoint a guardian ad litem the following week.