Father’s overnight access opposed by Child and Family Agency – 2015vol2#19

A Care Order was granted for one month where the mother of the child was out of the jurisdiction and the parties had not been able to study psychological reports recently received or to go through them with the mother. The father sought overnight access with the children, but this was opposed by the Child and Family Agency on the basis that they appeared anxious the last time they had overnight access. The judge said he would consider granting overnight access at the next hearing.

The social worker said that the children had mobile phones with them on the occasion that they spent the night with their father in case they “needed” to ring their foster parents from the father’s house. After the access, the social worker said that the children did not “verbalise” any difficulties. The social worker said that the children had been told about “a safety plan” when going to the father’s house overnight and had the mobile phones in case they needed to contact their foster parents.

The judge asked the social worker about her use of the word “verbalise” and asked her whether the children had said they had any concerns about the overnight access with their father. The social worker replied that there were none.

The GAL said that she was surprised that the father had made an application for overnight access with the children but that the children had always expressed their wish for overnight access with their parents. The GAL said that the father had been assessed by Men Ending Domestic Abuse (MEND) which showed him to be high risk and that an independent psychological assessment by a psychologist had also shown concerns.

The judge asked the GAL whether she thought the children would be at risk (if they had overnight access with their father). The GAL replied: “He has been identified by MEND as high risk, perhaps he didn’t understand some of the questions, perhaps there is a cognitive issue, access needs to be taken in that context.”

The father’s solicitor said that the GAL in her report had “mentioned that a number of the children had asked for overnight access and one would assume that if it wasn’t a pleasant experience they wouldn’t be asking for more access?” The GAL replied that she would “to a degree agree with that. I take the social worker’s point that these children don’t verbalise , their anxiety comes out in other ways.”

The judge told the GAL that she had not given any evidence about her concerns about risks to the children.

The father gave evidence that he had attended a MEND course although he felt that he did not need to. He also said that he had “found God” and that this had changed him. In relation to the overnight access he had with the children, he said that the night they stayed with him “they were very happy and there were no problems” and when they were leaving in the morning they were asking for another night with him.

The CFA solicitor asked the father about his violence and he admitted that there had been violence against the mother and he accepted that witnessing such violence would impact upon the children. When asked by the solicitor for the CFA if the father felt that he was a different man since he found God, the father replied that he was.

The judge said: “The father has sorted his domestic violence problem in his own mind. It is also clear that I accept that the younger children have a good relationship with their father, much more so than their mother.” The judge said that he believed that the difficulty the CFA had with access was the father’s refusal to deal with the past.

In relation to the evidence of the CFA about the children’s overnight access with their father the judge said: “There is no rational or logical objection to be based on it … at its height the CFA can say the children were nervous. I don’t accept the evidence of the social worker at all in respect of the objection to access on that basis.”

The judge said that there was a rational and logical objection to access on the part of the GAL and that there was “an on-going difficulty” in that the father did not appear to be taking on board advice because he did not accept that he had a problem. The judge said that he had sympathy for him in that “this matter has gone on and on”.

The judge said that the one overnight access “appeared to have gone very well and I don’t know why the CFA can’t admit that and be straight about it. I haven’t heard any reason why I shouldn’t make an order that father should have (overnight) access”.

The judge said that there had been reference to a psychologist’s report that he had not seen and for that reason he was not making an order for overnight access at that time but that it would be likely that he would make an order for overnight access in the near future. The judge said that he was thankful to the GAL for telling him that the children were always positive when talking about access with the father.

He made a Care Order for a month so that the reports could be gone through.