Full care order for toddler whose parents homeless and suffered addiction – 2021vol1#33

A judge in a provincial city granted a full care order for a toddler until the age of 18 years where the mother and father had a history of addiction, substance abuse, were homeless and had not engaged with social services. Evidence was heard from a social worker on behalf of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and the guardian ad litem (GAL). The mother and father were not in court and were not represented.

The solicitor for the CFA told the court the mother and father were homeless and sleeping rough. He said he had complied with all the directions the court had given to inform them of the hearing. He said he had tried to inform the mother and father of the hearing by text and by phone. He had left messages and sent letters to the maternal grandmother’s house and the paternal grandfather’s house.

He said after the initial interim care order the mother and father had engaged with support services and with the social worker. However, since that initial period, there had been no engagement. He said as the parents had engaged in the past there was hope and potential they may engage again in the future, but he did not believe they would and for that reason the CFA were seeking a full care order for the toddler until 18 with a review in approximately 18 months.

The social worker told the court that she had been engaged with the toddler since the summer of 2020. She had known the mother previously. The mother had two older children who were in the care of their grandmother by a private arrangement. She said the mother had a significant history of substance abuse which included addiction to heroin, crack, cocaine and benzodiazepines and she had also been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The mother had attended a detoxification clinic when she was pregnant with the toddler, but it had been unsuccessful, and she had continued to take drugs while pregnant. The social worker told the court the mother had moved in with her mother [the toddler’s grandmother] after she had given birth but had quickly moved out and had taken the baby with her. She said the Gardai had been alerted and subsequently the child was taken into the care of the CFA.

She said she had spoken with the mother two or three times since the toddler had been taken into care. She had arranged to meet the mother but the mother did not attend. She has had no contact since then despite many attempts. She said that in the last conversation she had with the mother, the mother had recognised her addiction issues and that it would take her [the mother] two or three years to be in a position where she might be able to care for her child. The social worker said she had tried to obtain an updated report from the clinic the mother and father attended but they would not give their consent for the release of any report.

She said that the toddler had been placed with his maternal grandmother, who also cared for his two older siblings. He had good bonds with his immediate family and his extended family who lived locally. He had thrived in his placement and reached all his milestones. She said she had no concerns for him, there had been no medical concerns, he had attended all appointments, had been fully vaccinated and the public health nurse had no concerns. He had a place at a local creche, this had been restricted because of Covid, but he would return when the restrictions are lifted. The placement had met all the toddler’s needs.

She said there had been no formal access arrangement or structure. To the best of the social worker’s knowledge there had been some informal access, which had been sporadic. The grandmother had facilitated and supervised access but had not allowed the mother or father access to the toddler if they had been under the influence of any substance.

She said: “She [the grandmother] said if it were not for the drugs, she [the mother] would be a great mom, addiction just takes over your whole life.” She said she would have preferred access to be more formalised but the mother and father had not engaged, which made an access plan, order or contact more difficult.

She said the fostering assessment of the grandmother had not been completed because of Covid and she could not give a date when it would be completed but hoped it would be soon.

She said she believed addiction and chronic substance abuse remained a live issue and together with homelessness had meant the father and mother had not been able to care for the child. She said he would be at risk of neglect, would not be appropriately supervised, the mother and father would not be able to respond to the his physical, emotional or developmental needs, and all these combined had been the reasons she sought a care order until the toddler was 18. She said she had considered all options including a shorter order but had felt a review would be better than short order because of the difficulties the mother and father had.

The GAL told the court she had been involved with the toddler for a year and had assessed him at his grandmother’s house. He had been very well looked after and she was satisfied the placement met all his needs.  She said the grandmother had been truly dedicated to all of the children. She said the community where the grandmother lived was old-fashioned, very tightknit and had that community feel, where doors were left open and children played out on the road and would freely go in and out of different houses.

She said it was the sort of community with many intergenerational households and many children were in the care of the grandparents or other family members and there was no stigma to this. She said she believed the mother and father thought it normal for children to be with their grandmother.

The judge said: “Sometimes parents do not engage because when a child is placed with family they do not see their child as being in care and they do not need to have immediate concerns for the child, they know the child is safe.”

She said she had tried to engage with the mother, but it was unsuccessful. She had no direct contact with the father, she had tried to visit him whilst he was in prison but when she arrived at the prison he had been released on bail.

She said her only concern had been that the formal fostering assessment had not been completed and recommended this be completed as soon as possible.

The judge said he had heard the evidence and would make a full care order until the toddler was 18, with a review in 18 months. He hoped the parents would address their issues and directed the CFA to provide whatever assistance they could. The judge gave permission for the CFA or the GAL to re-enter the case if the fostering assessment had not been completed within nine months.