See follow up Vol 1 of 2021: Overnight visits to mother directed following care order review
The District Court granted a full care order for a teenage boy until the age of 18 where the parents had a long history of domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. Both parents consented to the application.
The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said that the application was being made pursuant to section 18(1)(C) of the Child Care Act 1991. She said it had come to the CFA’s attention that the boy wanted the opportunity to meet with the judge before the application proceeded. She said that although the application was being made at the “11th hour,” the CFA was not objecting to the meeting and was aware the boy was unhappy with certain allegations being made by his father.
The father’s solicitor told the court that the father was consenting to the full care order in circumstances where he had “serious concerns” that his son was engaging in criminal activity. She said that there was an abundance of evidence of “drug dealer association.” She said that both the father and a close relative of the boy would give evidence in this regard. She said that the father also had an application before the court under section 47 of the Act to reduce the access arrangement currently in place. The father’s position was that the access allowed the boy to associate with “known drug dealers” in the area where the family home was located.
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said that the GAL was supporting the CFA application for a full care order and that the boy was “very clear” that he wanted to meet with the judge to “speak about his life in [the residential centre] and his relationship with his parents.” She said the boy did not want his access reduced and was unhappy about the application being brought by his father.
The mother’s solicitor told the court that the mother was not present and he had “no up-to-date instructions.” He said that when he had last spoken with the mother her instruction was that she would support the full care order.
The judge said that it was clear the boy was eager to meet with the court and in those circumstances she would facilitate the meeting over the lunch break. The first witness called by the CFA was the boy’s social worker.
The social worker said that he had been allocated to the case since September 2018. He said that there had been “a long history of concern” relating to domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse in the family home. He said that the mother had initially sought assistance from the CFA when she felt that she was no longer able to care for the boy.
CFA solicitor: “Where was [the boy] initially placed in voluntary care?”
Social worker: “He was placed in a residential centre in Dublin in October 2017 and he initially progressed quite well, but his behaviour escalated as the placement progressed and he started to abscond regularly… he would primarily go back to his family home and there were concerns that he was hanging around groups in [a particular area in Dublin] and engaging in criminal activity.”
CFA solicitor: “What sort of criminal activity?”
Social worker: “He came to the attention of the Gardai and was found on two occasions in a stolen car.” She said that the risks intensified and a decision was taken in spring 2019 to transfer him to a new placement in a provincial area. He said that it was clear that the CFA was no longer able to safeguard the boy because of his behaviours. The boy had got off to “a rocky start” in the new placement with multiple periods of absconsion, but that he had made “great progress” recently. He said that the boy was engaging in therapy and was also pursuing various educational courses.
When asked whether the boy had come to the attention of the Gardai recently, the social worker said he had not.
CFA solicitor: “One of the main issues in this case was access, you might bring the judge through the access arrangement and the concerns that arose?”
Social worker: “Initially when [the boy] transferred to the new placement, we had a family welfare conference and it was decided that in the first few weeks access would be restricted because we needed him to settle in to the placement, so it was agreed that we would restrict the access arrangement to day-time weekend visits only with no overnight stays.”
The social worker said that the parents became resistant to not having overnights, despite previously agreeing to it, and that at one stage they decided to remove the boy from his placement. He said that since that time the CFA had been undertaking ongoing review meetings about access.
The social worker was asked about the issues there were when the boy stayed overnight in his mother’s home. He said that there was a history of “verbal disagreements” which would escalate and result in the boy being “physically assaulted.” He said that the boy would then leave the house and put himself at risk.
CFA solicitor: “What other concerns did you have around the mother’s behaviour when access was taking place?”
Social worker: “There were safety protocols in place including a curfew for [the boy] … the mother was aware that as part of the arrangement, supervision was really important and the protocol included dealing with things like what would happen if [the boy] went missing, but on regular occasions [the boy] reported that his mother had engaged in drug and alcohol abuse in his presence and often wasn’t at home.”
The social worker said that the mother regularly changed or cancelled the access arrangement and that when this happened the boy’s behaviour escalated. He said that the boy had a very strong attachment to Dublin and that when access was disrupted, he would “come to Dublin anyway.” He said that there were little to no safeguards in place when he absconded, so it was “much better” when access was agreed.
Asked about the boy’s relationship with his mother the social worker said that it was “quite fractious” at times. He said that the boy was upset by her presentation throughout his childhood and her issues with drug and alcohol addiction. He said that when they fell out, the mother was unable to respond to his needs.
When asked about the boy’s relationship with his father, the social worker said it was also fractious. He said that his understanding was that the father was currently engaging with addiction services, but that he could not say with any certainty that his presentation was any better. He said that the father had recently asked the CFA to consider secure care for the boy because of his risk level.
CFA solicitor: “What are your views on the level of risk to [the boy] currently?”
Social worker: “The risk is exclusive to when he’s in Dublin. When he’s in the residential centre he does very well and he has a good relationship with staff members… we don’t think he meets the threshold for secure care at the moment because he is not putting himself at risk in the centre. He is well managed within the unit and I think he feels it provides respite and a break away from the chaotic lifestyle at home.”
The social worker was asked about the long-term plan for the boy. He said that he had been on a placement list for nine months and although it was clear that the boy’s own desire was to remain in Dublin, the CFA had to take a cautious approach. He said: “We can’t act drastically and just put him anywhere.” He said that it was important to find the boy an “appropriate” placement, bearing in mind his ultimate wish to stay in Dublin.
When asked whether any assessments were warranted, the social worker said that a recommendation had been made for a full cognitive assessment as well as ongoing therapy. He said that the CFA was “really trying to work with [the boy] to identify areas that he can work towards for future career prospects.”
CFA solicitor: “How have the parents engaged to date?”
Social worker: “There have been periods when both parents have engaged well, but then when we attempt to arrange meetings with them, they don’t turn up. At the last family welfare conferences in January 2020, we recommended that the parents engage in mediation services but [the father] didn’t turn up to any of those meetings. There was a range of services offered to the parents but overall there has been little uptake.”
When asked about his experience dealing with the boy’s father, the social worker said that in particular there had been disagreements around the care plan for the boy and the father had become “heightened” towards him. He said that the father had been aggressive with him, both in person and on the phone and had made “threatening remarks” to him.
CFA solicitor: “Why are you seeking a full care order for [the boy]?”
Social worker: “The level of supervision is just not adequate if [the boy] were to return to Dublin to live with his mam. I think the criminal activity would increase and his future would be at risk… We feel we are best placed to manage his behaviours through consistency and nurturing which his parents are not in a position to do.”
The social worker was cross-examined by the mother’s solicitor who indicated that he had no updated instruction as the mother was not present. He said that the mother’s prior instruction was that she was unhappy with the most recent reduction in access. He said that the mother also denied that she had removed the boy from his placement previously because of access issues, and rather had removed him because he told her that he had been assaulted by a fellow resident. The social worker was asked why this was never addressed.
He said: “I tried to discuss this with the parents but the first thing I mentioned was the access arrangement and the father became extremely angry, so I didn’t get a chance to address the assault, but it was [because of] the fact that they were dissatisfied with the access arrangement that they pulled him from the placement.”
The social worker was cross examined by the father’s solicitor who asked him about the boy’s alleged engagement in criminal activity. The social worker confirmed that he was aware of one occasion when the boy returned from access in Dublin with “brand new clothes.” He agreed the boy would not be able to purchase the clothes with his pocket money.
The father’s solicitor said that the father was concerned the boy was getting the money through drug dealing and asked the social worker if this was also a concern for him.
Social worker: “There is absolutely a risk of that, yes.”
The father’s solicitor said that a relative of the boy had written a letter to the Gardai in October outlining her concerns for him. The social worker agreed that the CFA was aware of the relative’s concerns for the boy.
Father’s solicitor: “In terms of the access in the family home, you say [the boy] had concerns with his mother’s alcohol and drug abuse?”
Social worker: “[The relative] is alleging that [the boy] had spoken to her about his mother’s drinking in the home, but when we addressed this with [the boy] he denied it, so it’s quite difficult for us… we’re aware that during one of the accesses, the mother purchased wine and there was a verbal altercation between her and [the boy] about this…”
The father’s solicitor asked the social worker whether the boy’s placement provided structure for him and the social worker said that it did. He said that the boy came from a home where there were “very few boundaries” in place and his school attendance and routine had been poor.
Father’s solicitor: “How is the access arrangement supervised?”
Social worker: “There is a safety plan in place. The CFA carry out welfare checks and any issues of absconsion are reported to the Gardai and they engage with us.”
Father’s solicitor: “Are you aware that he absconded [in October] from [the mother’s] home and that he was missing for that night?”
Social worker: “Any incident where he hasn’t presented is reported to the Gardai.”
Father’s solicitor: “My client will say that he contacted the CFA he was so concerned…”
The social worker was asked whether he had any reservations about finding a placement in Dublin for the boy. The judge interjected and said: “There is no suggestion that a plan is in place to move [the boy] to Dublin right now, rather if it’s going to be done, it will be done in a calm and structured way.”
Father’s solicitor: “My client is just fearful for his son’s safety in the Dublin area.”
Judge: “Well, your client can give that evidence in due course.”
The solicitor for the GAL said that the GAL would give evidence that the boy’s relationship with his parents was very important. He asked the social worker whether there was anything that could be done to “bring the parents to the table,” and that the boy needed his mother in particular “to step up to the plate.” The social worker said that the CFA had been engaging with the mother as best it could and that there was a possibility of convening a further family welfare conference in the coming weeks.
The judge met with the boy over lunch and when the matter resumed the solicitor for the mother told the court that the mother was now present and he was seeking a short adjournment so that he could take a full and final instruction from her. The solicitor for the CFA told the court that the interim care order was due to expire so the judge made an order extending it to the next date.
When the hearing resumed, the solicitor for the mother told the court that the mother was not present as she was taking a Covid-19 test. He said that she was “quite sick” but had given a very full instruction. He said that she was consenting to the full care order but was clear that she wanted overnight access reinstated.
The judge said that before the evidence of the GAL was heard, she wanted to outline the conversation she had with the boy on the previous date.
Judge: “Firstly, I found him to be articulate, bright and respectful to me and the court process. It is evident that he has a difficult relationship with his father and he feels too much weight has been given to the statements made by his father… he feels that his voice has been lost in the process.”
The judge went on to discuss the progress that the boy had made in his placement. She said that he liked the residential centre and got on well with the staff. She said he spoke about undertaking a safe pass course and a FAS course. She said that on the broader level, it was clear that he wanted to be in Dublin and saw it as his home. She said that he was “not at all happy” about the decrease in access and wanted overnight weekend access restored as soon as possible. She said that the boy “struggles at the weekend without it.”
Judge: “I told [the boy] that I wasn’t making any promises about what access would look like, that I would have to weigh up all of the evidence and see what was best in the circumstances… we discussed the allegations which had been made and I told him that they would have to be investigated by the Gardai.”
The judge said that overall she found the boy to be very respectful and “so polite”. She said it was clear that he loved his parents and wanted to be “put first” by them.
The court heard the evidence of the GAL next.
GAL solicitor: “How has [the boy] been getting on in care and how has his overall development been?”
GAL: “I was appointed this time last year and [the boy] was in [the residential centre]. He wasn’t engaging in anything at all when I met him, he was doing very little there.”
The GAL went on to describe the boy’s progression over time and said that more recently he had been working with a psychologist who had been doing indirect therapeutic work with him. The GAL said that the boy “excelled” in this. He said that the therapy had enabled him to “reflect on his past actions and also on family relationships.” The GAL said that the boy had also started working locally with animals which he loved. He said that he also loved fitness and boxing and wanted to pursue a career in this later in life. He said that he had just started a FAS course and “hasn’t missed a day.”
He said that the boy was doing very well in his placement overall and had a particularly good relationship with one staff member “who he absolutely idolises.” He said that the boy saw her as a sort of “surrogate mother.” The GAL went on to say that every meeting with the boy was “a pleasure” and that he was “such a nice kid.” He said that he did have a few outbursts but that they were “rare.”
GAL solicitor: “Is there any proposal for him to transfer to a placement in Dublin?”
GAL: “He is on a waiting list for a transfer, he’s number one on that list and it’s reviewed every fortnight… there have been conversations about whether to take him off the list or not… it’s not just about sourcing a residential unit in Dublin, it’s about sourcing an appropriate unit in Dublin.”
When asked whether the boy could manage a move to a residential centre in Dublin at the moment, the GAL said that he did not think he could. He said that he needed to continue to engage in positive activities and demonstrate his ability to “manage himself.”
The GAL was asked about the boy’s relationship with his family and said that he “absolutely loves” his parents. He said that the boy’s “consistent view” was that he wanted his mother to “put him first” and felt like he had not been “prioritised” by either of his parents. He said that both parents had “a lot of work to do” but that his mother in particular had not engaged in the support services offered to her. He said that the boy’s family life was very difficult and that the usual interaction between the boy and his mother was “shouting and chaos.”
GAL solicitor: “How has access been going?”
GAL: “There has been no priority for [the boy] in the family. When access takes place the mother can be late and sometimes she will have no money… there are regular check-ins during the access to make sure she is sober… on one occasion the mother cancelled an access because the dog had to be brought to the groomers. I think this showed that [the boy] was not the priority. He really feels forgotten, he feels like he is not being prioritised when that’s all he wants.”
GAL solicitor: “The father wants to prevent any access from taking place in Dublin at the weekends with [the boy’s] mother. What is your view on this?”
GAL: “I think limited access would impede on the building of his relationship with both his mother and father. The focus is to try and work on the family relationship which is chaotic … [the boy] needs to be able to see that his parents are doing work for him.”
The GAL was asked about the allegations made by the boy’s father that the boy was engaging in criminal behaviour. He said that father did seem “genuinely worried” for him. He said that the boy had admitted to drug-dealing in January or February, but not since that time. He said that there was conflicting information coming back to him about the level of criminal activity in which the boy was engaging. He said that he had spoken with the father, the relative and the boy’s juvenile liaison officer and had been advised that the boy had not come to Gardai attention in a year.
GAL solicitor: “What are your views on the section 18 application?”
GAL: “[The boy] is in agreement with the full care order. He would love to go home but he knows that himself and his mum would kill each other if he went home… there are a lot of obstacles to overcome and more work needs to be done with the parents, so my view is that the application is necessary.”
The solicitor for the CFA said that it was the CFA’s understanding that the Gardai had suggested having regular strategy meetings in relation to the boy and asked the GAL whether this was the case. The GAL confirmed that meetings were being held with the boy’s juvenile liaison officer and said that the involvement of the Gardai was “so important.”
The father’s solicitor cross-examined the GAL in relation to the boy’s history of criminal activity. She asked the GAL if he was aware that the boy had been stopped by the Gardai “a number of months ago.”
She said she was aware of an incident the previous December.
Father’s solicitor: “So would you accept that the father’s concerns aren’t coming out of the blue?”
GAL: “Yes I do agree that there is the unknown… [the boy] has acknowledged drug dealing, there is no smoke without fire…”
The father’s solicitor told the GAL that the father was very concerned that the boy was “susceptible” to gangs in the area where the family home was located. The GAL agreed that this was a concern he also held and that he did not want to see the boy “going back into a negative place.” He said that the boy had a fascination with shows depicting criminal life.
Father’s solicitor: “In relation to access, are you concerned with the level of supervision in place?”
GAL: “We have had repeated incidents, seven or eight this year, where [the mother] wasn’t in the home overnight when [the boy] was on overnight access and this is a concern… the supervision levels are not adequate and we tried a family welfare conference to see what we could do. We looked at whether there was another family member who [the boy] could have access with. We looked at [the close relative] who said she would commit to some weekends, but not every single weekend. We did checks but she was considered not to be an appropriate person.”
The GAL was asked whether the boy was “just serving his time” in his current placement until he moved back to Dublin. The GAL said that the boy was doing very well in his placement and was not ready to make a move back to Dublin at the moment, but agreed that it was his long-term goal.
The mother’s solicitor asked the GAL how the boy would “manage” if his weekend access with his mother was taken away.
GAL: “I think there would be in an increase in his aggression in [the residential centre] and I think he would abscond and we wouldn’t know where he was… at least if he has Dublin access then we know where he is.”
Evidence of relative
The father’s solicitor asked the boy’s relative about her involvement with the boy and she confirmed that she had attended a number of strategy meetings with the CFA and had concerns for the boy’s safety.
Father’s solicitor: “I think you put these concerns in writing in October to the Gardai?”
Witness: “Yes, I wrote to [the relevant] garda station and told them I was aware that [the boy] was selling drugs and that I saw him in a car with lads who are known drug dealers.”
The witness was asked about the level of supervision in place at access and said that the boy had “no supervision” the majority of the time. She said he had told her that he had spent “nights alone” in the mother’s house and that she had been “intoxicated” at access on a recent date in October. She said that the mother had “no idea” about the risks the boy was under without her supervision.
The solicitor for the GAL asked the witness whether there was anything the family might be able to do to support the boy at access.
Witness: “I’ve offered to have him stay in my mam’s house but under the condition he is not going to [a particular area] as we are fearful he might bring drugs into the family home.”
The father’s solicitor asked the father what his motivation was for bringing the application to reduce the access.
Father: “I have tried everything before I brought this application… I tried to discuss it with [the boy], I knew it would strain our relationship but the relationship broke down when I found out he was selling drugs and I reported it to the Gardai.”
When asked about the level of involvement with the Gardai, the father said that because the boy was only coming to Dublin at weekends, he felt that they did not see him as “a threat or an issue.” He said in his view this was why the boy had not come to their attention.
The father was asked what his view was on the access arrangement in place and said that he was “still not happy with it,” but that the boy was more likely to behave without overnights. When asked what he wanted to see happen for the boy, he said that his son needed “checks and balances” and that he wanted the Gardai to be more involved.
Father’s solicitor: “How is your relationship with [the boy]?”
Father: “It’s very difficult right now, but I’m willing to do anything I need to do, I’ve completed a therapy course and I’m willing to do anything necessary going forward as far as building our relationship.”
The solicitor for the GAL asked the father if he was willing to prioritise the boy going forward. The father said that he “always prioritised him,” but was “caught between a rock and a hard place.” He said that he had a great relationship with his son before. The GAL asked him whether he was willing to engage in mediation or therapeutic supports to assist the relationship and he said that he had “no problem” with this.
The judge noted the consent of both the mother and the father to the full care order and said that she was satisfied on the evidence presented to make the full care order under S.18(1)(C) of the Act. She said that the order was “proportionate” in the circumstances.
In relation to access, the judge said that it was to continue “as per the most recent access plan in place,” which did not include overnight access. She put the matter in for review to a date in January 2021. She said that she was also adjourning the father’s section 47 application to that date.
The judge further ordered that the GAL remain appointed until the matter was revisited in January, noting that he played “a very important role” in the boy’s progress to date.