Full care order until 18 for young children whose mother suffers homelessness and addiction – 2020vol1#38

A care order to 18 years was made in a district court in a regional city in respect of two young children whose mother had experienced homelessness and drug addiction. The mother had consented to an extension of the order for two years only, to enable her to turn her life around.

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) solicitor told the court that the children required a care order to 18 years because they needed stability. The children were initially taken into care due to chronic neglect almost two years earlier on a 12-month full care order. The social worker said that for reunification to be considered, the mother needed to engage in residential drug treatment, find suitable accommodation, engage with community services and provide clean urine tests. The social worker said that while the mother had reduced her prescription medication use, she had not found suitable accommodation and had not attended a residential drug treatment centre.

In relation to access, the mother did not have access for a year and it took her several months to write a letter to the children. The children do not currently have access with their mother. They have supervised access with their paternal grandparents and relatives as their father is deceased. However, that access had recently broken down and the CFA were seeking support from a third party to enable that access to continue.

The solicitor for the mother argued that as the mother is making progress, it would be beneficial for the children to see that their mum is well. The social worker said that access would be assessed in the children’s best interest and the guardian ad litem (GAL) told the court that the older child was very clear that she wants her mother to be well before she sees her.

The social worker said that the children had a difficult transition into care and were in their fourth placement. However, she said that the CFA are hoping that this placement is a long-term placement and confirmed that the two children are placed together.

The social worker told the court that the younger child had suffered chronic neglect before he was taken into care and had behavioural issues. Since coming into care he had engaged with early intervention services and was now meeting his developmental milestone. The older child was receiving extra supports in primary school and the school had applied for a special needs assistant. There were suspicions that the child had experienced sexual abuse before coming into care and investigations are taking place. The child experienced other trauma and the social worker said that she was attending therapy and added that there were concerns previously that access had been impacting that therapy.

The social worker was aware that there was consent to a two-year order, however, she told the judge that the older child needed stability and permanency and had expressed a wish to stay with her foster mother. She agreed with the solicitor for the mother, that the mother was looking much better and that it would be feasible that she would be able to care for the children in two years’ time. The social worker qualified that by saying that the mother did not engage fully and the CFA did not know about her drug use, because she refused to attended a residential programme and provide clean urine tests.

The GAL was supportive of the care order to 18 years. She said that “while the mother was looking well, she wouldn’t do urine samples and didn’t feel that she needed to do drug rehabilitation.”

In relation to the children’s wishes, the GAL said that the older child was conflicted. The GAL informed that court that “initially she wanted to return home to her mum and now she wants to stay in the foster placement, but she doesn’t want to hurt her mum’s feelings”.

The GAL asked the older child if she wanted to see her mom and she said that she wanted her mom to get better and asked the GAL to tell her mom to “stop taking the bad medicine”. The GAL told the judge that the child cried for 25 minutes in the car after access, because she was told that her mother was getting better and she was afraid that they would take her away from her foster home.

The judge asked if the child was aware of the care proceedings and the GAL said that she was aware that the GAL would be before a judge. The GAL told the judge that the older child didn’t want her to tell the judge her wishes because she didn’t want to get her mum in trouble. The GAL said that she worries about her mother.

In relation to the younger child’s wishes, the GAL said that although the younger child’s speech was improving, he was not able to articulate his wishes.

The GAL informed the court that the foster care providers were ready to undertake an occupational therapy assessment in respect of the younger child, together with a file review to identify supports for the children and foster parents. The GAL said that the CFA was  awaiting funding and asked that the matter be reviewed in six months’ time to ensure that the assessment had taken place.

The GAL was of the opinion that both children needed stability and predictability and in particular the older child needed a long-term plan. The GAL believed that the older child had a big story to tell and it was only with a stable home that she would be able to process what she had been through.

The solicitor for the mother conceded that the children did require stability, but she asked the court to allow her client two years to get secure accommodation and to engage with her general practitioner and counsellor. The solicitor said that the mother was extremely anxious to engage in access and asked the court to give her the opportunity to turn her life around and not make an order to 18 years.

The judge held that the threshold for a section 18 order had been met and that the children’s health, development and welfare was likely to be avoidably impaired or neglected unless that decision was made.

The judge said that she would need to consider the best interest of the children and proportionality, as an order to 18 years is quite draconian. The judge said: “The children suffered an extraordinary amount of trauma and neglect and it was for the parents to provide the children with a secure base and to care for them properly and that did not happen.” The judge continued by saying that she had no evidence that the drug use had ceased and no evidence that accommodation had been sourced. She said that the mother had already been given two years to provide that evidence.

The judge was of the opinion that the children required permanency and stability and acknowledged that children need to be in secure and long-term placement before therapy can be effective.

The judge went on to say: “At the same time, I want the mum to get better and this is not the end of the road” and ordered the CFA to consider reunification at every child-in-care review.

The judge listed the case again in six months to ensure that assessments and reports had been completed and to ascertain if the current placement was a long-term placement.