GAL re-appointed to advise on access – 2014vol1#25

The judge in a provincial city ordered the reappointment of a guardian ad litem for two children so that she could have a full report on their relationships with their parents and their attitudes towards access with them. The parents were separated, the mother was in a drug treatment programme and the children had separate access arrangements with the parents. The father, who also had drug issues, was not in court.

The three children, the youngest pre-school and the oldest a young teenager, had been taken into care a year earlier under a two-year Care Order. A GAL had been appointed but was discharged. When the case came to court for review the mother sought increased access. She was seeing the children fortnightly in a health centre under the supervision of two Child and Family Agency (CFA) social care workers. The father, who had been in prison, had access to the children every third Saturday since his release, supervised by his sister. The children also saw their maternal grandfather regularly.

The social worker said the mother’s access had been supervised for the previous two months because the children were anxious and upset around it. There were inappropriate discussions with the children around trouble at home and her telling the children she was fighting to get them back. Sometimes the children found access emotionally overwhelming. The eldest, A, found physical affection difficult.

“That is often the case with young teenage boys. It is usually temporary,” the judge remarked.

The social worker said the mother was on a methadone programme and generally her urine samples were clear, though there had been a few positive samples. The father was not addressing his opiate problem. She recommended a reduction in the mother’s access from two hours to one, reviewing it in May.

She agreed with the mother’s solicitor that the mother had re-connected with an addiction counsellor and was on a drug treatment programme.

The solicitor asked her if, given the ages of the children, they would not benefit from going out for activities with their mother. “The social care workers have toys at the access. It is better for the mother to engage in an appropriate way in a secure environment,” the social worker replied.

Solicitor: “What does that add to the children’s experience?”

Social worker: “The children are more in control. It is important to provide the children with stability. The centre is a good place for that.”

Asked whether the children would not benefit from more frequent access, the social worker said they were also seeing their paternal aunt and their maternal grandfather and had other activities. They had a lot on.

The judge asked whether the father was on any kind of treatment programme, and the social worker said he was not.

Judge: “According to the report, the father’s current residence is unknown. Yet he has unsupervised access, is not on a drug treatment programme and is not in court. He’s bringing the children down town. How do you know he’s not meeting other drug addicts?”

The social worker said he was being supervised by the children’s grandmother and they had agreed to conditions. The father’s sister was also present and had been supervising access for some time.

The mother’s solicitor asked if the mother had raised any concerns about the father’s supervision and the social worker said she had, concerning the language used in the house where access took place and the children watching inappropriate television programmes. This had been raised with the supervisors. However, she acknowledged these concerns were not monitored.

The mother gave evidence that she was on a drug treatment programme since the previous September and was doing very well. Asked about “inappropriate conversations” with the children, she said she used to say to them they were coming home to let them know she was fighting to get them back. The judge said if that was to happen they would have to have counselling, and the mother said she understood that now.

She said she had to move away from the father so that she could get on with her life, and his sister then stopped supervising her access, so it had to be supervised by the CFA.

“My heart is broken. I’d love some more time with them. There’s nothing in the centre for [A, the oldest]. It’s OK for [the young child]. [The father] and grandmother are bringing them here, there and everywhere.”

The judge said she needed to find out why the father had open access in a house where the children might be exposed to inappropriate television and perhaps to drug-taking. “I want to reappoint the guardian. There is a huge difference in the ages of the children. The mother has a long way to go but she’s making some effort and she’s here. The father is not here.

“We are told the children are coming back from the father happy. Maybe they’re watching movies and that’s why they’re coming back happy. Access must be appropriate.

“The mother has shown insight. She must continue on the programme. She is looking for further access. I would be open to that when I hear back from the GAL. In the meantime it’s better it remain as it was. I also want to address the question of where access is taking place given the big age differences. The GAL will have to talk to [A].

“Meanwhile I don’t see how access to the father can continue until my concerns are met.”