Interim Care Order extended after chronic school absenteeism – 2015vol4#8

An application to extend an Interim Care Order for two children was granted in the Dublin District Court following reports of chronic absenteeism from school. The initial application for an Interim Care Order had been contested by the mother and she was not represented on that occasion. The court was told that the father of the children was deceased. There was no guardian ad litem (GAL) for the children.

At the outset the solicitor for the mother informed the court that the mother was consenting to a Supervision Order. She was willing to give an undertaking ensuring school attendance of her children, engaging with support services for alcoholism and improving the family home. It was also suggested to the court that if the Interim Care Order were to be extended, the children would return to Dublin and be placed with relatives; primarily with their maternal grandmother, their uncle or with another uncle located in a rural area. The court indicated that it was not willing to accept undertakings by the mother.

On the previous occasion the court directed that the Child and Family Agency (CFA) provide as much access as possible. The mother exercised access three days a week and had only missed one access due to hospitalisation. The social worker stated that she had no concerns with regards to access as the mother was very supportive.

The social worker outlined how the younger child was anxious about foster care and about returning to primary school. The older child had missed 129 out of 167 days of secondary school. The social worker explained that her school placement was repeating second year due to the amount of time she missed. There was a place for the child in second year however she was unwilling to be placed in that year. The social worker suggested the Youth Reach Programme as an alternative, in which the child would be able to engage with other subjects as she had a strong resistance towards Irish and French.

The social worker stated: “The mother has supported the fostering and it would be positive if she were to support the education of her child.” The social worker stressed that “the child [being] in the mother’s care was a contributing factor to absenteeism. It is quite likely she will find it hard to catch up.”

The solicitor for the CFA asked the social worker to describe the children’s presentation when they were taken into care. She stated they were wearing soiled clothes and there was a strong odour of urine. She said the children had settled in well since the placement and maintained that “the placement meets their needs in that they have their own bedrooms.

They go to family events, do fitness classes, horse riding, Tae Kwan Do etc. They have a close relationship with their foster parents.”

The social worker stated: “There would need to be a period of 10 weeks with the mother demonstrating sustained change with the Hanly [alcohol treatment] centre and social supports as the mother has a record of false compliance.”

The mother gave evidence and was asked by her solicitor to outline her plan for return of the children and her willingness to consent to a Supervision Order, given that this order was granted in the past and did not work. The mother replied: “I am not working as much and have my son now living with me. He is helping me get the children to school.” She also stated that she had support from her own mother, brother and sister-in-law. They were assisting her in improvements to the home including painting, improvements to the children’s rooms, front garden, and new furniture.

She expressed a desire for the children to be placed with family and said that the children felt isolated. The mother stated that she encouraged the children to attend school and had assured the older child that it would only be a short time before she would be back in her own school. The mother stated that if the older child had been allowed to drop French as a subject then this situation would not have arisen. She informed the court that she attended Alcoholics Anonymous on a daily basis as well as the Hanly centre. She stated that she was waiting for a place in another support service for alcoholics and visited her GP every week in order to ensure that her mental health was stable.

The solicitor for the mother put it to her that there was evidence of some missed appointments. He asked if professionals had difficulty contacting her. She maintained that it had “happened before, but they have contact details for my mother and sister-in-law and they can be contacted.” She remarked “when the children were with me I wanted a parenting course and I didn’t get it.”

The mother contended that it was not necessary for the older child to repeat second year.

She would not encourage the child to repeat as the child “wouldn’t be happy.” The judge summarised the application pursuant to section 17(2) of the Child Law Act, 1991 in respect of the two children. He remarked: “I rarely get involved from the bench but I could not have been more clear, if the mother didn’t deal with her issues, she would find herself before the court in respect of an application for an Interim Care Order.” He acknowledged that her son had moved in and this had brought about change but the issue regarding the school attendance had not been remedied. There had already been a prosecution for non-attendance. A family welfare conference and family support had been offered.

The judge remarked that “intervention brings about change, and an Interim Care Order is needed to do that. An Interim Care Order improves motivation.”

He explained that such an order is only granted in exceptional circumstances and stated that “the mother must demonstrate that she has the ability to carry through, the ability to engage with support services available.” She had not demonstrated this to date.

He described it as a “difficult, stressful situation for children, brought about by inadequate parenting and one which will not be resolved by returning to inadequate parenting … It is unfortunate that the children missed twelve days of school due to being taken into care but they are in school now and are settled. The older child did not do second year, she missed 127 days. The child finds herself in a terrible situation as she feels left behind.” The judge stated that the child needed to be encouraged to do second year and stated: “She has a proper chance to be re-engaged with school.”

He continued that it was “not sufficient to remove children from a situation and have them in another situation on a long term basis.” He identified that there was considerable scope for common ground between the mother and the CFA. He stated: “An Interim Care order legally only brings about a shared parenting responsibility. Parenting responsibility must be taken, if not a Care Order will result.” He continued that some form of mediation was appropriate but only when there was something to mediate.

The factors outlined, including the previous Supervision Order, the reference to alcohol, conditions of the home, and non-engagement were not sufficient to grant an interim order, but combined with the school issue they were sufficient. The court warned that a full Care Order would be made if the mother failed to engage.

The court was satisfied to extend the Interim Care Order for a period of twenty eight days.