The District Court extended an interim care order (ICO) in respect of two children due to their mother’s ongoing mental health issues. The application was contested by the mother.
The court heard that the mother is struggling and had been admitted to hospital, but had left the hospital against medical advice.
The mother’s solicitor told the court that she is prescribed substantial medication, which she is taking, and that she is engaging with the hospital three days a week. He asked the court to consider making a supervision order which would include unannounced visits to the family home, instead of an interim care order (ICO).
The social worker said that the mother is struggling with her mental health and that she has a long history of mental health issues including suicide attempts and self-harming. He said that the psychiatric team indicated that they required the mother to continue counselling and engage with supports. He said that the mother’s suicide attempts, outbursts and name-calling have had a negative impact on the two children. He said that both children regularly wet the bed.
The mother’s solicitor told the court that the mother had long periods of stability. He said that the mother’s partner passed away three years ago and added that the social worker placed a lot of emphasis on the partner being stabilising for the mother, yet it took two and a half years for the CFA to become involved after his death. He said that the mother acknowledged that there were times that she reached out for help and support.
The mother’s solicitor questioned the social worker on the impact that the mother’s mental health had had on the children. The social worker told the court that the older girl spent her time in her bedroom because she did not like being called names, such as slut and bitch. He said that the mother admitted to calling her these names because of the way that the girl dressed. The mother’s solicitor responded that this arose out of a particular incident. The social worker said that the girls were clinging to him, the older girl jumped on him and the girls openly talked about their mother.
Mother’s solicitor: “Quite a leap that just because a child jumps on a big, bearded stranger that there is an impact on the child’s health. It might be inappropriate but…”
Social worker: “The mother is not strong enough in her parenting ability.”
Mother’s solicitor: “Mom called the daughter names and then jumping on your knee correlated to mom’s mental health? Do you agree that it could be related to the death of their father? What further incidents can you provide?”
The mother then became upset and jumped up from her seat addressing the social worker. She was advised to sit down and she did so.
The social worker responded that the children told him that they felt different from other children and worried that their mother might be sent to jail. He said that the mother’s physical pain or mental health struggles would impact upon the children and he referred to the children’s bed wetting.
Mother’s solicitor: “Any evaluation in a clinical perspective regarding bed wetting? The mother believes that the girls would be safeguarded by the court making a supervision order.”
Social worker: “The mother needs a period of really concentrating on herself and her own wellbeing and becoming strong.”
Mother’s solicitor: “The girls want to see their mom, they want to go home to their mother.”
The social worker responded that the mother needed to feel secure in herself.
Mother’s solicitor: “The disruption of moving the children from their mother can cause issues. What constitutes a significant period of stability in your view?”
Social worker: “Engaging with mental health services for a period of one year.”
The guardian ad litem (GAL) told the court that access two or three times a week was recommended and that a concrete plan needed to be designed so that everyone was aware of what was required of them to work towards reunification, but that she was in support of extending the ICO at the moment. The GAL told the court that she had met the children and supported them staying in their current placement with their aunt. She said that the oldest child was very cautious and the youngest child copied her older sister. She said that both children wanted to be reassured that their mother was okay and they wanted to know when they would be going home. She said that it was clear that the mother adored her children.
The mother told the court that her kids came first in her life, that they would always come first and that she did not shout at her kids. She said that she had been grieving since her partner died and her children were also still grieving. She admitted to calling her eldest child a name, but explained that it was when she went looking for her and couldn’t find her in her bedroom, but found her outside in her bra and knickers. She said that she lost it and called her a slut, but immediately apologised and sat down and talked to her daughter.
She said that every morning the children got up at half past six, had breakfast, got dressed then went to the bus. She said that she was thankful for her sister caring for her children but she was concerned with the order being extended.
Mother: “My children are well looked after. They don’t miss school. I love my children. They are missing school now because of this but they never missed school before.”
The mother’s solicitor asked the mother whether she was concerned that her mental health had an impact upon her children and asked what her plan was for her mental health.
The mother said that there was no evidence that she shouts at her kids all of the time and that they were subjected to emotional abuse. She said that she did the cleaning while the children were in school and when they came home she was hands on. The children had their dinner, then their baths and got ready for school the next morning. The doctor asked her to stay home three days a week. She said that she took her medication, but some of it made her drowsy and that had an impact on her interaction with her children. She said that she did not drink or take drugs and said she was willing to accept support. She said that one of her children was hard work in the morning and that she asked a family support worker for help in getting her ready for school and the family support worker refused and told her, “we do not do that”.
The mother’s solicitor asked her if she believed it would help her if she followed the doctor’s plan and whether she understood the risk of deterioration.
Mother’s solicitor: “The social worker wants you to be stabalised before they are returned to your care. The social worker is concerned that last year you refused some services and supports.”
The mother said that she could not predict her mental health. She said that her children did not know what was going on. She said that she went to the services referred to by the social worker but she was told that she did not need the services and her case was closed.
Her solicitor asked her if she realised the impact on her children of her saying that she would do something to herself. She said that she was hoping to get back on her feet and that her children gave her purpose. She said that she did not believe that the ICO was necessary, but that the situation could be managed by a supervision order.
Mother: “Please don’t punish my kids for my mental health, they have never been abused, they have a lovely home to come home to.”
Judge: “You discharged yourself.”
Mother: “They upset me in hospital telling me that I will never get my kids back.”
The judge said that it was clear that the mother loved her children and that they loved her and that they sought reunification as soon as possible. He said that there was no question of punishing the children, but the court must act for the welfare of the children. He said that the mother had only been discharged from hospital recently, therefore it is not unreasonable to believe that more time would be beneficial for a robust reunification. He said that it was the court’s view that it was premature to return the children to their mother’s care. It was noted that a meeting between the stakeholders should be held and an access plan should be drawn up with a pathway for reunification with the children being reassessed by the GAL. The court extended the ICO.