Interim care order extended for four children currently in care following breakdown of voluntary care arrangement – 2023vol1#22

Interim care orders for four children were extended where a previous voluntary care arrangement had broken down. The children’s mother suffered from mental health issues. She initially opposed the application, but following discussions later consented.

The mother was present and her lawyer said at the outset that she was contesting the extension application. The court was told that the mother had experienced trauma and domestic violence. At the time she had agreed to the voluntary care arrangement she had realised that she needed help with her own trauma issues. The court was informed that the mother was willing to extend the voluntary care arrangement for a period of three months.

Her lawyer informed the court that the mother had engaged but had found it difficult to deal with her own trauma. She had met a psychiatrist and had been prescribed medication and was due to attend a further appointment. The court was told that the mother never threatened to revoke the voluntary nature of the arrangement. She accepted the existence of the circumstances leading to the children going into voluntary care, but did not accept the need for an interim care order. The children had previously been the subject of a supervision order.

The court was informed that the father was consenting to the interim care order extension.

The CFA lawyer said the social work department had been known to the family for a number of years and both it and the guardian ad litem (GAL) had worked hard to put in place supports and interventions, but those were not sufficient to meet the children’s welfare needs and they needed additional help.

The court was told that the CFA team was at a critical point for planning, which required the protection of an interim care order (ICO). The GAL acknowledged that both parents were doing what they could but she was asking them to step back and deal with their own issues, while not preventing planning for social work and other services. An extensive number of recommendations were set out in the GAL’s report to advance both the parents’ and the children’s situation.

These included a parental capacity assessment and an assessment of the children for trauma and attachment. The court was informed that there had been concern at the lack of progress and that there were no alternatives to an ICO at this point.

The judge asked the mother’s lawyer, in light of the summary of the GAL’s position, was there much difficulty for the parent to agree to the ICO. The lawyer informed the court that her instructions were to oppose the ICO but that she really needed to engage with the psychiatrist as part of that work.

The judge rose for a few minutes to allow the parties time to discuss.

When the case restarted, the mother’s lawyer indicated to the court that the mother had heard the pros and cons and was willing to consent to the ICO on a without-prejudice basis, recognising that she had work to do. The court heard that the mother wanted to work on reunification and wanted a trajectory plan and needed to process the trauma she had experienced.

The judge read a line from the report and said that the mother had made huge sacrifices.

Social worker’s evidence

The social worker gave detailed evidence in relation to her interactions with the family with whom she had been involved for 18 months. The children had been on the child protection notification system (CPNS) for a significant period of time under the category of domestic violence with some neglect issues, appointments missed and lack of engagement.

The court heard that one of the children had a high level of special needs and had a number of supports, including home care, specialist nursing support and also creche hours. The social worker said that despite the supports that there were still issues. She said that there had been a pattern whereby a safety plan was put in place, the family would access a refuge and then return.

Following reports from neighbours and professionals the Gardaí invoked their emergency powers under section 12 due to a number of quite serious incidents. There had previously been two supervision orders. The father had been incarcerated in prison and he triggered a call resulting in a section 12 intervention when the mother was in a heightened state. She had acknowledged she needed help and a voluntary agreement was put in place to work with the social work department. The social worker said that the arrangement had not worked as well as it might as it had been hard to contact the mother, she had missed meetings, she had missed access and she was not at the level she should be.

The social worker’s opinion was that the interim care order was necessary as the matter could not be allowed to drift given the huge level of need of one of the children in particular. The supervision of the court was needed.

Two of the children (a boy and a girl) were now in the same placement and had a high level of need. Placements were being explored for them. Another boy needed 24-hour nursing care. The social worker said that a plan for assessments had been set out.

The mother’s lawyer asked the social worker if she thought that the mother was under stress before the children went into care. She reminded her of the mother’s own exposure to domestic violence and trauma. She put it to the social worker that it was only when the highly dependent child went into placement that she could deal with her own issues and she reminded the social worker it was the mother who agreed to a three-month voluntary care arrangement.

The mother’s lawyer informed the court that for an initial period the mother did have a difficult time and needed time to deal with the social work team. She acknowledged that the mother missed the child-in-care review, but said that the social workers were notified of the difficulties she encountered regarding receiving her social welfare money.

The lawyer said the mother was engaging with a community care service and had provided details of the service and was looking to engage with the Dublin Safer Families service. Engagement had stopped but had now recommenced, and the mother’s lawyer referred to a report outlining the work done and noted that the mother engaged in an authentic manner.

The lawyer asked the social worker if she was aware of the mother’s engagement with the psychiatrist and she said to her that there were delays in the public health service and that any delays were not the mother’s doing.

The court was informed that the GAL supported a parenting capacity assessment and had drafted terms of reference. The social worker said she was open to all assessments. The social worker was asked about sibling access and the court was informed that sibling access took place weekly. The social worker outlined the assessments and presentation of the children and said that given their level of needs a number of supports and assessments were needed.

GAL’s evidence

The GAL had been with the children for over a year. The GAL confirmed that one of the children had been in hospital but was out now and was in a residential placement. He was having medical assessments, was in full time care and doing well. A number of assessments had been agreed. The work of the mother was acknowledged. The GAL had been at the home a number of times and had met with the mother at access. The GAL said huge supports had been put in place and the mother did her best to accommodate the professionals. More one-on-one access was needed as with four children it could be chaotic.

In relation to the father the GAL said that he wanted to work toward reunification. The father had been sober for over a year but he needed to prove sobriety and demonstrate progress.

The GAL supported the interim care order on the basis that in the past there had been a lot of instability and since the children had come into care the professionals were learning a lot.

The judge said he had listened carefully to the evidence of both the social worker and the GAL and the court was satisfied to extend the interim care order. The interim care order for each child was extended and the full care order application was adjourned to the same date. The judge confirmed that all directions should continue and access was to take place at the discretion of the CFA.