A judge in a provincial District Court extended an interim care order in the case of an infant who had initially been taken into care from a maternity hospital shortly after birth under an emergency care order. The parents had sought a supervision order and failing that increased access. Both parents had a history of mental health issues and had other children from previous relationships in care.
During the hearing of the initial interim care order application the Child and Family Agency (CFA) social worker told the court that a meeting with the father and his extended family had gone positively and while the family agreed to visit, they were not in a position to care for the baby. She said the parents were not consenting to an interim care order as they wanted to speak to the judge about the return of their baby.
The social worker said there were significant concerns regarding both parents’ mental health and historic concerns regarding the parents’ lack of engagement with parental capacity assessment recommendations. Each of the parents had four children in care and had no contact with them. She told the court she was confident it was in the best interests of this child to stay in care and work towards reunification with the parents. She had had a meeting with both parents who were agreeable to take on board mental health concerns. The mother had agreed to re-engage with mental health services and the father had agreed to attend his GP and had an appointment the following day.
The court heard there had been difficulties with a planned access where the baby was at the CFA offices for access at 10.00 but the parents did not arrive until 10.50. The parents had called from a hospital to say that the father was delayed due to being treated for an assault. The parents presented calmly and appropriately with the baby. When access finished the social worker said the mother became angry and denied she had mental health difficulties and said she had been misinformed about the access time. The father had tried to calm her and she left the meeting.
The father told the court the baby was “the best thing that happened to him. We miss the baby like anything,” he said. “I lost my head because the CFA were saying they were taking the baby,” and he said he would keep the baby safe. He told the court his mental health was fine, the judge could talk to his GP who was happy with him, and he would take his medication. “I will do everything I am asked to do. I lost the head only once,” the father said.
He said he could not move nearer to his extended family due to having suffered an assault in the area. The judge explained that he could only deal with this case.
Judge: “I would like to hear from your doctor. When do you think you will have a solicitor to get the report that you are fine? It is important to take legal help.”
Father: “If I need to talk to anyone, I call my family. I want the baby back”
The judge said in the meantime the father should meet with the baby to establish a bond and show there were no issues about mental health. The social worker said she could arrange access twice weekly for the parents. The father referred to his ex-wife and to his older children being in care and said this baby had nothing to do with that and he would help out with changing the baby and bottles. He said the mother would look after the baby and they were losing out on bonding with him.
The mother told the court the baby had been taken from the special care baby unit behind her back on an emergency care order. She told the judge that she had re-engaged with mental health services and had an appointment for an assessment in two weeks. She said her GP told her she sounded level-headed and he would provide a letter for the court.
She told the court that she could not explain the amount of stress. The judge referred to the mother’s behaviour at the emergency care order hearing the previous week. He said to the mother: “Getting stroppy gets you nowhere.”
The mother said she had had a caesarean section and had been losing her bond with the baby since he was a few days old when he was taken from the special care baby unit. The judge said every child should be with their parents and he worked from that premise. He advised the parents to work with the social workers who were working in the best interests of the child and to work out a plan for the baby to go back into their care. He said in a nutshell the CFA were saying there were concerns regarding mental health and the parents could tell him otherwise. He advised the mother to keep her head in the best interests of the child. “I’m not going to kick this down the road for a year,” the judge said.
Hearing to extend the ICO
When the case came back to court for an extension of the interim care order, the social worker told the court the parents had agreed to undergo a parental capacity assessment. She was waiting for senior management approval and hoped to have it completed in three months.
The social worker said there had been three access dates in the previous month where the social worker observed access from an observation room. The father’s sisters supported access on the first date and she said it went well. They supported regarding nappy changing, holding the baby and gave prompts when the baby did not need the bottle.
She said the mother became heightened when the father asked about the baby going to a member of his family and she did not agree. The social worker said the father’s sister had tried to calm her and said she would not be able to support access because of the mother’s behaviour, but the father managed to persuade her. On the second access, the father’s brother and partner attended. The third most recent access took place without extended family support. The social worker said a family support worker would support access in the future. She said because of the mother’s heightened behaviour each of the accesses had to be cut short for the safety of staff and others.
The social worker had taken notes on access and included them in her court report. She said there were nice moments, the parents deserved time with the baby and vice versa, but she had concerns. These included the phone being put up for the baby, putting the baby on his feet ready to stand even though he was in early infancy, a lack of insight and attunement to his needs. The baby was not allowed to rest, the parents did not take any notice of feeding times and a bottle was given to the baby regardless.
The baby usually arrived asleep, she said, and he was woken up, held in the air, put on a lap and shoulder all in a minute. When the baby started to cry the default was to give him a bottle when this was not due. The parents were having him out on laps and he was not getting time to sleep. The baby was tired and had come out of access exhausted. The parents had him in the air 15 times in the hour and a half, passed around and the baby was barely able to hold his head up.
He was only ten weeks old and the parents were putting him into a nine-month-old’s situation. She agreed with the mother’s barrister they were doing their best with feeding and changing but she said there was no resting of the baby or in terms of what a baby would need and access was manic and chaotic. She disagreed with the mother’s barrister’s suggestion that the parents had taken instructions from the father’s sisters and brother.
She said on one occasion the baby was wriggling and turning his head to one side and when told by the family that the baby had enough milk, the father did not respond immediately.
The social worker said she had written to the mother’s consultant psychiatrist, who said the mother had attended a recent appointment. She sent a report saying the mother had no current acute mental health issues regarding a bipolar disorder and her behaviour regarding the CFA and her behavioural dysregulation were due to experiences regarding her older children being admitted to care.
The father’s barrister handed up a GP letter regarding the father’s mental health which she read out to the court. The letter said the father was stable in his mental health and with the right supports he could parent his baby. He had made changes in his life, had a part-time job and was supported by his extended family. The social worker agreed the father had displayed a loving disposition with the baby and when asked by the father’s barrister regarding the scope to increase access she said the quality of access would need to improve before this could happen.
The mother’s barrister put it to the social worker she had focused on the four older children that had been take into care and said that this had been 13 years previously. The social worker said she did not think the parents had the capacity for an appropriate or a safe level of care, based on her observations of access and the history with the older children.
She agreed with the barrister that this pregnancy was planned. The social worker said there had been a pre-birth case conference and the mother had not agreed to a level of co-operation. She said when she called on a home visit, the mother had called the Gardaí. She agreed that it was fair to say the mother’s emotions were heightened because of her other children being in care. The social worker said there was also an incident in the hospital when she asked the mother about drug testing.
She agreed with the mother’s barrister that as the baby had been removed at five days old, this had been distressing, access had been limited and it would not be unusual to wake the baby to spend time with him. She agreed the extended family was a support and she was hoping the family support worker would support the parents at access in the future.
The social worker agreed that a parenting programme would alleviate her concerns. The mother’s barrister said the mother was willing to give an undertaking to the court to behave in a particular manner and not to have outbursts. She said the mother was happy to facilitate a call-out every day if the baby was returned under a supervision order. The social worker said this was not enough to satisfy her that the baby would be safe.
When asked about whether the parents moving closer to the father’s extended family for support would alleviate her concerns, she said she would be worried that if the family members were not making themselves available, what level of support would be there if the couple did move. She said the mother’s family were not local and had not attended any meetings regarding the level of support they could provide.
The social work department would have to see an improvement in quality before there could be an increase in access.
The judge said he had read the reports. He noted that the mother did not like taking medication and he confirmed with her barrister that she was not on a prescription and she had no outstanding criminal charges.
Judge: “The primary place for any child is with their parents. [The situation] would improve a lot more if the father’s family, who had a calming effect, would be able to provide support if the parents moved. I can understand while a baby can be cute looking while sleeping but the parents want to interact, and I know it is not best practice but if the access was longer and calmer it might be better.”
Social worker: “I make allowances, I know they want to interact.”
Judge: “What I’m saying is, maybe a bit longer. Could it go to two hours? It would improve if the mother behaved herself. It doesn’t take an undertaking to the court. It would go better if no threats to the social workers was agreed.”
The judge extended the interim care order to the next month’s court date and said he was not happy with the way access was going. He said there were four points he wanted to make about the mother and father having better quality access and parental assistance.
Judge: “I would like to see more input from the father’s family, the parents may not want to move but it would help, access could be longer and calmer, and everyone should behave themselves whilst access was happening, and I recommend an increase in access.”
He asked the mother and father to take the accounts of access on board. When the father said he had held the baby up high to wind her the judge said there was nothing wrong and he fully understood he wanted to engage. The mother said the social worker was trying to cause conflict. The judge said he wanted both sides to work together and make adjustments.
He extended the care order.