An interim care order was extended by a District Court in a rural town for two young children and their parents. The mother was not in court, she did have representation by a solicitor and a barrister, but they had received no updated instructions. The father was in court, he did not have representation and said he had applied for legal aid, but this application had not yet been processed.
Evidence of the social worker
The social worker said the children, both pre-school age, were in different foster placements. She said the parents had refused to comply with previous court orders and when the children were taken into the care of the social worker the father would not hand the children over peacefully. An Gardai Siochana, including an armed response team, had to be called. The father finally handed the children over to the social worker at one o’clock in the morning.
The younger child remained in her initial foster placement. She said the girl was doing well but the foster carers had concerns she was not reaching her developmental milestones. She was non-verbal, could not engage in simple interactions such as ‘clap hands’ and developmentally acted like a new-born. She said it was only now that the girl had started to seek any sort of affection. The foster carers were concerned about some of the behaviour she exhibited. The girl had weekly access with her mother and father at different times and it had gone well. The social worker had tried to formalise an access plan that would accommodate the needs of the girl.
The elder child, a boy, was in an emergency foster placement. His first two emergency foster placements had both broken down. An aunt had been put forward as a potential foster carer but she had not completed or returned the necessary forms.
The social worker told the court that the boy had very, very significant challenging behaviour. This had included headbanging, biting, kicking and an inability to soothe or be pacified. She said that both emergency foster placements had been with foster carers who had 12 and 13 years of foster care experience respectively. Each had said the behaviour of the boy was the most challenging they had ever met. The placements had broken down because of the boy’s behaviour and the effect that had had on other children in the placement.
She had spoken with the manager of the creche the boy attended, who had said in her 30 years’ experience of working in creches this boy’s behaviour was the most challenging she had ever encountered. She said she had had to allocate two members of staff who rotated daily to manage this child.
The boy had assessments by occupational and physiotherapists and an assessment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and she was waiting for the reports of these assessments. She told the court the boy had now, most fortunately, been placed in a bespoke residential unit that could meet all his needs. She said the residential unit was new, he was more settled and more regulated.
The mother had not had access with the boy because of his distress and dysregulated behaviour after access. She said that she had organised a video call between the mother and boy but within one minute of the call the boy had become exceptionally distressed and so dysregulated that it had to be stopped.
The social worker told the court that the mother had a significant history of her own childhood abuse. She had alcohol dependency issues and experienced homelessness. She had five other children who were all subject to full care orders. She said there was a poor and acrimonious relationship between the mother and father, and they had finally split in the autumn of the previous year.
The mother was dependent on the father to help her parent and when they split the mother found managing the children very difficult. All these issues had necessitated the involvement of the CFA. The mother was currently living with the sibling of her former foster carer, but it was unsuitable and inappropriate for the children. She was waiting for suitable accommodation through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme.
Since the children had been in foster care the mother had been helpful and called most days for an update. She informed the social worker of techniques, that she [the social worker] had been able to pass on to the foster carers to help soothe, calm and pacify the boy.
A parental capacity assessment had been completed three years earlier but a further assessment for these two children was to be completed. The social worker had said she had set a trajectory of the work that needed to be completed for the mother, father and the two children which included a parental capacity assessment and assessments for the children.
The social worker had said she wanted time for this work to be completed, hence the application for an interim care order for four months. She said the CFA and social work department wanted to work with the mother, but she [the mother] needed to demonstrate that she could be substance free. The mother minimised her alcohol use. However, she recognised she needed help, had psychological therapy, counselling, and had been referred to a dependency rehabilitation centre.
She said the father had said he wanted to be involved and care for the children but had not been proactive in that. The father currently resided with his mother and had made an application for council housing. She said the father had said he was the only one who could calm and handle the boy, but he had given no information to her or to the foster carers as to how to do this.
She said the boy required special shoes and the father had not provided these to the foster carers. The boy was also calm when strapped into his chair or buggy and she had asked three times for the father to deliver the buggy either to her or to the foster carers, but he had not and finally the social worker collected it.
She said that when the second foster placement had broken down, she approached the father to ascertain if he would be willing to care for the boy. She had secured emergency accommodation from the county council for this, but the father was not willing.
She had also secured a foster placement where the father could reside with the boy but again the father was not willing to do this. The social worker said: “He [the father] said I am not doing the CFA’s job”.
If a placement had not been secured the alternative would have been to place the boy in hospital as a place of safety. This was challenged by the mother’s barrister who said it was not appropriate for a grown man to reside in a foster placement to care for a child. The social worker responded that the alternative was to have the child placed in hospital.
The solicitor for the CFA also informed the court that there had been substantial and inappropriate social media posts. They had been sometimes daily contact with the legal team of social media hosts to have the posts removed.
Evidence of the GAL
The GAL said she had only recently been appointed and had not yet met with the boy. She had met with the father. The father had told her that he knew how to handle the boy and could deal with his behaviour but that he was not going to be stuck with the boy or do the social worker’s job. She repeated what the social worker had said that the father had not passed on techniques and methods to the social worker or foster carers that would help the boy.
She said it would be necessary for both the mother and father to undertake a parenting capacity assessment to ascertain what supports they would need to care for these children. She had met with the girl and the current placement was meeting her needs. She said she supported the CFA’s application.
The judge extended the interim care order for 28 days and told the father it was imperative he obtained legal representation.