An interim care order was extended for a young teenager who had been in the care of the Child and Family Agency since 2011.The foster placement had broken down and the CFA was now seeking a residential placement for the girl.
The mother, who was legally represented, opposed the application.
The social worker gave evidence that the current foster placement had broken down because the foster carers could no longer provide the care and the supports A needed. The foster placement was in a rural town and A’s mother lived in a city. The girl absconded from her foster placement, which was reported to the Gardai. When she was found she made it clear that she did not wish to return to her foster placement.
The social worker stated there had been several incidents, including some behavioural issues, and A had refused to engage with the foster carers. The social worker said that the CFA was actively looking for an alternative placement but felt at this stage a residential placement was the best option. She said that other care options were explored but these were not available. The father was believed to reside in another jurisdiction and there had been no contact with him for several years. She said neither the mother nor the CFA knew of his whereabouts nor had any contact details.
The social worker said that A had had access with her mother when the Covid 19 restrictions were lifted and had not wanted to return to her foster placement afterwards. She said: “The problems of A not returning after access with her mother made things difficult and now because of the restrictions [we] would recommend only phone contact. There is a review meeting for access in two weeks and currently A is having phone contact with her mother, but she sometimes does not want this.”
She said the mother had asked for her sister to be considered as a foster carer. However, the sister was a carer for two other children and it would not be suitable for A. She said the CFA was still waiting for a parenting capacity assessment for the mother to ascertain her suitability and this needed to be completed before A could be returned to her care.
She said that as the current placement had broken down and an alternative had not yet been found, the social work department had been able to secure support for the current placement by way of a support worker, who would visit A at the placement for four days per week for three hours. On the other the days the social worker herself visited the placement. She informed the court that a referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) had been made for A, who had shown regressive behaviour. She believed the threshold had been met and the interim care order needed to be extended.
Cross-examined by the mother’s solicitor, she acknowledged that A was unhappy in her placement, she was sad, it was difficult and the girl wanted to leave. She said there was another person in the placement who had intellectual difficulties and was encroaching her space which she found difficult. A had been in care since 2011 but had access with her mother every second weekend and this was unsupervised up until 2019.
She told the court A had been in a settled placement for many years but unfortunately had had to leave that placement. She felt A was grieving the loss of that initial placement and had regressed. Because of some of the issues she was having access had been reduced to two hours. She said she was listening to the views of A, who had said she did not want access with her mother but that her mother wanted overnight access with her daughter.
“I think that it would be too big of a jump to place [A] with her mother. I recognise that her mother’s views are that [A] would be better with her than in a residential unit, but it would not be possible until the parenting capacity assessment was completed and [A] was ready to go to her mother.”
She said A had not given a reason as to why she did not want to go to her mother. Any access going forward would be reviewed.
The mother gave evidence and said that A had told her that her foster carer was “getting in her face”, “shouting at her” and “getting in her head”. She said that was her main concern. She wanted access and calls with A. She said she acknowledged that she had not been able to care for A when she was younger, but she was much older now and had been caring for her second child, who is now five, without difficulty. She said she understood the objections of the social workers but felt that any child, including A, would be better with her than in a residential unit.
The guardian ad litem (GAL) supported the application and stated that it was necessary for a parenting capacity assessment (PCA) to be completed. The GAL sympathised with the mother but said that A’s needs were very different from those of a five-year-old. The GAL said she felt a move of A to her mother’s would be unplanned, unstructured, an emergency and as result was likely to fail.
The GAL said that A was disconnected and needed a psychiatric assessment. A had lost her initial foster placement and she believed there was significant grief around that loss. She said A constantly wanted to see her first foster carer. A engaged well and was articulate but she was unsure of her processing. She said that A was tangibly vulnerable at present and was waiting to go the residential unit, she was exhibiting behaviours of stress and loss.
The GAL said the residential placement was available and might be able to work well by allowing A to find a mother figure from a team of people. She said that A was struggling with her emotions and the loss of this placement had bought up significant stressors regarding the loss of the first placement. The GAL said that at present phone contact with her mother was difficult for A in general and she believed the residential unit would improve contact with her mother.
The judge having heard the evidence stated the threshold had been met and extended the interim care order, joining this to a section 18 application which he hoped would bring certainty to A.