Interim Care Order extended while post-mortem results awaited – 2017vol2#8

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) applied for an extension of an interim care order for one child in the District Court of a rural town. The solicitor for the CFA informed the court that little had changed since the case was before the court the previous month and the CFA was of the view that the grounds continued to exist for an interim care order.

The social worker team leader testified that her report was accurate and true. The parents were not present in court but were legally represented. They had instructed their legal representatives to oppose the application but did not advance any evidence to support this position. The guardian ad litem (GAL) supported the CFA’s application. The judge granted the CFA’s application to extend the Interim Care Order for one month.

During this hearing a Detective Sergeant gave evidence that a file of relevance to this family was sent to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) during the summer of 2017. He did not have a timeline on when the DPP would issue directions on the matter. The judge noted that a care order hearing for the child under section 18 of the Act was scheduled to take place in early 2018.

The judge stated that if no DPP directions were available by mid-November he would make a direction under section 47 of the Child Care Act 1991, on the court’s own motion, that a post-mortem report on a child of the family who died, prepared in relation to the matter under consideration by the DPP, be released to the parents to assist them in preparing for the care order hearing. The judge explained: “In circumstances where an investigation is ongoing for one and a half years I have to consider the interests of the deceased child and I have to balance those with the child not enjoying the society of her parents on a regular basis”.

The case returned a month later. Once again the CFA applied for an extension to an interim care order in respect of the child. The court was informed that the Garda file is still with DPP and no directions had been issued.

The social worker gave evidence that the child was getting on “very well” in her placement and with her development. The child had received some medical checks, including an initial screening in relation to speech and language difficulties and was scheduled to have a follow up assessment. The CFA was currently seeking funding for the child to have a psychological assessment.

The solicitor for the mother asked had the CFA informed the child’s mother of the proposed psychological assessment. The social worker indicated that once the CFA had secured funding they would then inform the mother. The solicitor asked that the CFA set out in writing the reason for the assessment and the psychologist’s qualifications; the social worker agreed. The solicitor for the mother noted that her client was not contesting the ICO extension but was also not consenting to it and was not providing any evidence to the court.

The GAL also provided testimony to the court. She said she supported the CFA’s application to extend the ICO. She told the court she met with the child within the previous week and that the child “continues to thrive“, adding that she “presents as pleasant and bubbly”. She said she had no concerns regarding access which was going well.

The judge granted the extension of the ICO for one month on foot of the new and previous evidence presented to the court.

In addition, the judge noted that if the post-mortem results had not been released to the parents in advance of the next court hearing date a month hence he intended to conduct a section 47 hearing. This hearing would consider the release of the post-mortem report to the parents to allow them to prepare for the Care Order hearing which is scheduled to take place in early 2018. The judge indicated that if he determined that the results of the post-mortem should be released to the parents “I may direct they are released within 24 hours”, this would give the parents seven weeks to prepare for the Care Order hearing.

The judge stated that he would bring the section 47 application on the court’s own motion if no motion was brought before court. The judge directed the solicitor for the CFA to put both An Garda Síochána and the Director of Public Prosecutions on notice of his statements in relation to the section 47 hearing and scheduled care order hearing. He added that a representative of the DPP and the Gardaí may attend the section 47 hearing and may be heard during the course of that hearing.