The District Court made an interim care order in respect of a new-born infant, amid serious concerns of substance abuse, domestic violence and coercive control within the parents’ relationship.
The mother could not be contacted and the court was told the father had been in touch with the Child and Family Agency (CFA) sporadically, but neither parent was present in court or legally represented. The position outlined was that both parents were significantly addicted to alcohol and drugs.
The solicitor for the CFA said that an order had been granted allowing the CFA to serve papers in relation to its application for an interim care order by way of text message on the father. She told the court that the social work team had no address for either parent, but did have a mobile number for the father. She said the allocated social worker would give evidence that there had been some correspondence with him through this means.
The solicitor said there were serious concerns about the parents’ ability to remain in contact with the CFA. She said the evidence would be that since the text messages were sent to the father informing him of the court date, there had been some limited correspondence with him, but “none at all” with the mother.
The solicitor confirmed the infant was currently in the care of his maternal grandmother, but the intention was that he would move to another relative, who lived outside of Dublin. The solicitor said the grandmother had “a number of children, including adult children,” residing with her, so it was “not an ideal environment” for the infant.
Evidence in relation to service of papers on the parents
The allocated social worker was called to give evidence in relation to service first. The social worker was asked to outline the contact she had had with the parents since the text messages had been sent.
Social worker: “I sent texts on Monday and spoke with [the father] on two or three occasions since then, and he told me he would be present and would contact a solicitor for representation… I contacted him again this morning, but his phone doesn’t appear to be in use anymore.”
The social worker confirmed that she had no contact information whatsoever for the mother and had never spoken to her. She said the father had indicated that he would contact the mother and that she would also be present, but she had no idea if this had actually occurred.
When asked by the judge if the parents were still a couple, the social worker said as far as she knew they were still together. She told the court that she had also spoken with the maternal grandmother who confirmed the mother was aware of the court date.
Having heard the evidence in relation to the communications with the parents, the judge said he was satisfied service was in order and the application for the interim care order could proceed in their absence.
Evidence of addiction social worker
The first witness called was a social worker attached to a maternity hospital in Dublin. She said she worked in addiction and the mother had been referred to her following an admission to a separate hospital in the aftermath of an alleged assault by the father. She said the mother was almost three months pregnant at the time of her admission.
The witness told the court that the mother was previously known to the CFA, but only in relation to housing difficulties, and there were no concerns in respect of addiction and domestic violence until more recently.
Witness: “She does have two older children, but they do not have the same father. On this pregnancy it was a different father and there were serious concerns raised in relation to domestic violence within the relationship.”
The witness said that when she met the mother following her initial admission to the maternity hospital, she was focused on going to a residential centre for treatment in relation to her addiction issues. She said she had been there before and had done very well. She said the mother “knew that the baby could be taken away from her if she did not show progress.”
The witness was asked how the mother presented in hospital during her admission. She said sometimes she was articulate and other times she was aggressive with staff.
Witness: “There was also a big concern that she seemed to be affected [by drugs] at times, and it appeared she was actively using in the hospital.”
The witness said dip stick and urine samples were taken which tested positive for cocaine, so it was likely the mother was getting the substances from someone she was meeting outside the grounds of the hospital. She said further urine samples tested positive for alcohol.
The witness went on to say that the most concerning issue was that the mother’s partner was “often seen with her” in the hospital. She said this was “a huge concern” given the background to her admission.
The witness said that when the medical team informed the mother that she was going to be discharged following a full ante-natal screening, she took it upon herself to leave the hospital the night before her discharge.
Witness: “Staff tried to contact her as they were very worried about her wellbeing and the unborn baby’s wellbeing, but we heard nothing from her over the next number of months and we weren’t even sure if she was alive or dead.”
The witness said that when the mother was about eight months pregnant, she re-engaged for ante-natal care, and “just appeared in the hospital.” The mother told staff that she was back in the drug treatment centre and receiving addiction treatment. The witness said that she saw the mother on one occasion prior to the delivery of the child and then every day following the birth and while in post-natal care.
She said it was very concerning that the mother had made out that she was no longer with the father, and that her mother was going to be her support person in labour, but staff were then “very alarmed when [the father] presented with her when she was in labour.”
The witness described how at a pre-discharge meeting, the mother “changed her story and changed how she talked to us.” She said the mother told staff that everything was fine and she “completely dismissed” any previous concerns or issues raised in relation to domestic violence.
Witness: “I addressed the lack of ante-natal care and that we hadn’t known where she was. I said that we had no idea what substances she was on. She couldn’t understand or see past the concerns. She couldn’t seem to separate herself from [the father].”
The witness was asked whether at any child protection conferences, concerns were raised that the mother would not be able to prioritise her new-born baby.
Witness: “Absolutely. The way she presented indicated that her addiction and her relationship with the father completely overrode her ability to prioritise [the baby]. She is caught in a cycle of violence and will say what needs to be said.”
The witness said she did not think the mother had any real ability to rectify her situation until she went through several years of addiction services and therapy. The witness confirmed that she had not seen the mother since she gave birth, but that she had been advised by the maternal grandmother that she was still “very much addicted.”
CFA solicitor: “Were there any concerns about [the baby’s] health when he was born?”
Witness: “We did tests and monitoring and he didn’t present as requiring treatment, but we are concerned that he was exposed to cocaine and alcohol use during the pregnancy and he may have a dependency in that regard, but we don’t know yet.”
The judge asked whether from the witness’s own interactions with the mother she had formed any view as to the nature of the relationship with the father.
Witness: “She disclosed that her own father, who was an alcoholic himself, had actually introduced her to him, and he would have been known in the community as quite a violent criminal.”
The witness said the mother had told her previously that she had been “held in the house at times and couldn’t leave.” She said it was also “a significant sign of control” that the father had bought the mother “a number of burner phones.”
The next witness called by the CFA was the social worker allocated to the child.
Evidence of allocated social worker
The witness said that the mother had been known to the CFA “since she was a child herself.” She said the mother’s two older children were currently in the care of the maternal grandmother in a private arrangement.
The witness went on to describe the lack of engagement by the mother with the social work team following her self-discharge from hospital. She said: “We heard she was sleeping in tents and actively using.”
The witness was asked about the arrangement with the maternal grandmother. She said that since the infant’s birth, the grandmother was largely taking care of him, but the mother had also been staying in the house for periods of time, and the team was told she was drinking.
The witness went on to describe a recent access between the mother and the baby and said she presented “significantly affected.”
Witness: “She was largely slurring her words and falling around while [the infant] was in his buggy.”
The witness said she attended the grandmother’s home when the mother “eventually resurfaced.” She said a safety meeting was held in the home, and a plan was put in place in which the mother agreed that she would engage in AA meetings, and attend her GP in order to address her issues. The witness said it was apparent that the mother had “a lack of insight” into the level of risk and the level of violence and abuse in her life.
CFA solicitor: “What kind of involvement has the father had over the course of this time?”
Witness: “The mother advised at a child protection conference that they were not in a relationship anymore, but we know this is not the case… he has issues in relation to his own substance abuse and we understand he was residing with his own mother for a time, but they are both currently homeless at the moment.”
The witness was asked about the outcome of the safety planning, and said that although the mother engaged well initially, and attended her GP, and also attended AA meetings, “she continued to drink alcohol.”
Witness: “We were advised that on one recent occasion, drink was being thrown over the wall of the back garden. There was a struggle between [the mother] and [the grandmother], so [the grandmother] asked her to the leave the house after that.”
She said that unfortunately there had been no engagement with the mother since that time, and the only information the CFA had in relation to her wellbeing was information gleaned from the grandmother, who informed the CFA that the mother “contacts her from different numbers, often in a distressed state.” She said the CFA would continue to make extensive efforts to contact her.
Witness: “I have very serious concerns for her. We believe she is residing with [the father] somewhere, but we have no access to her own mobile phone, and worryingly, it seems the father has access to her finances. There are very serious questions of control here…”
CFA solicitor: “What are the risk factors in respect of [the infant] at this present moment?”
Witness: “We are concerned that [the infant’s] needs will not be met… that he won’t be washed and fed. We have no idea what could happen to him, and there is every possibility he could be exposed to [the mother and father] fighting, and might even be injured. He is a hugely vulnerable child, given his age and the situation with his parents.”
The CFA solicitor noted that there had been a consistent pattern of child protection concerns in respect of the infant and that intervention was clearly necessary, but that despite extensive efforts to re-engage with the mother, she had failed to do so and was still very much “in the throes of her addiction.” The solicitor said it was also “hugely concerning” that the father was still very clearly “a presence in mother’s life.” She said it was clear the threshold existed to grant the interim care order in respect of the infant.
In terms of the anticipated care arrangement for the baby, the CFA solicitor advised the court that the baby’s maternal aunt was the intended foster carer, and that she had been caring for the infant alongside the grandmother for the last number of weeks. However, an assessment to determine her suitability in this regard had not yet commenced. The solicitor said that the assessment was due to start in the coming weeks, but until then the baby would stay with his maternal grandmother.
The court said it would maintain the status quo in relation to the infant’s care, and would not make the interim care order until the assessment had commenced. The court also appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL).
When the matter came back before the court on a subsequent date, it was confirmed that the assessment had begun and the aunt was deemed a suitable carer. The court was satisfied to grant the interim care order, noting that it was in the best interests of the child, in circumstances where both the mother and father were not in a position to safeguard the infant’s welfare.