The Dublin District Court granted an application for an interim care order for two young children, where the older siblings were already in care. The children had previously been under a supervision order. The mother was legally represented and there was a guardian ad litem (GAL) assigned to the case.
The social worker was recalled to be cross-examined by the solicitor for the mother on the second day of the hearing. Referring to her visit to the home, she agreed it was clean and the laundry was done.
She was asked about the rationale for deciding about applying for the interim care order. The social worker said that they had tried to put supports in place and that those in place were the most intensive. Asked when a placement was identified she said it had been in the previous week. She denied that that was a deciding a factor in applying for the interim care order. The mother’s solicitor said that they had been before the court on numerous occasions but that it had only been recently identified that the Child and Family Agency (CFA) would apply for an interim care order.
Asked about the threshold for seeking the interim care order, the social worker said that the youngest child was not attending creche and that medical appointments had been missed. She was asked about the role the children’s uncle played in the safety planning. The social worker said that they had met several times over the last year but when the mother was experiencing hard times the uncle was never present when the social worker visited. She also said that when the mother had been hospitalised the uncle was not there.
The mother’s solicitor acknowledged that there had been some problems regarding school attendance following recent bereavements, but apart from that attendance had been good. The social worker accepted that and said 15 days had been missed. The mother’s solicitor said that the mother had sought the advice of the school who said it would not be unusual for a school child to miss days due to sickness.
The mother’s solicitor questioned the social worker regarding the public health advice that the youngest child should be going to creche. The solicitor put it to the social worker that the child cried the entire time the child was left there. The social worker said she was aware of that but said that the business of a creche was to settle the child in.
The solicitor asked what were the alternative options to an interim care order whereby the mother could have her children. The social worker said that the mother was one of the most supported, she had a key worker and that many services were provided to try and support her.
Asked about the impact of an interim care order on the children the social worker accepted that it was very hard. She was asked if she had received any other referrals and she said she had not.
Asked about the public health nurse, the social worker said appointments were missed and that the social work team had been asked to carry out public health duties.
The social worker was asked about the threshold criteria and whether “good enough parenting” was sufficient and whether the benefits outweighed the deficits. The social worker disagreed and said she was looking at the children’s behaviours. The mother’s solicitor said the other children were a different case but in respect of the two youngest they only know their mum and their community and the school and a move to a placement in the northern part of the country would be difficult.
The judge asked the social worker some questions in respect of the uncle’s involvement and whether he attended meetings and supported the mother. The social worker said she had not seen any engagement from the uncle, he was hostile and difficult to meet.
The mother told the court she had experienced recent bereavements. She said she wanted to engage and the children were all she had. The youngest two had never been away from her. Her solicitor asked her about the youngest attending the creche. She said that the child was crying all the time and was not settling. She had taken her three separate times. She said the child was not yet three and was not yet eligible for the ECCE placement. She was asked how the children would be if they moved to the northern part of the country. She said they only knew their mum.
The GAL gave evidence and her report had been handed into the court.
The GAL had been appointed as a GAL to the older children (not the subject of this ICO) but had also been appointed to the youngest two children in the Spring. She had knowledge of the difficulties in the past and the plans to address the difficulties, the main one being neglect and the deficits in the children’s needs being met. She said it was not one isolated incident but a pattern of behaviour and non-engagement.
She said neglect was evident and the purpose of the supervision order was to address the cyclical nature of the issues. She acknowledged that the mother had the best of intentions but struggled and that the quality of the children’s lives needed to improve.
The social work team had looked at how the mother understood things and her cognitive abilities. They had focused on how to work on issues when things go wrong. She said they had been stuck on the basic components of engagement.
She said the mother got stuck on habitual life skills and struggled with her personal functioning. She acknowledged that the mother had really tried to engage and that there had been some really difficult bereavements and that the mother had reached a saturation point in respect of trauma, but said that it was really difficult to balance the mother’s needs and the children’s needs.
The children had been on the child protection register for 12 months under “neglect” and that there were no other options within the community to support the mother more. She said there was a cumulative effect regarding the schooling, home conditions and the crèche issue. The mother was not making progress. The needs of the children were not being met and that if the children were left with the mother it would become a stagnant situation.
The GAL said it was the parent’s role to get the child to become independent at school and crèche in a manageable way. The mother took the child out of the crèche. The child needed to socialise with other children and learn to take turns and all of the things children are meant to do. She said a lot of responsibility fell on the elder of the two children and there was too much responsibility on her for her stage of development. When the supervision order was granted they had spoken about the seriousness of that and that the mother had good intentions but got derailed.
She was asked if she had been in contact with the uncle and she said she had not, only that she was aware that the mother had cancelled meetings in order to meet with the uncle.
She was asked if the CFA had factored into their plan “a mum with difficulties” and she said it had. The mother had undertaken a cognitive assessment and had help with organisational skills and had the benefit of family support services.
The GAL said the children needed consistent quality. She acknowledged the CFA had taken time to get going but that they had offered more sessions for the mother to fully engage. They had asked at a meeting a month ago if they could do more. The DHSS offered further sessions three times a week and observed the mother interacting with the children and observed her parenting of the children. She agreed with the social worker. She said there had already been a supervision order and she was not satisfied there was another service available. She said she was cognisant of the impact on the mother of being separated from the children but was also cognisant of the children’s needs.
The judge commented that in relation to schooling the parent has to take the lead and take the children on a journey. He said all parents had to lead the child on the next stage of independence.
In summarising the evidence the judge said that the court had heard the evidence of five different parties over the past two days. Evidence had been heard in respect of the condition of the house. The court had heard evidence of a number of sessions having been arranged with DHSS but nothing achieved as a result. Evidence had been heard from the allocated social worker who had worked with the family for two years and who gave evidence that the child was quite “parentified” and that the youngest was with the mother 24/7. The court noted that the GAL was supportive of the application as the mother was not meeting the needs of the child and the elder of the two children was taking on too much responsibility and that situation could not continue.
Granting the interim care order the judge said that the supervision order previously granted should have been a wakeup call and that the next step was an interim care order. The supervision order had been in place for a number of months but matters had not improved. He said it was evident that the mother loved the children but that the difficulty the court had was that it could not ignore the evidence. The threshold had been met and that the interests of the children must now be prioritised. The reason for granting the order was not just in respect of the state of the accommodation but that that the mother was unwilling to allow the youngest attend the crèche and was unwilling to change the family routine in order to facilitate the child’s attendance.
The judge recommended generous access. The case will come back before the court at a later date for review.