Interim care orders extended for six children, reunification possible – 2024vol1#21

A judge in a rural town extended interim care orders for six children from one family for 28 days. The children had the same mother but different fathers, only one of whom was in court and represented.

This matter concerned an application by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to extend interim care orders for six children from the same family. The mother was represented but not present in court. The father of the four youngest children was in court and was represented by a solicitor and a barrister. The applications to extend the interim care orders for the youngest children were heard first. Evidence was heard from the social worker and from the guardian ad litem (GAL).

Evidence from the social worker

The social worker gave evidence related to the four youngest children. The youngest children were preschool aged, a girl (A) and a boy (B), they were placed together in a foster family. He said the placement for A and B was ideal, it was a farm and there had been lambing recently which the children had thoroughly enjoyed. He said the youngest child A was assertive and confident. The social worker said: “She [A] had told me I was not to worry about B that she would mind him.” He said that B had been angry at times especially after access, but the foster carers had been supported with managing this.

The next children a boy (C) and a girl (D) were school aged and placed together in another foster family. The social worker said the placement for C and D was more settled than it had been, but C had found it particularly difficult. He said the placement was rural. The foster family had routines, bedtimes, and structure which the children had not been used to. They had found adapting to the routine difficult C much more so than D.

The social worker said that he had tried to make extra visits as C had constantly stated how unhappy he was and would say that each time the social worker visited. However, the foster carer had said that on a day-to-day basis he had not presented as unhappy. He said the school that C and D attended was almost an hour’s drive away from the foster home. A taxi collected and returned them, but a change of school was being considered.

He said that the phones for C and D had had been removed. It had not caused as much difficulty as had been expected. He said they had access to iPads for computer time and games. The foster carer had noted an improvement in both children since the phones had been removed. He said that D was awaiting an occupational therapy assessment and C was awaiting a psychological assessment. He had referred both children to the therapeutic team but if the waiting lists were long, funding would be sourced for private assessments.

He said an access review meeting had taken place very recently and another meeting had been planned to try to ensure there was appropriate access. Firstly between the children and parents then between the children with each other. He said that given the age range of the children they had different needs at access, and this was trying to be accommodated.

He said that twice the mother had presented under the influence of an intoxicating substance and access had to be cancelled. The mother had also asked for more phone access, and this was to be considered at the upcoming access meeting.

A parenting capacity assessment had been completed for the mother and risk assessment for the father. It was hoped both reports would be ready and distributed soon. He said that a long-term plan would be made based on the recommendations from those reports.

The mother’s solicitor said that the mother would like more access. The social worker replied that it was to be discussed at the next access meeting.

The father’s barrister said that he would like more access and he would like access to be moved to outdoors especially in the summer months. The social worker said that again this would be discussed at the upcoming access meeting where it was hoped an access plan could be devised to meet the needs of all the children.

The father’s barrister said that the father objected to a change of school for C and D. She said the father felt it was not fair for the children to change schools because they were settled. The social worker said the children were commuting up to two hours per day to attend school. No decision had been made, it had only been a consideration. Nothing would be decided until the recommendations of the parenting capacity assessment and risk assessment were known. He said that if those assessments recommended reunification a change of school would have to be carefully considered as it might mean the children would have to change back if they are reunified with their parents.

The GAL said that she had manged to visit all children in their placements. She said C remained unhappy and C had said everything was wrong. She said this was his third placement. This placement had routine and structure that he had difficulty adapting to. She said when she had spoken to him his response was nothing was right. She had asked the social worker to refer him for a therapeutic or even a trauma-based assessment.

She said that C was loyal to his mother and wanted to return to her. The conversations that she and the social worker had with C were very negative conversations because he was unhappy. He was very clear about what he wanted and what he did not want. She believed he would benefit from some form of safe place where he could examine those feelings.

She had also spent a great deal of time with the foster carers giving advice about how to manage the boy. She said C was more settled, the foster carers were committed to him, and the placement met his needs. Before she would support a change of school, she would like to review the reports of the assessments the parents had undertaken. She wanted C to be assessed to ascertain what his needs were. Once his needs were known then a decision could be made as which school would best meet those needs.

She said D needed an occupational therapy assessment and D also said he wanted to go home. D needed guidance and the parent’s assessments and D’s own assessment would inform any school placement.

She said that although A was the youngest, she was far more assertive that B. The GAL said: “Let me just say it like it is. A is very assertive in the best sense, she watches over [B], looks out for him but also dominates him.” She said the placement met the needs of A and B. Both children were thriving, changes and progress could be seen. She said the foster carers had reported some disruption after access, B would be more inclined to have a temper tantrum, whereas A’s sleep would be disturbed. The GAL said that she had offered advice to the foster carers to help address this.

The father’s barrister said there had been the suggestion that C had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but asked could this be a form of trauma. The GAL said that a trained and experienced psychologist would be able to differentiate these. She said ADHD and trauma can manifest simultaneously, with similar symptoms, that was why an assessment was needed to ensure that C was not incorrectly diagnosed.

She said that she would not support a change in school today, as it needed to be part of a long-term plan. All the assessments would have to be reviewed which would include an assessment as to which school would best meet the needs of the children. The father’s barrister asked: “Has anyone asked the children about what they want and if they want to change schools?” The GAL said: “It’s best for adults to make decisions, based on all of the assessments.”

The judge said: “Will the PCA determine what will happen.” The GAL said: “Yes, I think so.” Replying to a question from the judge, the solicitor for the CFA said that section 18 hearing dates had not yet been applied for as the recommendations from the parenting capacity assessment and risk assessment would determine the long-term plan. The judge extended the interim care orders for one month.

Second part of the hearing

The father of the four younger children left the court room as he was not the father to the older two children. The older children a boy (E) and a girl (F) were in their late teenage years. As before the mother was not present in court but a lawyer represented her. The solicitor for the CFA stated that he was unsure if the father of E and F was a guardian to the children, but he had been served with the proceedings. Again, evidence was heard from the social worker and from the GAL.

The social worker said that the father had proved difficult to engage. There had been only one contact with him in the past number of months. E and F had been in the same foster placement, but the foster placement had stated that while they were very fond of E, they would not be willing to care for him in the long term. He said the critical issue was to try to find a placement for E as soon as possible. He had tried all options but could find no foster family and it was most likely that E would be placed in a residential unit. He said that the boy wanted to be assessed for autism and wanted to return to his mother.

The GAL said that E and F were doing well but the placement was a significant concern. She said that it was urgent a placement was found for E as he was about to enter aftercare. She said again the recommendations from the parenting capacity assessment would inform the long-term plan.

F had done national exams and had done exceptionally well in mock exams which had boosted her confidence. She said that referrals should have been made a long time ago. F was approaching aftercare and because of her age she wanted to leave school as she was so much older than her peers. She said F was capable.

The judge said: “Yes I have read the reports, she is a very capable child.” The GAL said that the girl had completed her exams and she felt she would do better that she expected which, the GAL hoped, would give her some confidence to pursue her education. At present, she did not want to go back to school, she wanted to obtain disability allowances and return to her mother The GAL wanted F to have a written confirmed plan as that would help her.

She said both children wanted to go home, neither wanted to engage in formal education or in any apprenticeships, college courses, vocational courses or other schooling or development. The GAL said: “It is essential there is a plan otherwise they will flounder.”

The GAL said again she had had long discussions with the foster carer. She said the foster carer had done a very good job. She was a single foster carer and worked full time, but she had manged both children very well. She said the foster carer was open to all discussions but would not be able to meet the needs of E. She said the foster carer would be happy to offer E respite which was very positive.

The judge said that she would extend the interim care order by 28 days and hoped that once the results of the parenting capacity assessment were known it would help formulate a long-term plan for these children.