Interim care orders for four children extended, reunification at forefront of professionals’ minds – 2023vol1#16

A judge in a provincial town extended interim care orders for four children, all of pre-school age. Both parents fully contested this application. The judge said there is no penalty to parents for contesting any application.

The eldest a girl (A) and her sister (B) had been placed in one foster placement. Their brother (C), a toddler, was in another foster placement and the youngest girl (D), an infant, was fostered in a different placement. The mother was present in court. The father was incarcerated but was in court for the hearing. Both were represented by solicitors and contested the extension of the orders, seeking the return of all four children to the mother’s care.

Evidence of the social worker

The social worker said that the mother was bereft without her children and not having them in her care. She had engaged well with the social workers and had done everything she had been asked to do. The mother had regular access with the children, with all four children together on a Friday and then access with two children on a Tuesday alternating between A and B, the following Tuesday she had access with C and D.

The social work team leader said that at times the mother struggled with access. The mother found it difficult to give attention to all children equally and needed prompting from the access worker. The access worker gave advice and guidance prior to and after access.

The mother tended to bring gifts and treats for the children when what they needed was her time and attention, the gifts were not necessary. The children enjoyed the access, and it was hoped the quality of the access would improve with the guidance the mother received from the access worker.

The social work team leader said she had spoken with the mother and recommended an advocacy worker for her. She said the mother often felt she was being criticised or every comment was negative when the social work team leader felt it was guidance and support that were being offered. She said the mother had received advice from many different people which was not always in her [the mother’s] best interests. The social work team leader said she hoped an advocacy worker would be able to support the mother better and it would be advice that the mother would be able to rely on. The mother had accepted the social work team leader’s recommendation and an advocate would be appointed.

The social work team leader had contacted the prison where the father was incarcerated but it was difficult to make direct contact with him as prisoners were not allowed to receive calls. The father had requested access in the form of telephone and video calls, and this was being investigated, it was hoped this access could be arranged.

A parenting capacity assessment had been funded and an assessor identified, it was hoped that this assessment would start within the next few weeks. Terms of reference were to be agreed.

The children were doing well. A, the eldest, was settled. She pushed the boundaries, but this was being managed well by the foster carers. She had started to talk about what her life was like. She was being supported with this by the social worker and the foster carer. There was to be an assessment to ascertain if A would need some specific therapy to help her address what she had described.

She had some health issues in the form of respiratory infections and needed antibiotics, but these had resolved. She also had dental decay and treatment was being assessed. A had started school and from the school reports she was doing well.

B, who was in the same placement as A, was also doing well. The girl had started preschool and was doing well, the reports were that she loved school. The social work team leader said the placement was meeting the needs of A and B.

C, the boy, was doing well. He also had had some health issues, again mostly respiratory infections. He had not required hospitalisation. He continued to be a busy toddler, hated being confined in any way, especially in his car seat. He still had a restricted diet, but the foster carer had persisted in encouraging him to try new foods. The placement had met all his needs.

D, the youngest girl, remained in the same placement since her reception into care. She had also been unwell with respiratory infections and had attended hospital, but she had not been admitted. She had to have follow up appointments as the hospital wanted to monitor her immune system. Despite the periods of being unwell she was thriving in her placement which had met all her needs.

Cross-examined by the mother’s solicitor, the social worker confirmed the mother had not missed any access visits with her children. The solicitor told the social worker that the mother found access exceedingly difficult as she felt she was being constantly monitored, watched and assessed. The mother could not relax at access and the environment was artificial.

The social worker responded by saying whilst she appreciated the difficulties the mother had faced, the mother had done well and continued to work well with all professionals involved. The social worker said the parenting capacity assessment would make recommendations and further guide future plans. She confirmed that reunification was at the forefront of her mind. She told the father’s solicitor that all possible efforts were being made to facilitate access for him.

The mother did not give evidence.

The father said that he wanted the children returned to their mother as soon as possible and that he was willing to do whatever he could to support that. He told the court he had engaged in courses in prison on parenting. He had undertaken a detoxification programme and was willing to be directed by the social workers. He said: “I will do whatever I have to, to get my kids back.”

Evidence of guardian ad litem (GAL)

The GAL said she had met with the children in their various placements and they were all doing well. The children were happy and settled. However, she had recommended that the children be placed together. She recognised how difficult this might be, but it was in the children’s best interests to be placed together. If being placed together was not possible she had recommended the youngest two children (C and D) be placed in the same foster placement.

She said the children benefitted from the access, which she had witnessed. She had cautioned the mother about making promises to the children that were unrealistic. The GAL said: “There is no bad intent by the mother, and they all clearly enjoy access, the children really benefitted from seeing their mother, she [the mother] needs more help and guidance with parenting.” The GAL was supportive of the parenting capacity assessment and hoped it would take place as soon as possible.

The GAL said she had visited the father in prison. She said he would like access but accepted that the prison was not a child-friendly environment. She said it was important that the children had either phone call or video access, the children were entitled to a relationship with their father.

The judge said: “Before I start, I want to assure the parents there is no penalty attached to not consenting to any application, indeed sometimes it is better not to consent as then all the evidence is heard.” She said she was glad to see the father in court and it was important he participated as fully as he was able to. She said it was important that the mother heard that reunification is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

The judge said she was satisfied that the threshold for the extension of interim care orders existed and extended them for 28 days. She hoped the mother continued with the good work she had already done.