This case concerned seven children, the two youngest children were of pre-school age, the next four children were of primary school age and the eldest was a teenager.
The mother and father were present in court and both were represented by solicitor and barrister. The guardian ad litem (GAL) was also legally represented by a solicitor and barrister. The two youngest children were already the subject of interim care orders granted in the summertime and were in foster care. The eldest child was the subject of a supervision order and in the care of the children’s father. The four other children were the subject of voluntary care agreements and were placed in separate foster placements.
There were three separate applications before the court: an application to extend the interim care orders for the two youngest children; an application for interim care orders for the four primary school aged children and an application to extend the supervision order for the eldest child.
The father was consenting to all the applications. The mother was consenting to the first and third applications only. The mother said she would consent to an extension of the voluntary care agreements for the four primary school aged children but not to interim care orders.
The social workers were also seeking the court’s direction with regards to an application for a section 47 (of the Child Care Act 1991) direction concerning consent to medical investigation and treatment for the four primary school aged children. The father’s barrister told the court that this was not necessary as he would be able to consent to any medical treatment or investigations needed. The mother also consented.
The mother’s barrister told the court the mother would consent to an extension of the voluntary care agreements for the four primary school aged children; however, she would not consent to the applications for interim care orders. The barrister said they had only received the social work reports two days previously. She said that fair procedures and case law stated that the case had to be adjourned to allow the mother to read, digest and instruct her legal team about the contents of those reports which ran to nearly 40 pages.
The father was consenting to all the applications and was happy to proceed.
The solicitor the CFA said they had grave concerns for the safety of the children and there had been a significant life-threatening episode. It was essential the orders were made, and the threshold had been met. She said that the voluntary care agreements did not provide adequate protection and safety for the children. The mother had been erratic and could withdraw the children from this voluntary care arrangement at any time. The mother’s barrister reiterated that fair procedures dictated that there was not enough time for analysis of the social work reports and the matter had to be adjourned and she could open caselaw to the court to support this position.
The judge said that he would hear the case later in the day.
When proceedings resumed the mother’s barrister said there had been fruitful discussions and the mother would consent to the application for the interim care orders on the very narrow grounds of section 18(1)(c) only, that the children’s health, development or welfare was likely to be avoidably impaired to neglected. She did not accept that the children had been ill-treated or that their health, development or welfare had been impaired or neglected. She said that the mother had significant trust issues with social workers.
The court was satisfied with consent of the mother and the CFA accepted that the interim care orders could be made on the grounds of section 18(1)(c) only.
The social worker confirmed the contents of her reports, but these contents were not read to the court. She said that a parenting capacity assessment would be undertaken and the terms of reference for that assessment would be issued to all parties within the next two weeks. She had met with the access team and was arranging for all the siblings to meet up with each other over the half term. She told the court that the father had undertaken a parenting course online and the social work department would help the father with a face-to-face parenting course and with counselling.
The solicitor for the GAL said that the GAL was not consenting to the interim care orders on the narrow grounds of section 18(1)(c). She said that the other grounds, namely section 18(1)(a) and (b) (concerning past welfare concerns) had been met. However, she accepted that the court could make the order but would not concede the other grounds were not met.
Evidence of the GAL
The GAL had been appointed to all seven children. She said she was disturbed that the children were placed in foster care all over the country. She said she was most concerned about the seven-year-old who was exceptionally isolated in a very rural area and was very sad and lost. She had been placed with her sister but that placement had broken down because of toileting issues. She was working with the social workers and CFA to arrange sibling access.
The GAL reaffirmed her position and said that the threshold for interim care orders had been met for all the children, including the eldest child, and she did not accept nor consent to the interim care orders for the four primary school aged children on the grounds of section 18(1)(c) only. She said that the extension of the supervision order for the eldest child was the least worst option. She told the court An Gardai Siochana remained actively involved with this case.
For the two youngest children by consent of all parties their interim care orders were extended for 28 days. For the eldest child the supervision order by consent was extended for two months. For the four primary school aged children by consent an interim care order on the grounds of section 18(1)(c) only was granted.
The interim care orders were later extended on the consent of the parents.
Evidence was heard from the social worker on behalf of the CFA and from the GAL. The social worker said the father was homeless but hoped to have a two-bedroomed apartment soon. He had recent positive access with the children. The father was fully engaged with all services.
The terms of reference for the parental capacity assessment had been circulated and it was hoped they would be agreed. It had been agreed and the funding had been secured for the parenting capacity assessment to have a very broad remit and consider the needs of the entire family. The concerns of the CFA remained and had not diminished.
The GAL reaffirmed what the social worker had said, and her concerns remained. The parents had attended appointments with her and with the social worker but despite this engagement they lacked any awareness or insight as to why the children were in the care of the CFA. She said there continued to be further investigations and the children continued to be interviewed by specialists from An Garda Siochana. She had observed access which had been positive for the children. She said the children each had unique and individual needs and it had been difficult to find appropriate placements for them.
The interim care orders were extended for 28 days.