Judge advises parents of child in care at home to apply for legal representation immediately – 2024vol1#53

A judge in a rural court reviewed a care order for a teenage girl (A), who was living at home with her mother, having previously absconded from the care of her grandmother. She had been seen as at high risk while drinking alcohol and engaging in impulsive behaviour.

Her mother was present in court but was not legally represented. Her father, who was serving a prison sentence, was also brought to court by gardaí and did not have any legal representation. The mother had three younger children, who were the children of a different partner. The father of the three younger children, who had also been in prison, was now back living with the mother, A and the three young children in a one-bedroomed apartment.

The judge praised the mother for working towards the recommendations and undertakings previously made in court. She advised the parents to apply for legal representation before the next court date so that they would fully understand the proceedings. The judge told the Child and Family Agency (CFA) that she had decided to continue the care order for A, despite the fact that she was now living at home in her mother’s house. She strongly advised both parents to seek legal representation immediately.

A was the subject of a full care order and had resided with her grandmother until she absconded from that house. She was subsequently placed in an emergency short-term placement, but left that placement and returned to the care of her grandmother. She later left her grandmother’s home and returned to live with her mother. The lawyer for the CFA informed the judge that she wanted to live with her mother and would become a flight risk if she was removed from her mother’s care.

There had been some concern previously when A’s mother had not engaged with the court process but the court heard she was now working very well with all the parties involved. The mother had previously given undertakings to the court that she would bring her daughter to her local GP, that she would seek legal aid assistance, that she would engage and take all mobile calls that were made to her by the social workers, and that she would fully engage with the guardian ad litem (GAL).

The lawyer for the CFA told the judge that A’s mother had kept her part of the undertakings very well. The judge said that indicated very good progress, which was very much to the mother’s credit. The judge asked A’s father if he was keeping up with what was going on in court and whether he had engaged legal aid. The father replied that he did not think he needed legal assistance. The judge advised him that it was in his best interests to seek legal aid so that he could have somebody to explain all the court processes to him. The girl’s father agreed that he would look into this.

The CFA lawyer told the judge that A’s social worker was on extended sick leave and that the social work team leader had attended the child-in-care review meetings. The social worker expressed her concern that A did not want to avail of any respite. The lawyer for the CFA enquired whether there were any other options open and the social worker replied that A had considered living with her grandmother for a short period of respite.

The social worker said that the social work department had some concerns that the father of the three younger children might relapse following his return from prison and a safety plan had been put in place. The family was currently living in a one-bedroomed apartment and the mother had recently made an application to the housing department. The social worker said that the safety plan was going well so far.

The CFA lawyer said that A’s case was currently open to the child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). She had been referred to the service when she was at high risk while drinking alcohol and engaging in impulsive behaviour. CAMHS intended to carry out an assessment of the girl for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The social worker stated that A’s mother had encouraged her to attend school regularly and that she only missed days when she had a good medical reason. She was repeating her current school year. Her behaviour was fairly good and she was a very bright student. She had not expressed an interest in going on to study at third level. The judge strongly encouraged A’s mother to make the best use of the education facilities.

Judge: “It’s really down to the parents. The adults are in charge. It would be an awful shame if she lost that opportunity.”

The social worker said that the mother had attended very well at all child-in-care review meetings. These meetings were held in A’s school so that she did not have to miss any school time. The social worker praised the girl’s mother for attending well to all the recommendations made. A wanted to live with her mother and they were getting on very well.

The lawyer for the CFA asked the social worker about A’s relationship with her father. The social worker said it would take a little time for the girl to get used to her father again but that it was clear that she idolised him. She had even expressed a strong desire to attend court so that she might meet him.

A social worker for A’s three younger siblings from another area of the country gave evidence that she had been allocated six months previously due to problems with parental alcohol consumption and drug use in the presence of the young children. There had also been times when the three young siblings were left unsupervised and referrals had been made to the social work department by gardaí.

The social worker said that the school staff dealing with the three young siblings had been very positive about the children’s participation and attendance in school. The children’s grandmother had been nominated as a person of safety. A family support worker attended the home twice a week and helped with the filling out of application forms. The social worker said that she would be closing the file for the three younger siblings as there was no ongoing risk. However, the family support worker would remain allocated to the family.

A’s GAL told the court that she had been appointed to A seven months previously after there had been a placement breakdown and A had been in a short-term placement for five weeks. She described the girl’s demeanour as upbeat since returning to live with her mother. She said she was capable and very clear that she wanted to stay living with her mother.

When asked about her mental well-being, the GAL said that A did not present with a low mood but that she was “closed off emotionally”. The GAL’s lawyer asked if the girl was open to supports that might help her. The GAL replied that A was very adamant about what she wanted and she did not want to address anything to do with her life in care. She said that she idolised both her father and her mother.

The GAL said she had met the family prior to the release from prison of the mother’s partner and that the living conditions were very cramped. She was very keen that the care order would stay in place for A so that in time she could avail of an aftercare support programme. She described the girl as being very stubborn but very capable. She was a child who could achieve very well in the future. The GAL said that she thought A would benefit from counselling but that she did not want to go.

The judge advised the mother to make a legal aid application immediately. She also advised the girl’s father to make an application for legal representation as he was due to be released from prison in two months’ time.

Judge: “You’ve heard what was said. Did you hear that [A] idolises you?”

The judge listed the case for a date four weeks later to receive an update. She gave a very strong and stern warning to both parents that they were not to discuss or speak about any aspect of the court proceedings to their daughter.

Judge: “Your daughter’s future is in your hands”.