Judge criticises CFA after child abused in care – 2015vol3#20

A district court judge told a social worker that if a parent had failed in the way the Child and Family Agency (CFA) had failed in its care of a child it would be applying to have him taken into care. He made the comment when the child’s case was being mentioned to him at a court sitting in a rural town. The child is presently in voluntary care and the court heard that the child had made disclosures of abuse. He had been interviewed by Garda interviewers and a file was going to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The social worker told the judge the child had presented as being very damaged. He had been referred for psychological help but subsequent to the referral he had said he was going to kill himself and he had threatened to stab his mother. His foster placement had broken down and he had been referred again for psychological treatment in a nearby city. That treatment lasted only five months and “he really didn’t engage with it,” the social worker said.

“This is a child you said suffered trauma and he is not being provided with any aids. If a parent failed in this way the CFA would be applying to have him taken into care,” the judge said.

The social worker said she “took on board” what the judge was saying. “Maybe I should have pushed it,” she said.

In terms of his educational development, the child was receiving extra hours of special education including two hours of social skills training. The social worker said that when he was attending psychology she had made representations to the psychologist to see if there could be some meeting between the child and his mother but the child did not want to meet with her.

The judge had raised the question of special speech and language therapy on the last occasion on which the case was before him and he asked again what was being done about it. “The management won’t deal with it unless the social workers look for funding,” he said. “They are doing an extremely difficult job with limited resources but where I see deficiencies, I am not going to be shy in pointing them out”.

The social worker said there was no public service available for speech and language therapy in that region but she said she would make an application for funding for private treatment for the child.

In another case at the same court, the CFA applied to reduce the access which the parents with intellectual disabilities had with their children because of the negative effects the CFA claimed the access was having on one of the children.

The issue about access was raised by the CFA in the course of their application to extend Interim Care Orders for three children. The parents had three separate access sessions each week. One session was with their infant child and there were two access sessions with the two older children.

The social work team leader said she had genuine concerns about the effect which access was having on the eldest child who had sensory processing difficulties. Her teacher and foster carer both reported behavioural difficulties after access with the parents and the CFA was seeking to reduce the access to once a week until such time as proper supports were put in place for the access. The team leader said it took the child a number of days to get back to normal after access with her parents.

The CFA solicitor said the parents had substantial intellectual disabilities and the principal concern was about the quality of the access which was not serving the children well. There were also safety issues and the reduction which was being sought would not be permanent. The social worker said there were severe concerns about the mother’s presentation.

The guardian ad litem for the children opposed the application to reduce the access. She said the difficulty was that the access could take place in three different locations with possibly three different social workers and it needed to be supported and supervised by someone with a background in disability. The GAL said the parents expressed great joy at seeing the children and access was very positive. “I’ve never had any concern about the way they behave with their children,” she said. The oldest child could “become a bit hyper” but the access had to be facilitated and supported by the CFA.

The CFA solicitor said he was seeking a temporary reduction in access in order that the proper support could be put in place. The GAL said the children’s best interest was in seeing their family. She asked why should access be reduced for all the children when it only appeared to be having a negative effect on the oldest child.

At the suggestion of the judge, the parties agreed that one of the two weekly access sessions for the two older children would be confined to one of the children with each child having access every second week. Both children would have weekly access on the other day.

The judge directed that a previous recommendation that “an appropriately qualified worker” be provided for access be “implemented without any further delay”.

The parents consented to an extension of the Interim Care Orders.