Judge directs improved structured access between siblings in care and with their parents- 2022vol2#45

A judge in a rural town reviewed the full care orders for three siblings, a girl and boy of post-primary school ages, Children A and B and a girl of primary school age, Child C. The children were in different placement. The mother was present and represented and the father represented himself. The judge made directions to improve access arrangements between the children and their parents and between the children and their siblings.

Child A

Child A’s social worker told the court that she was very settled in her residential placement and had obtained good results in her recent Junior Certificate examination. The lawyer for the CFA said A’s mother initially had difficulty in accepting A’s sexual identity but that the situation had improved. The judge asked what ambition A had for her future career. The social worker praised A’s placement and said the staff supported A in every possible way, especially with her diet and providing for her interests. She had a speech and language therapy assessment and was given a programme of articulation exercises.

The lawyer for the CFA asked about A’s access with her parents and the social worker reported that the next access would take place in the family home close to A’s birthday. She said that there had been difficulties in trying to contact A’s mother on her phone. When asked about access with siblings, the social worker replied that A saw her siblings during family access time.

Child C

The court heard that C was of primary school age and was in a stable placement with a foster family. The CFA lawyer asked about her health and the social worker reported that the child had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and that she had suffered some kidney infections. Asked about C’s school the social worker said she was in a special ASD unit and that she was in receipt of private speech and language therapy sessions, financed by the CFA. When the judge asked about life-story work for C, the social worker said it would happen when the time was right. The judge said the child had expressed a wish for more access with her siblings. The social worker reported that some planned video calls led to disappointment for C as the calls from her mother had not materialised.

The mother’s lawyer asked the social worker about future plans for access for A, whose residential placement was quite a distance from her family home. The social worker replied that there would be a new plan in the New Year. The judge was not fully satisfied with this and asked if a direction from her for access to take place once a month would create difficulty.

Social worker: “We don’t work Saturdays…there is an issue with making contact with [the mother].”

The children’s mother spoke up and said this issue was for a period of three weeks when her phone was broken.

Judge: “As a mother you have to be contactable at all times.”

The judge named out all the possible seasonal dates for access, culminating in six dates outside of summer holidays.

Judge: “I’m trying to put a structure on access…these people are entitled to it”.

The judge asked how long it was since A last had access with her brother. The social worker said it had been some years since they met as he did not want to see her. The judge said they should be meeting every three months as they were both children in care and the distance was not insurmountable.

Judge: “This [review] is not just a rubber-stamping exercise. I want to put a structure on this.”

The mother’s lawyer pointed out that it proved difficult for the mother to have access to the two girls together as C had difficulty speaking and needed more time.

Child B

Child B had a different social worker to his sisters. The social worker told the court that he was very settled in his foster placement and was doing well. He had been assessed in relation to attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and the report, when completed, would highlight necessary educational resources. The CFA lawyer asked the social worker about contact between B and his parents. The social worker said that while she appreciated it was difficult for the parents to hear, B was very adamant that he did not want to see his parents at that time. He had attended the Child and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS), who had prescribed medication. He had been off the medication for a trial period but there was “some slippage in school” so there was further discussion needed on that.

The judge was keen to know what B’s ambition was and the social worker did not know. The judge stressed that it was important for him to have a target towards which he could aim.

The lawyer for the CFA asked the social worker about a recommendation made by B’s GAL that he should have “indirect contact” with his parents. The GAL for the children said she thought that B might change his mind over time about wanting to have access with his parents. She reported that he did not want to engage in any kind of direct intervention therapy and that an adventure-based therapy was going to be tried.

The GAL said both A and C were doing very well and that C attended a great school and was progressing well. She said C was not linked in with any children’s disability service, despite the fact that she qualified for the service. The GAL said that C wanted more access time with her parents.

The judge rose and left the courtroom for ten minutes to make directions based on what she had heard and said she was “trying to give effect to what [the children] want.” The judge then made directions that A was to have access on a minimum of seven times a year in the family home; B and C were to have access with each other on a minimum of ten times a year. She did not make any additional order in relation to C.

The judge directed that all correspondence with B should be of the old-fashioned type, for example sending a card. Sending snapchat messages was stressful for B as he felt he had to react or reply immediately.

The CFA lawyer asked if the correspondence to B was on the understanding that the CFA would check the contents prior to forwarding it to the child. At first the judge said it should not be checked as it was correspondence between a mother and son. However, after checking with the children’s GAL, who informed her that it was normal practice that it was checked because some parents required support in what was appropriate, the judge agreed it could be checked. The judge stressed that the correspondence was to be forwarded within 48 hours to the child and was “not to be left sitting in the social work department”.

The matter was given a future review date on a date six months later.