Judge extends interim care order for one child, orders a further review of the supervision order for second 2024vol1#22

The court in a provincial city granted an extension of an interim care order in respect of a young pre-teenage boy (A) with significant special needs. The mother was present in court, legally represented and had the assistance of a Barnardos advocate. A man who was not the child’s father but who had been acting in loco parentis was given permission to be present in the court for the proceedings.

The allocated social worker was not present in court as she was on sick leave and the team leader gave evidence instead. The team leader told the court that the young boy had been moved to a residential placement three weeks previously. She said that in the short period since arriving at the residential placement, the boy had started toilet training, he continued to attend a special needs school and the focus had been on settling him into the placement. She said that she had no major concerns at this time.

Access had been set up with his mother, brother and the man who had been acting in loco parentis. The access arrangements involved three video calls during the week and an access visit on the weekend. The boy had not shown any distress during these access arrangements.

The residential placement was a specialist unit that had particular skills to address the special needs of the young boy. The team leader said that the unit was meeting the boy’s needs and she had no concerns in that regard. The boy was progressing very well and was responding well to the routines that had been put in place. He was learning to tie his own shoe laces and to manage some aspects of his toileting. This was giving him independence and helping to meet his potential.

She acknowledged that the current application for the extension of the interim care order did not have the consent of the mother and in that regard, an application for a short order was the only option available to the CFA. She told the court that in her professional opinion the criteria for granting an interim care order continued to exist.

The mother’s solicitor asked for the judge’s permission to allow the mother address the court directly. The mother told the court that she wished to apologise for her outburst on the previous occasion. Her apology was accepted by the judge.

The mother’s solicitor confirmed with the team leader that access between the child and the mother would be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

The team leader told the court that the relationship between the social worker department and the mother had not improved at all and that the mother would only interact with the social workers via her advocate. She said that the social workers would like to have a direct relationship, but that since the last interim care order was granted, she would not engage. She said that the young boy had adapted to his new surroundings extremely well and that the CFA’s long-term view was that the boy’s interests were best served where he is. The mother was not in agreement with this view and believed that her son should be with her.

The team leader said that at the moment the CFA was not considering reunification plans, but that no long-term decision in that regard had been made.

The judge said that it was very disappointed that nothing had changed for the mother since the previous time the matter had been before him three weeks earlier. He urged the mother to re-engage with the social worker department. The judge noted that the GAL was available on this occasion to be present in court and that there was no new report from the GAL. However, he accepted that there had been a report from the GAL three weeks previously at the prior court hearing when the GAL had supported the making of the interim care order. The judge granted the extension to the interim care order for 28 days.

Subsequent hearing

In a subsequent hearing of the case two months later, the judge extended the interim care order for the elder boy (A) for just over one month with the reluctant consent of A’s mother. His mother was present in court, but his father was not. Again, a man acting in loco parentis was given permission to be present in court for the proceedings. Both parents had legal representation.

The allocated social worker told the court that A remained in his residential placement and his progress was being monitored regularly. The social worker was happy with A’s development and said that he had settled well and was building relationships. He had visited the boy a week and a half before and found that he had a great routine and that his school and the residential unit were working hand in hand to his benefit. Support plans were in place including emotional development plans. Work was also being done to develop A’s life skills and to improve his potential, including stranger danger skills, learning how to put on his coat, tie his shoe laces etc. A was definitely on course in this regard. He was being facilitated to attend a specialist school in the area. This was going well and there had been no difficulties.

The boy saw family members for approximately one to one and a half hours every weekend. He was always very happy to see them. There were also plenty of phone calls between A and his family members.

The social worker said that his worries about certain behaviours of A, such as throwing items or taking off his seatbelt, had all improved. He said that, in his professional opinion, the extension of A’s interim care order was required but that A’s mother was not consenting to the extension.

The mother’s solicitor confirmed that A’s mother had not consented to the extension of the interim care order. However, she had visited A at the residential unit and the visit had gone very well. The mother had been impressed with how happy A was at the unit. The mother had brought A’s brother B to the visit also. The mother’s solicitor said that communications between the mother and the staff at the unit, which included calls during the week, had been reassuring and successful.

The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) told the court that it was the GAL’s opinion that A was in the best place. The GAL had recommended that the ongoing monthly child-in-care review meetings should continue. The GAL had said that work was ongoing to enhance the quality of the access visits with A. It was the GAL’s professional opinion that the circumstances requiring the granting of the original interim care order (ICO) had not changed. The residential unit was working for A and the ICO should be extended.

The judge granted the interim care order extension for 28 days. However, as the next court hearing date was scheduled for one week after the extension would expire, the mother consented to an extension of the order for 35 days.

Supervision order for B

The court also reviewed the supervision order that was in place in respect of the younger brother, B. The allocated social worker told the court that although the supervision order had been extended at the previous court hearing, the evidence was that B’s needs were not currently being met at home and that he also needed a placement.

The social worker had visited B at home. He had not been at school that day due to having a sore eye. The social worker said that B had been on his phone for the majority of the visit. The school had also told the social worker that they had smelt a stronger odour coming from him and that his lunch box had contained a full pack of biscuits although there had been some fruit in it also. The social worker said that, in the past, when hygiene had been an issue, they had also found that things were not going well at home.

The school was providing a good level of support for B, but contact between the school and B’s mother had been less frequent. There were various other supports in place for B. He was engaged in an after-school service for children with additional needs on a twice weekly basis and he attended a creative therapist once a week.

The mother was engaging in a cooking classes and had re-enrolled in a parenting course. She was now open to engaging with a parental capacity assessment and this would be explored with the management and therapeutic team.

However, the social worker said that he believed that the threshold had been met to take boy B into care. He understood that this was the GAL’s view also. A placement was being sought for B.  The social worker said that was hoped that a placement would become available at the residential unit where A had been placed but that this would not become available for another approximately six weeks. The CFA hoped that this would be B’s placement in the event that the court agreed to that B should be taken into care.

He said that another child protection conference in respect of B was planned for the following month and that he would have more up-to-date information after that. He confirmed that the parents would be in attendance at that meeting along with their support network.

The mother’s solicitor said that the mother found it difficult to accept that the social worker’s report in respect of boy B. He said that she believed it dwelt on the negative historical aspects of her life – for example, her previous mental health issues. He said the mother accepted that she had had mental health issues, but that she had been very stable recently. She believed that the CFA had not given her any credit for attending her appointments and for doing very well. She had found this difficult to accept.

The social worker said that the CFA had concerns in respect of the mother’s mental health. It was a recurrent condition and while there could be periods where the mother was doing well, the situation would then deteriorate. He said that the good work being done with boy B had more to do with the support services that had been put in place for him rather than anything to do with his mother.

He acknowledged that there were positives in the report. For example, it appeared that the floors of the house had been redone and there may have been a painter at the house. He understood that the mother was living under the constant threat that, in the near future, her younger son might be taken into care and that this was a very big stressor for her. He said that he had seen an improvement in boy B with the involvement of the extensive support services. He also said that B’s father and grandmother had been very helpful. However, while there had been positive developments, this could fluctuate, particularly in the context of B’s complex needs and in the event that his mother’s mental health deteriorated in future.

In respect of conducting a parental capacity assessment, he said that this had been offered to the mother in the past and had been refused. He said that arranging a parental capacity assessment could take up to three months. There had been no delay in arranging this. The conversation with the mother about engaging with a parental capacity assessment had only taken place the previous week. It was now necessary to engage in a process which included contacting the CFA’s therapeutic services to see if they could do the assessment. It was only if these services said that they could not conduct the assessment that he could approach private providers.

The father’s solicitor asked the social worker if the CFA would be prepared to assist the father in accessing a parenting course. The social worker replied that the CFA would have no problem with this. He also said that he would try to get funding for a parental capacity assessment for the father, but that again required him to engage with an approval process. In that regard, he was not sure if the father would obtain the required approval as he was not providing day-to-day care and his accommodation was not suitable for full time parenting. However, the social worker said that he would do what he could to support the father in his efforts to obtain suitable accommodation.

The GAL’s solicitor agreed that B’s mother was very vulnerable. The social worker confirmed that should there be any proposed move of B to a new placement that B would remain at his current school.

The judge said that the supervision order in respect of B had been put in place for six months at the previous court hearing and that this hearing was only a review. He ordered a further review of the supervision order for B to take place at the next hearing date to coincide with the expiry of the extension to A’s interim care order.