Judge initially refuses to grant full extension of an interim care order because of a lack of an allocated social worker or team leader – 2024vol1#9

In Dublin District Court the judge refused to extend beyond one week an interim care order agreed by the parents on the basis that there was no allocated social worker on the case. The principal social worker was doing the role of the social worker but there was neither a social worker nor a team leader on the case and effectively the principal social worker, who was present in court and gave evidence as to the situation, was doing the job of three people.

There was a heated exchange between the principal social worker and the judge and eventually it was acknowledged that there was no allocated social worker or team leader.

The judge hearing the case expressed his grave dissatisfaction that the court was being asked to extend an interim care order for children who were in care where there was no allocated social worker and the affidavit submitted by the CFA did not state that there was no allocated social worker in the case.

During the exchange with the CFA solicitor and the principal social worker he said he had himself reviewed the CFA’s own website where it clearly stated that every child in care had an allocated social worker, principal social worker and a team leader. He asked that CFA management come to court and inform the court in person if their own policy had changed and whether the court had been made aware of any such change.

The parents, their legal representatives and the GAL all agreed that they were all very happy with the work being done by the principal social worker and that progress had been made with her working the case and the children had a very good relationship with her.

The judge however was adamant that the CFA was in breach of its own policy as there was no allocated social worker and no team leader allocated. The judge granted a one-week extension for the interim care order.

Subsequent hearing

When the case next came back before the court a senior legal representative from the CFA attended court. The solicitor said she had been informed of the court’s dissatisfaction with the situation.

The judge said that cases were coming before the court where a child in care had no allocated social worker or team leader. He asked: “Is it the position of the agency that there had been a change in policy? The CFA solicitor said that there were ongoing discussions within the CFA in relation to the policy standards and that they may be changed, there was a catch-up exercise underway.

She said that the court was aware of the crisis regarding the lack of social workers but the work still needed to be done on the ground and the needs of children still needed to be met. She said in due course the policy standards may change down the line but that for now the principal social worker was the person working this case.

The judge said the court was not rubber-stamping the principal social worker triple-jobbing. He said the court was painfully aware of the resources issues and the court itself had had to take additional measures as court orders had not been complied with. He said the lack of resources was a matter for CFA management and not the court.

He said the principal social worker was a hard-working professional and she was doing the job as there was no one else to do it. He again referred to the CFA website which said every child in care would have an allocated social worker.

The parents were both consenting to the extension of the ICO. The father, who had been produced from prison, was present in court. The solicitor for the mother said that a parental capacity assessment (PCA) for the mother was imminent and she was engaging in a support programme for herself. She said her client was very happy with the principal social worker and so were the children.

The GAL supported the extension.

The judge extended the ICO for a period of 28 days and noted that the principal social worker was covering the role of both the social worker and the team leader.

The CFA solicitor said she would relay the court’s grave dissatisfaction to the relevant parties within the CFA management.