Judge praises the good work being done to improve the quality of access visits for a young child with special needs- 2022vol2#44

A judge in a provincial city reviewed the access arrangements for a child of primary school age, Child A, who had recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The child’s parents had sought additional access.

The social worker and guardian ad litem (GAL) outlined the services that had been provided to A and highlighted gaps in the necessary therapies. The child found the access visits difficult and supports had been put in place to create a calmer environment for access. The judge concluded that A had experienced many big changes in his life. She did not increase the access schedule but recommended that the link to the child’s school be established and the respite for the foster parents be continued.

Both of A’s parents were present in court and were represented. The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) informed the judge that A’s parents were making a section 37 application for increased access. The social worker outlined the results of A’s recent assessment. He had just started primary school, having transferred from the créche. He was diagnosed as having ASD two months before starting school. The child psychologist had observed him in school and noted that all was going well. However, A still presented with challenging behaviours at home. Other aspects of A’s behaviour also needed to be identified.

The social worker explained that A needed a referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). The referral had been made by A’s GP and he was awaiting an appointment. The social worker said that A’s diagnosis was very difficult for his parents in the early stages. The access visits were problematic as A’s behaviour was very challenging. The social worker described the steps taken to make the access visits “less frenetic”. This included using toys A was accustomed to and having suitable meals. The social worker was very pleased with A’s success during the respite time away from his foster family. She stressed that it was important to “place the child at the centre” of all the network.

The mother’s lawyer asked the social worker about the timing of a planned review meeting with the professional who had diagnosed the child with ASD as the mother was “in the dark” about the diagnosis. The social worker replied that she would get the person to speak with the mother. The mother’s lawyer asked about getting photographs of A for his mother as she had received none and had only seen a picture of A on his first day in school on a social media site. The mother would appreciate a weekly photograph and the social worker agreed to investigate the possibility of the mother getting access to the school portal. The lawyer stated that the mother had difficulty accessing the “Circle of Security programme” and the social worker said she would look into this and sort the problem.

The father’s lawyer asked if the access worker would be supporting a calm atmosphere for access visits. The social worker said the park was not conducive to the access visits with the father and the home space was better. The access worker was going to assist in replicating A’s foster home environment by having a nice meal and providing familiar toys and audiobooks.

The judge asked if any additional resources were needed to be put in place for A in line with his diagnosis. The social worker replied that the appointment with CAMHS and any subsequent therapy from them was important. She said that there were problems with CAMHS at the present time. She also added that there was a necessity for occupational therapy and speech and language therapy as A walked with an unusual gait. The services do not automatically follow the ASD diagnosis.

The judge said there was a need for more secure and better understanding of the ASD diagnosis for the foster parents. She asked about the waiting list for A to attend play therapy but the social worker replied that A had a lot going on in his life at the present time and that settling into the school routine was a big step for him and proved exhausting.

Judge: “You have all worked extremely well to put all this in place.”

The GAL told the court that the occupational therapy and play therapy would need to be introduced on a phased basis so that the child would not be overwhelmed. She informed the judge that A had a lot of “very well-intentioned adults in his life” and that it was very important that they all knew their roles and their boundaries. She said that because there were no “wrap-around services” provided, it meant that the CFA had to source private services when necessary. This had led to increased demand for the services as children from outside the care system were also applying for the same services. A’s parents did not always agree with everything that was being done but they did want to commit to the overall care plan.

The judge asked the GAL if there was anything else the foster parents needed. The GAL said that she had arranged for another foster parent, who worked in a school and was very familiar with the practicalities of dealing with a child with ASD, to meet and support A’s foster parents. She could share practical skills with them.

The judge agreed with the CFA that the access arrangements should remain at the current level for the present time. The improvement in the quality of the access was very important. The child had experienced huge changes in a short time and had adjusted well to school. It was vital that a link to the school be established for A’s mother and father. The continuing success of the respite arrangements was also vital for the foster parents. The judge thanked A’s parents for attending the court.

The matter was listed for review on a date five months later.