Judge refuses mother’s application for increased access to three teenage children – 2024vol1#38

A District Court judge in a provincial city refused the mother’s application to increase her level of access with her children as the children themselves had made it clear that they did not want to change the current access arrangements. The judge also heard care order reviews in respect of each of the three children (A, B and C). The eldest girl (A) was due to age-out of care in three months’ time and he approved her aftercare plan.

A and B had been living together in the same foster care placement for the previous 12 years. C was in a grandparent foster placement.

The social work team leader told the court that all three children were doing well. None of the children had had contact with their mother since the start of the year (about four months previously). An incident had occurred at the end of the previous year which had placed A and B’s foster placement in jeopardy. This had been resolved eventually with a lot of additional supports.

The mother had also become abusive and heightened at a subsequent meeting that had been arranged between her and the social work team. Following this meeting, she had refused to meet with the social work team up until one month prior to this hearing date.

The eldest, A, was due to turn 18 years of age within a few months at which time she would be able to make her own decisions regarding access. The teenager understood that she would be able to attend the access visits with her mother jointly with her sibling, B, or meet her mother independently. She was currently in her final years in secondary school along with B who was due to age out in one year’s time.

A’s aftercare plan was straightforward. It had been agreed that she would continue in her current foster care placement until she had finished her schooling. Her foster carers had said that A would have a home with them for as long as she wished, including if she wished to go on to third level education. An aftercare worker had been allocated to A and her finalised aftercare plan was before the court for approval.

C was the youngest of the three children. She had previously been admitted to hospital due to self-harm. She had been referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). C had told the social work team that she could not have a relationship with her mother as it affected her mental health. The team leader said that C’s situation was very concerning, but that she was receiving all of the supports that were available. CAMHS had discharged her as they believed that C’s issues were related to her mother and were not a mental health issue.

The mother’s application to review her access arrangements was considered. The mother was seeking two hours of access per week with the children unsupervised. The question of access had been fully explored with the children by their guardian ad litem (GAL). The two older children, A and B, wanted to retain contact with their mother. However, they wanted fully supervised access with no increase in frequency from the current once a month visit.

A and B had increased their contact with their mother by phone and via social media, but more recently only B had maintained this contact.

C wanted no contact with her mother at all in any form. This had been explained to the mother. The team leader said that the mother, who adored her daughter, had found this lack of access difficult to accept. The social worker said that C’s views might change in the future and the social work team would continue to explore the issue.

The GAL had explained the difference between supervised and facilitated access to each of the children. A and B were adamant that they wanted their access visits to be supervised and to remain at the current level of once a month. The mother found it hard to understand that these were the wishes of her children and not those of the social work team.

The team leader said that the mother needed to have more emotional regulation during the access visits, but that a recent meeting with her had been very positive.

In addition, she said, the three siblings were meeting each other and this was going exceptionally well. The team leader recommended that the children should be allowed more autonomy in their travel so that these visits with each other could be arranged on a more ad hoc basis and that the visits could include overnights. The social work team were making active plans to allow the children spend more time together. She said “[C] really needs this. The bond between them is really lovely.”

It was the CFA’s position that access would remain at their discretion.

The GAL’s solicitor asked the team leader if there was any plan to allocate a new social worker to the children. The team leader confirmed that three new social workers would be joining the social work team shortly and that this would help to resolve some of the department’s resourcing difficulties.

The GAL told the court that A had seen the proposed aftercare plan and that she was happy with it.

She said that B had experienced some degree of difficulty earlier in the year, but that the placement was satisfactory. She was also satisfied that all of the appropriate supports were in place for C. She added that C’s grandmother was very supportive and that the additional contact with her siblings had been fantastic. She hoped that therapeutic interventions would start as soon as possible.

Regarding access with her mother, it was very clear that C did not want access. The GAL said that she had no concerns that C had been influenced in coming to her decision in anyway. C’s self-harm had only come to light in recent months.

She said that she had started a discussion with A and B about nine months’ ago to explore the possibility of moving to unsupervised access visits with their mother. However, following the access visit incident at the end of the previous year, after which access had been suspended, both had said that they wanted supported access only. A and B had asked for social media and phone contact with their mother. However, both A and C had now blocked their mother. The GAL told the court that she supported the CFA’s position that access should remain at their discretion.

The mother’s solicitor said the mother had been accused of passing her phone number to her children covertly, although she herself would deny that it had been covert. He asked the GAL would it not be natural that a mother would want her children to have her phone number. The GAL said that it had been made very clear to the mother that she was not to have phone contact with the children without their consent. It had been the children that had brought the issue to the CFA’s attention.

She said that B had been distraught after the last access visit (at the end of the previous year) during which C thought she had been pushed. The GAL agreed with the mother’s solicitor that the mother ought to be treated with kindness. However, she said that when the mother became dysregulated, she became angry and abusive. She acknowledged that she was taking steps through therapy to address this and that she was doing her best; however, she had scared the children.

The judge said that he had sympathy for the mother but he said that the children had made their views clear. He ordered that access would remain at the discretion of the CFA.

He noted that A’s aftercare plan was final and approved it. He put further reviews of B and C’s care orders into the following year, prior to B turning 18 years of age, to allow his aftercare plan to be reviewed also.