Judge requires risk assessments before discharging orders – 2015vol3#37

A judge in a rural town refused to discharge Care Orders for two children because of his concern about the standard of accommodation which the father would be providing for the children. The application was adjourned pending the carrying out of risk assessments, which the judge said he wanted to be satisfied were carried out.

The court was told that the mother was living in another part of the country and the father was living in a city with his wife (not the child’s mother) and two other children in a one bedroomed flat. The judge said the Child and Family Agency (CFA) might have to assist the family to get more suitable accommodation in the city. The CFA solicitor said the application was to return the children to the father and replace the Care Orders with Supervision Orders but the judge pointed out that there would be nothing to stop the father from taking the children to their mother in the other part of the country.

The social worker assigned to the case outlined difficulties which she experienced in contacting the mother. A decision had been made to return the children to the father, which was always part of their care plan. A reunification plan had been implemented and reunification of the children with their father was now complete. The family was also being supported by a religious group. The CFA were seeking Supervision Orders for six months and the father was consenting to the orders being made.

When asked about the mother’s situation, the social worker said there had been difficulties in communicating with her. She had given a non-existent address in the county in which she now resided and had refused to give another address. She had refused to engage with the social services and had not availed of access with the children for two months.

The mother had some form of learning disability and the judge asked the social worker what steps had been taken to help her, if that was a concern. The social worker said she had met the mother and told her to go to the GP to get a referral to mental services. The judge told her they were not talking about mental health services. “We are talking about intellectual capacity.”

The social worker said the mother had not attended any services since she moved last year and the judge asked her what support had been put in place to help the mother improve her skills. “The mother failed to engage with me,” the social worker replied.

Judge: “What I want to know is, if she doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand, what have you done to assist her?”

Social worker: “By talking to her, by trying to get down to her level of understanding.”

Judge: “Do you know what her level of understanding is?”

The social worker did not answer.

The judge said he wanted it on the record as to how the CFA satisfied themselves about the care arrangements for the children since it was the father’s intention to bring them to live with his wife and her two children in a one-bedroomed flat. “I want to know how the CFA satisfied itself that this was an appropriate arrangement for the children,” he said. “I don’t want to interfere but I want to be sure that, if I’m being asked to discharge the Care Orders, the children are being returned to an environment where all the necessary risk assessments have been carried out.”

The judge adjourned the CFA’s application.

On the same court day the judge told a social worker that the agency was in breach of its own guidelines in failing to have an after-care social worker assigned to a child who was about to reach 18.

The social worker told the judge that no specific after-care worker had been assigned to the child. She had checked with her boss and she assured the judge that all the child’s needs would be met. The child would be able to “link in” with either of two after-care workers who were in the area. “Where is the draft after-care plan?” the judge asked. “You are not complying with your own guidelines.”

The judge said he was not satisfied with the situation. There was not, he said, an adequate level of support being supplied and he wanted that view conveyed to the senior social worker. He said the court might be forced to take its own measures to “address the issue” unless steps were taken by the CFA. The social worker told him that steps had been taken to get an after-care social worker assigned but there was not one available at the moment.

She assured the judge that steps would be taken to get an allocated social worker. “You are the front line and are answerable to the court,” the judge told her. “If you continue to have difficulties, I will have no difficulty in having the senior social worker summoned to the court. I will expect progress by September.”