A judge in a provincial town granted legal aid to the mother of a child of junior primary school age, child A, to advise the mother about the potential consequences of continuing to breach a supervision order. The supervision order had been previously put in place by a judge of her own motion, who believed it was a necessary precaution.
The judge stated that the supervision order was not overly onerous but that breaching the order was a criminal offence. The mother did not allow the social worker from the Child and Family Agency (CFA) access to her home even though the supervision order had been granted. Unfounded allegations against A’s father had been made on several occasions and the CFA’s solicitor said the child was the victim of emotional abuse by being caught in the middle of the parental conflict. The judge extended the amount of access time between A and her father.
The father’s lawyer told the judge that allegations of a sexual nature had been made against the father and that, following an investigation, all were deemed to be unfounded. A section 32 report had recommended that the father should have sole custody of A. The section 20 report and a Garda report were also on file. The lawyer for the CFA said that there was no cooperation between the mother and the CFA and that the supervision order was not being adhered to because the mother was denying the social worker access to the home.
The judge pointed out to the mother that it was a criminal offence for her to breach a supervision order granted by the court and that this could result in a criminal sanction. The mother said she had previously had a tumour removed and that she was undergoing chemotherapy. She suggested that A’s grandmother could bring A to meet with the social worker but the judge replied that the CFA “needed to get a foot in the door”.
When the mother said she would not be letting anyone into her home for medical reasons, the judge asked her why she was present in open court without wearing a mask. The mother replied that she suffered from asthma. The judge said he did not want to give the mother a criminal conviction for breaching the supervision order. He suggested that the mother might sit in another room in the home while a supervision visit was taking place or alternatively she should sit in her car.
The mother told the court that she had previously engaged a solicitor and that the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA) was now involved. She reported that her files were still in the custody of that solicitor. The solicitor for the CFA said there were no medical reports to corroborate the mother’s medical issues and that she was giving herself the chemotherapy at home. The mother replied that the chemotherapy was in the form of eye drops. The judge advised the mother to obtain a medical report for the court to outline her medical issues.
The judge asked A’s mother what people were present in the house when the social worker visited. The mother replied that it was just A, herself and A’s grandmother. When the father’s lawyer asked about the presence of the mother’s partner, the mother said he was not at all involved with A and that he lived in a different county. She said that her partner and his son had been in the house the previous weekend and that they had stayed overnight.
The judge enquired how A was getting on in school and the mother replied that she was brilliant and was top of her class. The father’s lawyer asked the mother if she was aware of the contents of the school’s reports which described A’s anxiety difficulties. The mother said that she was not aware of this.
The father’s lawyer told the judge that a special needs assistant (SNA) had been recommended by the school for A’s benefit but that A’s mother had refused consent for this. The judge enquired how A could be allocated the SNA without having a formal diagnosis but the lawyer for the guardian ad litem (GAL) explained that the Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) had sanctioned the appointment of the SNA due to A’s difficulties with feeling alienated and her tendency to lash out. The SNA would provide assistance with movement breaks during class time.
A’s mother explained that the teacher had set up a communication journal between home and school which was signed by the teacher and the mother weekly to keep in contact. The GAL’s lawyer told the judge that A’s mother had made a formal complaint against the class-teacher, which had resulted in the teacher being absent on sick leave. The mother said she had refused consent to the appointment of the SNA because A had no diagnosis and “there are too many things going on at the moment”.
The GAL’s lawyer said A’s father was seeking sole custody of A. His access with A had been reduced for his own safety, due to the allegations being made against him. He was now seeking increased access and all his access visits were supervised by a member of his own family. The judge described the mother’s distrust of the CFA as “unhealthy”. The father’s lawyer said that the mother used “complaints and barriers at every opportunity”. She added that the section 32 report had been positive in relation to A’s father, who had endured a very difficult time while the allegations were ongoing.
The judge stated that the allegations against A’s father were unfounded and that the CFA had never attempted to take A into care. A was subject to expert Garda interviews but the allegations were deemed to be unfounded. The judge directed that access time between A and her father should be increased. He granted a legal aid certificate to A’s mother so that she could be advised about the serious implications of breaching a court-directed supervision order. The judge explained the legal aid process to A’s mother and said that the legal aid was being provided solely for the purposes of providing advice regarding her breach of the supervision order. The judge relisted the matter for a date two weeks later.