The mother of four young children consented to the extension of interim care orders in a District Court in a rural town, two boys (A) and (B) who were primary school aged and two girls (C) and (D) who were preschool aged. The mother was in court and legally represented, but the father was incarcerated and was not represented.
The judge asked if the father had been informed of the application. The solicitor from the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said that he had sent the application to the prison but was unsure if it had been received. The judge asked for a solicitor from the local law centre to come into the court and asked him to assist the father in obtaining legal representation, to which the Legal Aid Board solicitor agreed.
The solicitor for the CFA told the court that the mother had consented to an extension of the interim care orders. He said interim care orders had been granted a few months previously because of issues of neglect and the children’s exposure to domestic violence. The two eldest children had been fostered together in one placement and the two youngest children were fostered together in a placement in another county. He said the children were doing well and had settled into school.
One of main issues for all four children was that they all had varying degrees of dental decay. They had all seen a dentist and each now had a treatment plan. The mother had commenced a parenting capacity assessment and it was hoped that this would inform a reunification plan. The mother had asked for more access with the children and an access review meeting had been arranged for the coming week. The solicitor said access between the mother and children had gone well and the children had access with each other. He said this would be kept under review.
The CFA solicitor said that the father’s trial was due to be heard in the Circuit Court in the next month and once this had been completed the social workers would commence access work with him and the children. He added that the guardian ad litem (GAL) was supportive of the extension of the interim care orders.
The judge said she would extend the orders by 28 days only. (Where there is consent such orders can be extended for longer.) She told the CFA to ensure that the father be fully informed of this order and served with papers prior to the next hearing date.
At a hearing two months later, the judge again granted extensions of interim care orders for the four young children. The judge left access at the discretion of the CFA. The mother was again present in court and was represented by a solicitor and a barrister. The father attended from prison by video link. His legal team, a solicitor, and a barrister, were in court. Evidence was heard from the social worker and the GAL.
The social worker said that A, the eldest boy, had had his child-in-care review. She said he had significant dental decay and would have to have all his teeth removed. He had a low concentration in school and required one-to-one assistance from a special needs assistance (SNA). He was to have an educational assessment and an assessment for attention deficit disorder (ADD). The GAL said he struggled and needed his assessments as soon as possible to help plan for his needs. The GAL said she believed that he also needed an assessment for dyslexia.
The next boy, B, was doing well, all his teeth had been removed. He was doing well at school and settled well to the routine and stimulation school provided. The social worker said he had started to thrive, and his behaviour had significantly improved. He thrived on the routine and structure that he now had.
The older girl, C, was doing well. Again, she had bad dental decay, and she too would need all her teeth removed. She would also need corrective glasses. She said her behaviour had improved as she no longer head banged but responded to boundaries and consistency. The social worker said C would need a cognitive assessment and the social worker had tried to arrange this. The GAL said that while C’s behaviour had improved, again it was essential that assessments were completed as soon as possible to plan for her needs.
The youngest child, D, had thrived and had started to achieve all her developmental milestones. There had been an issue with her hips, and this was being cared for by her GP but might need a referral to a specialist.
The social worker said that the mother had access with the children on a schedule. Week one she had the boys, week two she had the girls and week three she had all children together. Access was supervised and would be increased from one and a half hours to two hours. The social worker said that the children did not have access with their father at present because of his circumstances. Pictures and story work had to be completed prior to introducing the children to access with him.
She said the next steps were to plan for the long-term care of the children which would be guided by parenting capacity assessments and any recommendations arising. She said she also had to complete signs of safety work with the parents.
The barrister for the mother said the mother had consented to the extension for two months and had been working positively with professionals. She said the mother would fully participate in the parenting capacity assessment.
The barrister for the father said the father had consented to the application for two months but wanted access with the children. He was frustrated that he had not seen his children for a long time. He was isolated, he had not attended any review meetings because the video link had not worked and he had received no updates from the social workers or the GAL. The father was worried that the children would forget him especially the younger children.
The social worker said she had sent the father monthly updates and photographs of the children. She needed to complete a trajectory with the father. The children had been through tough times, access with their father had to be considered and done in a planned way. She said that she hoped to have a trajectory for the father completed within the next month.
The father’s barrister said the father wanted access with the children. The solicitor for the CFA said there was no formal access application by the father before the court and asked the judge to leave access at the discretion of the CFA. The father’s barrister said that he would take instruction from his client and may bring a formal application.
The judge granted extensions of interim care orders for all four children for two months with the consent of their parents. She said access was to be at the discretion of the CFA.