Mother directed not to attend the church for child’s First Holy Communion; attend a party on the day before instead – 2024vol1#52

A judge in a rural court directed that the mother of three children, a child of post-primary school age (Child A), and two children of primary school age (Children B and C), not attend at the church for C’s First Holy Communion ceremony. The judge was told that the mother, who had addiction and mental health issues, had caused great disappointment by cancelling some of her arranged access visits with the children. The social worker said she was concerned the mother would either not turn up or turn up in a drunken state at the church and cause embarrassment for C. The judge advised the mother to go instead to a pre-Communion party on the day before the event, arranged by the social worker.

The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court that she was seeking a hearing date for the application for a full care order until age 18 for the three children. The mother’s lawyer advised the judge that the mother wished to attend at the church for C’s First Holy Communion and have a photograph taken with her but that this was not permitted by the social work department.

The social worker reported that the mother’s sporadic attendances at access with the children was causing upset and disappointment. There were also difficulties with the mother’s substance misuse. The mother had brought the children shopping with her during one access visit and had met her own father. This had caused a difficulty for A as she felt it was done behind her back. A planned Christmas video call did not go ahead on the day due to the mother’s drinking. Subsequently, access was suspended for three weeks. When access was permitted to resume some weeks later, the mother cancelled three access visits and access between the mother and children was suspended again. The social worker said that she had offered three appointments to the mother but that she had only attended at the first one.

The social worker described the First Holy Communion Day as a big event, which might overwhelm the mother. She added that the child was disappointed that her mother would not be in attendance at her First Holy Communion Day, but it was a high risk. The social worker suggested to the court that they would organise a pre-Communion party on the day just before the Communion date. In this way the mother could attend and meet the child.

The judge asked how the mother could be prevented from attending at the church as it was a public place. He asked the social worker if their department had considered providing a helper to be present at the event with the mother. The social worker replied that her concern was that the mother might turn up at the church in a drunken state, which would be embarrassing for the child. The social worker’s other concern was that the mother might not turn up at all and this would be very disappointing for the child, who wished her mother to be there.

The judge suggested that the child not be told in advance that the mother was coming to the church. Then if the mother attended successfully on the day, it would be a great surprise for the child. The social worker replied that the mother had not addressed her addiction problem by attending addiction services and neither had she addressed her mental health issues.

The mother’s lawyer explained that her condition meant that she “fell between the cracks” as she did not meet the threshold for engagement with psychiatric services and they had actually discharged her. The judge suggested that a mental health nurse may be a support. The judge asked if the mother was drinking alcohol and the mother’s lawyer said that she had been assured that she was not drinking.

Judge: “Active alcoholics are the best liars in the world. They are lying to themselves”.

The judge said that the mother seemed to be “down in herself” and had suffered weight loss. He added that the situation was terribly sad but that he didn’t think he could do anything about it. The mother had not been in contact with the children for three months.

The lawyer for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said that the GAL’s evidence was similar to that of the social worker and she was consenting to the social worker’s arrangements. The planned access visits between the mother and the children were regarded by the children as very big days and when she did not come, it was disappointing and upsetting.

The judge said that the children knew and worried about their mother and were carrying a terrible burden. They needed to see their mother looking healthy. The judge asked the mother if she could turn up for the pre-Communion party looking well and rested. This would reassure the children and make them happier and less worried.

Judge: “You need to give them permission to enjoy the day and not feel guilty. This requires bravery and generosity on your part.”

The mother, who was holding a set of rosary beads, said that she had been told not to attend for access visits when she was ill. She said she had suffered from a bug for three weeks. The judge asked her if she had attended a doctor but she replied that she had not as it was just a bug. The judge advised her that she needed to show consistency.

At this point the mother asked the judge again if she could have permission to attend the church for her child’s First Holy Communion but the judge said that he could not permit this. He said that the social worker’s compromise of the pre-Communion party was a sensible suggestion.

The judge extended the care orders for the three children for a period of four months. He advised the lawyers for the mother, the GAL and the social work department that he would need to be provided with a timeframe for the hearing of the case by a date two months later.