Mother opposes extension of care order for boy in private unit – 2018vol1#18

The court heard a CFA application to have a thirteen year old boy’s care order extended for a further six months in order that he continue to receive residential therapeutic input and support for his behavioural and emotional issues. The boy’s mother, who was legally represented, felt these supports could be given in the home and she contested the application.

The court heard that the boy, who came into care in March 2018 to a private residential child care facility, was receiving therapeutic supports.  He was one of six children. The parents were separated and the mother had a two year safety order.

The father, who was unrepresented, was consenting and when asked by the judge if he had considered getting legal advice, he replied: “No”. When the judge asked the father about his view on the application, the father replied: “I fully concur with the CFA and feel that they have the child’s best interest at heart.”

The social worker had given evidence previously to the judge for the emergency care order and interim care order applications, and the solicitor for the CFA said part of the reason for the previous three-month ICO was to allow for the boy’s assessment.

The social worker told the CFA solicitor that the boy was affected by his parents’ relationship and domestic violence. He had temper outbursts and emotional difficulty and there were ten incidents reported to the CFA. There was a background issue with the possession of his mobile and when he was in possession of it he withdrew from staff.  Since he handed up his phone a few weeks earlier he had started to engage with therapeutic input and had made two disclosures to staff. He was allowed to make and receive calls on his phone.

The first disclosure referred to bad memories as early as aged five of being in fear of his father. In the second recent disclosure, the boy informed staff that his father locked him in a room with bread and water. The father, when invited later by the judge to speak, said the boy barricaded himself of his own accord and when his mother came home he would not come out of the room.

There were reports to the CFA in March of the father threatening self-harm with a knife. In another incident the father was leaving the family home as the Gardaí were called.

The social worker agreed with the CFA solicitor that it would be fair to say there was a background to the boy’s behaviour in terms of his experience at home and this would be denied by his parents.

The court heard that at a family access he was told by his mother about a “hard truth” anti-abortion video and told not to watch it. After watching the video the boy directed behaviour towards staff, calling the staff “murderers” and staff members were concerned for his mental health and arranged a GP appointment. There had been incidents of physical assault on staff members.

The social worker described A as a child who did not trust a lot of adults in his life. He had been attending the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service since July 2012, and was seen recently in June. He did not have a mental health disorder, but there were concerns regarding his overall wellbeing. He was in good physical health and had been seen by a GP and dentist. He needed work with a dental hygienist.

The social worker told the CFA solicitor she had not ascertained the boy’s wishes but his behaviour served a purpose. It was clear he wanted to go home and he was of the view that bad behaviour would jeopardise the placement. He was willing to engage and had a lot of anger towards his parents and siblings.

The social worker said that despite his behaviour the staff sees a little glimmer of hope. He had three key workers, two male and one female.

The court heard that family and parental access was problematic for the boy. The boy could be disrespectful to his mother and his siblings at family access. The residential manager told the court that the boy’s behaviour was “heightened” before and after access.

Before he came into care the boy had not attended school. He said he wanted to protect his mother, and missed up to a full month in the first year of his secondary school. He was not showering, but appeared to have resolved this. He was using the gym and linked with EPIC,

(Empowering Young People In Care).

One of the issues was that the boy had declined contact with his mother by phone.  However, an access visit at the family home at the weekend had gone well. The social worker said the boy was two months into his placement and he needed to feel safe. She said: “[This was] not going to be a quick fix, [he was], starting to trust key staff, when he doesn’t feel safe, [he is] acting out negatively.”

The boy had three older and two younger siblings. An older sister was known to social work for self-harming, but the case was no longer open. The social worker said the boy’s behaviour was a source of anxiety for his siblings.

The social worker noted the mother was very open to supports, but felt she and the other children needed time to process and engage with family therapy on a weekly basis. The

mother had been involved with five services to date and was currently availing of a family support worker to carry out support around access and communication skills.

The social worker told the court the mother was aware that it was not a happy household. The CFA solicitor asked her about her fear if the boy returned home at the present time, “despite all the scaffolding”. In reply the social worker said she would be concerned regarding “the boy’s anger and managing his emotions and the mother not [being] in a position to provide a safe stable environment for him”.

The court heard that the social worker had been in contact with the father who had not been able to attend the office. He had engaged with HSE addiction services to date and was attending the AA.

When asked by the mother’s solicitor what led the social worker to tell the court that the mother did not have the capacity to protect the family from the boy’s behaviour, the social worker said there was one particular incident where the mother heard him being abusive towards a key worker and she became alarmed. The social worker said the mother highlighted the fact that she was shocked and that it brought back all the feelings and she was uncertain she could manage.

The social worker accepted that a lot of the boy’s disclosures had to do with his father, but said the boy felt he was not listened to by his mother. She said, as regards the boy’s verbal abuse towards his key worker, the mother should have taken control. When asked if family therapy could resolve this, the social worker told the court that the boy was not ready yet. He needed to develop a key trusting relationship with staff and it would be looked at in due course.

The mother’s solicitor put it to the social worker: “Isn’t it also possible that there are other options and through work with the access worker and family therapy worker some of the healing and therapy could happen in the home environment?”

CFA social worker: “The access worker is already doing this. He [the boy] needs to be in a safe place in order to engage. “

Mother’s solicitor: “Could this happen in a shorter time in his best interests and be less restrictive?”

CFA social worker: “He is at the beginning stages. “

Judge: “Is reunification crucial and part of the ultimate goal?”

CFA social worker: “Yes”

The social worker did not agree with the mother’s solicitor’s suggestion of a supervision order so that the boy could be at home while the supports were put in place. The social worker said the access could be increased and reviewed over time and the focus was on building a safe relationship. The mother’s solicitor asked the social worker if the boy might see that he was being punished, as he saw it, for standing up to his father.

Mother’s solicitor: “You see it as therapeutic, but he sees it as punishment.”

The social worker replied that in the previous three weeks the boy had made disclosures and was building relationships. She expected more disclosures, and she said he was feeling he could trust the people in the house.

Mother’s solicitor: “Can you accept that the mother sees access [being] reducedas a further step away from reunification?”

CFA social worker: “[The boy was] becoming heightened in the morning before access, distracting staff, [it] happened on three accesses and coming back [he] engaged in negative behaviour. Once a fortnight in the family home [the access] is supported.”

The social worker told the court the mother needed the support of staff in adhering to boundaries. The social worker accepted, when asked by the mother’s solicitor, that supervised access was an unnatural situation.

The mother’s solicitor put it to the social worker that the mother wanted to have her son at home as a move towards normality with supports in place. The social worker replied there had been 24 calls to the Garda about the boy when at home and he did not have a normal family life.

The social worker told the court that the mother was empowered and stronger, but she felt it would be premature and not a reflection on her parenting to return the boy to the family home at this time. She said that the mother was not in a position to protect the boy from difficult behaviours and the boy was not ready to deal with his behaviours. She said the mother was at the beginning stage of repairing the relationship and the siblings also needed space and time to process what had happened.

The judge asked the residential manager during her testimony if one of the key workers could explain to the boy that he was not there to be punished.

Residential manager: “Yes, they are doing that, explaining about keeping him safe and secure. He still blames his brother and mother for calling the Gardaí on the day and there is a piece of work there.”

The residential manager outlined to the court the type of care the boy was receiving.  A care plan was in place. She explained the service started with the relationship and the difficulty in settling. She said they looked behind the behaviours and explained to the boy that it was not his fault in feeling in some way he was to blame for the situation. The staff did a lot of key work and community meetings, explaining to the young people that this was their safe place and they were not to blame for their behaviours.

The key workers engaged in activities to ease the boy’s anxieties, often in the course of day-to-day activities. It was a process not an event. The boy naturally went to staff and brought up issues, he made significant disclosures, though their truth was disputed by his father. The manager said she saw this as positive as he was starting to bring up stuff.

When asked if he had anything to say, the father said he believed the boy wanted to come home right away and if this happened what was going on in the residential unit would transfer to the family home. He said: “This would be detrimental.”

The father asked the judge if he could cross-examine his wife and ask the social worker some questions. The CFA solicitor stated her concern to the court that a safety order was in existence. The judge said he would have to limit his questions to the narrow area of the application in court.

The father asked her: “With the deepest respect, you work full-time, who would look after the boy when you are not there?”

Mother: “I suppose I am in the position of a week-to-week and day-to-day [to see] how it proceeds. If I felt he needed extra support, the eldest daughter [could] step up. I’m usually home by 11.30 and inside school hours.”

The father asked the social worker about disclosures his son made. The social worker replied that she was aware of a disclosure he made about his father being intoxicated while his mother was away and being locked into a bedroom with bread and water. The father said the allegation was false.

The father asked the social worker about the “right of the parent to influence the child on the matter of religious and moral matters”. He said: “We are a pro-life family” and alleged the residential staff were trying to influence his son regarding a “Yes” vote in the abortion referendum.

In reply, the social worker said a full investigation was carried out and the key workers were not imposing their beliefs. The judge asked the father: “How would the boy know the staff were voting Yes?” The father said the boy told his mother he was being influenced. The residential manager told the court that a natural discussion took place and not just in a “one-to-one” situation.

The judge said that it was inappropriate for a member of staff and equally inappropriate for the mother to raise the referendum with the boy and he advised it should be enquired into. He said it might be understandable that the boy might ask questions, but not that he would be informed of the referendum.

The court heard the boy had written a letter to the judge stating he did not want to stay six months in care. The judge asked: “Is this the CFA plan that he stay in the unit for six months?” The CFA solicitor said the care order did not act as a barrier to reunification and increased contact. She said the CFA wanted to be moderate and proportionate. She said: “One has to go forward optimistically, but not naïvely.”

The judge said he appreciated that he had only heard one side but he would have to put in a three month review so that the court could keep a close eye on the intensity of the case.

The judge said: “It is difficult, not straightforward, the boy is blaming himself and it is not realistic to make an order for six months simply removing [it] out of the supervision of the courts. The boy has difficulties and anger issues. He has [the] potential to deal with issues as a precursor to going home [but] I have a fear that a prolonged period away from home could cause more harm than good. I’m interested in evidence on that.”

The judge said he was satisfied under s 18 to make an order for six months, but he listed the case for review three months after the hearing. He directed the usual s 37 access at the discretion of the CFA. He also directed that the CFA should actively and as a priority seek to extend unsupervised access with the mother if the case was to move forward. He was aware of the concerns and mistakes made. He said “hopefully something had been learned” and he wanted unsupervised access reinstated as soon as possible.