One-year care order granted for young child suffering emotional abuse and neglect – 2020vol2#34

A judge in a rural town granted a one-year care order for a child of primary school age, A. This followed an initial three-month care order. The child’s father was deceased and she was in the care of her mother.

Serious health and safety incidents had taken place where the child and her younger sibling of pre-school age, child B, were placed in grave danger. A safety plan had been drawn up for the family by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and the mother had engaged in an addiction service course. However, when difficulties arose in contacting the addiction centre during the Covid-19 restrictions, the mother continued drinking and taking non-prescribed medications. The mother, who was present in the court, consented to the care order for A and she also consented to supervised access with A.

Children A and B were placed on the child protection notification register following a number of serious incidents. B had been seriously injured in an accident while his mother was intoxicated and in a further incident a bus-driver contacted Gardaí when B and his mother were passengers and the mother was very intoxicated. A safety plan was put in place for the mother and children and B was placed with his father but this plan was breached by the children’s mother on a number of occasions.

A’s social worker told the court that during the previous four months the mother had been drinking vodka and taking Zanax tablets. The child had also witnessed incidences of domestic violence during which her mother was injured and property was broken. The CFA had not been made aware of the safety plan breaches and the mother said she was very stressed and unable to make contact with her addiction centre during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

A and the mother stayed with the maternal grandmother but the CFA reported that this environment was not safe for the child due to the problems with drug and alcohol abuse in the home. Emergency accommodation was found for the mother in a refuge. However, the problems continued and A’s mother breached the safety plan and continued drinking excess alcohol. The social worker described the home environment as a “constant pattern of untruths, big and small”.

The social worker told the court that A described herself as “the unluckiest girl in the world” because of her mother’s drinking. She said that when her mother poured the drink from the “bottle with the red top” it usually meant that her mother would go to sleep before she would. When this happened, A would be all alone in the dark except for the light of the computer tablet but when the tablet battery died, she hated the long night in the dark.

The child said she hated the long summer evenings most as it was a long time to wait to see if her mother was going to start drinking. She told her social worker that she was afraid she might grow up to be a bad person. She said she would like to hug her mother but that her mother had pushed her away. A said she really loved her school and that she was very much looking forward to returning to school after the holidays.

The social worker told the court that A was being neglected emotionally as her mother tended to lose focus on her care when she was drinking and taking medication. She said that A tended to take on responsibility beyond her years but that her individual therapeutic needs should be addressed.

The judge listened to the evidence and concluded that the threshold for a three-month care order had been reached and that this intervention was proportionate. The social worker reported that the placement was a short-term placement in a different part of the county but that it was hoped that A could return to her own school.

The judge addressed A’s mother: “A lot of work needs to be done here… are you listening to your child… she clearly loves you?”.

When the case came before the court just before the expiry of the original three-month care order the CFA lawyer made an application to extend the care order for one year. She reported that A’s mother had engaged with the addiction services but that this engagement was still at a very early stage and that the mother was still consuming alcohol.

The mother’s lawyer told the court that A’s mother had now secured accommodation on a tenancy basis and this would be hugely significant in alleviating some of the safety concerns in respect of A. The mother’s lawyer told the judge that she was consenting to a six-month extension of the care order to allow her to continue to develop her bond with her child.

The judge read and quoted from some elements of the social worker’s report. He said the report indicated that A’s mother was still using alcohol and that A was progressing well with the routine and structure facilitated by the care order. He read out that A was described as a helpful and well-behaved child, who was coping very well in care.

Judge: “If she had one wish, it would be for her mother to stop drinking… that’s the challenge ahead for mother… out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom”.

The judge referred to the social worker’s report regarding A and said it described her growing confidence. It reported that A’s foster parents were very much “in tune with her emotional needs”. The judge said that A’s mother now needed to address her addiction issues fully.

The mother’s lawyer asked the judge if she could cross-examine the social worker but the judge refused this. The judge said that his decision was to grant the one-year care order in respect of A with a review date in six months in order to assist A’s mother.