A judge in a provincial city granted a twelve-month care order for a baby under the age of six months, whose mother had recently been in care herself. The Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court that the mother had been in a care placement some months earlier and had moved location to participate in an aftercare plan. The social worker outlined the recommendations in the plan for the mother to learn the life-skills necessary to take care of a young baby.
The judge stressed that the threshold for a care order was a high one but that she was satisfied it had been reached in this case. She advised the mother to co-operate with the plan and to engage fully with her baby at access visits as it was so important that she bonded with her baby. A review was listed for a date six months later.
The lawyer for the CFA told the court that this case involved a baby who was less than six months old. The lawyer said he was seeking a section 18 care order for the baby for a period of twelve months. The mother was consenting to this care order application, provided that a review took place after six months.
The lawyer for the CFA informed the court that the mother’s former boyfriend had taken a paternity test, which proved he was the baby’s father. The father was aware of the court proceedings but had not engaged with legal services and was not in court.
The baby’s social worker stated that the mother’s former carers advised that she was not an appropriate carer for her baby at the present time. The baby was placed with relative foster carers and had settled well. The social worker said that the foster carers had adjusted their own lives in order to care for the baby. She added that the application for the twelve-month care order was necessary and proportionate in the circumstances.
The lawyer for the CFA asked the social worker if the foster carers had been assessed for their suitability for long term fostering. The social worker replied that the assessment was due to commence and that the baby was to remain with the foster carers for the twelve-month period of the care order.
The lawyer for the CFA asked the social worker what the recommendations were for the following six months for the mother. The social worker listed the priority recommendations for the mother as acceptance of:
- The importance of engaging in her aftercare plan;
- The importance of maintaining her tenancy agreement with the assisted tenancy agency;
- The necessity to attend supervised access with her baby at the agreed times and to engage fully with her baby, without checking her mobile phone, so that the time spent promoted quality access;
- The importance of engaging in the recommended psychotherapy, which may help to regulate her control of her emotions and reduce unhelpful outbursts;
- The need to attend all meetings with the CFA;
- The importance of not participating in acrimonious engagement with the baby’s father.
The lawyer for the CFA asked if the above recommendations had been discussed with the mother and if she had been given the list in written format. The social worker replied that the mother had failed to attend the meeting arranged to go through the recommendations but that her guardian ad litem (GAL) and her aftercare worker had attended. The lawyer asked about the attitude of the baby’s father and the social worker answered that the father was aware of the court application proceedings and was pleased that the paternity test confirmed he was the father. The mother had refused the father access to the baby and the father had been advised about how to seek legal aid to pursue access.
The lawyer for the CFA asked how the access between the mother and baby was progressing and the social worker replied that one access visit had gone well but that the mother had failed to attend two further access visits and had not made contact to give a reason for her non-attendance.
The social worker described the baby’s development as normal and that, apart from a short hospital admission for an infection, the baby was doing well.
Lawyer for the CFA: “The mother is still a child herself. Does she have an appreciation of what she needs to do next?”
The social worker said it was clear that the mother loved her baby dearly and wanted her to remain with the relative foster carers so that she was within the family network. She added that she could not predict whether the mother would make the necessary changes in order to care for her baby. Counselling for the mother would be essential but only when the mother was ready to engage with it. The social worker said she supported the GAL’s recommendation for the baby to obtain a medical card. She added that she believed the threshold for the care order had been reached and that it was proportionate in all the circumstances.
The mother’s lawyer thanked the social worker for highlighting the mother’s courage in acknowledging her own difficulties. She informed the judge that the mother had engaged in teen parenting, had learned how to massage the baby and had engaged in additional therapeutic supports and independent living skills. She pointed out that a new aftercare worker was due to be appointed. The judge interjected to confirm that the current aftercare worker would remain with the mother until the new appointment was made so that there would not be a gap in service and the social worker confirmed there would be no gap in service.
The mother’s lawyer asked the social worker if the mother would be able to contact her directly as some of the recommendations may “go over her head”. The lawyer said that the mother’s cognitive functioning was in the borderline range and asked if that was considered when setting out the recommendations. The social worker assured the court that the cognitive functioning had been considered and that the stress was being put on the importance of good relationships. She added that the recommendations for the mother were reasonable.
The mother’s lawyer described the vulnerability of the mother who had told her that everyone was against her. The social worker said that the CFA was available for both the mother and the baby, but that the baby took priority in this situation.
Social worker: “We can’t tell Mam what to do but we will stress healthy relationships in her own family. This will be a good example for her to experience.”
The social worker said that they could not force people to engage with counselling and psychotherapy as they need to work on this themselves. The lawyer for the CFA said he would be seeking an order that access would be at the discretion of the CFA. The mother’s lawyer stated that access was currently set at three times weekly and that she was asking for the continuation of that arrangement.
The judge said that the threshold for a section 18 care order for twelve months was a high one. She noted that the mother was present in court and was consenting to the application. She noted that the father was not present despite being on notice of the proceedings. The judge stated that it was important that the threshold set out in the Child Care Act was reached. She said she was taking the age of the baby, the age of the mother, the importance of the relationship between a baby and parent into account, along with all the other factors outlined in this case to the court. She noted the difficulties for the mother of moving recently from her previous placement into aftercare.
The judge decided that the required threshold for the care order was met in this case and granted the twelve-month care order, with a planned review to take place after six months. She commended the social worker for the helpful format of her report and recommendations.
In relation to the CFA’s concerns around access, the judge said she was directing that access be at the discretion of the CFA. However, she stressed how essential it was for a mother to bond with her baby and she strongly advised the mother to engage fully with access, to put away her phone during access visits and to get to know and enjoy her baby. A review was set for a date six months later.