Overnight access denied to mother with history of drug abuse – 2013vol2#12

A mother failed in her attempt to have overnight access with her baby due to concerns about her parenting capacity and a history of previous drug use within her family. An Interim Care Order is in force and, when the matter came before the District Court for an extension of the Care Order, the solicitor for the mother said that she was not consenting to the application.

The social worker from the HSE who is dealing with case said that the infant had been with foster carers, who were related to the mother, for almost two months. The mother had supervised access to her son twice a week – once in the rural town where he is residing with his foster parents which they supervised and once in Dublin where the access was supervised by the HSE. The child had several health needs at the moment and he had been hospitalised once already and was due to have treatment in a hospital in Dublin.

Asked about the outcome of a parenting assessment which the HSE had carried out, the social worker said there were several concerns about the mother’s ability due to her difficulties in meeting the child’s basic needs and there were concerns about a history of drug abuse within the family. The social worker said the mother had given them the name of the person who she believed was the father of the child but they had been unable to contact him and thought he had relocated to another jurisdiction. However, the social work department had been contacted by another man who said he was the father and he was seeking a paternity test.

The mother, according to the social worker, had engaged fully with the parental assessment and was attending access consistently. She said the mother was insisting she was drugs free. Discussions had been taking place with her GP for weekly urinalysis but the GP had some funding issues in relation to this.

The social worker said the HSE would keep access under regular review but at the moment no change was recommended. The concerns that they originally had were not alleviated. “Until we have confirmation her drug use is not on-going, we need to extend the Interim Care Order,” she said.

When questioned by the mother’s solicitor, the social worker confirmed that the mother had assured them that she did not abuse drugs. However the tests taken at the birth of the baby indicated that she had been abusing prescribed medicines and while in hospital had frequently asked for Zanax.

Asked by the mother’s solicitor if she was aware that the infant’s grandmother was willing to support overnight access and would support the return of the child, the social worker said the HSE was prepared to provide supports for access and would look at further supports. When questioned by the judge about the HSE’s assessment of the mother’s parenting ability, the social worker stated that it had been an informal assessment based on on-going observation and the grandmother had told them she would not be able to assist as the primary carer.

The baby’s mother told the court that she had not been given the chance to be a mother. Her father had died on the same month as the birth of the child and her mother could not help with the baby as she was grieving for her husband. She said she felt her baby should be allowed home to be cared by her with the support of her mother.

She was asked by her solicitor: “Do you think he has a bond with you?” She replied: “I don’t think he has because I only see him twice a week. He is my son and I miss him shocking and I just want him back. I never had the chance to care for him.” She said she was seeking one overnight stay.

“They keep going on with the past but the past is over now and it’s the future we need to look forward to. If I had more access to him I would learn more. Two times a week isn’t enough. I’d like to have my son back soon because I am able to look after him. I know I am a first time mother but we all have to learn. It’s heart-breaking. I think about him every night.”

The judge said the court had to have as its first and paramount consideration the needs of the child and on that basis he extended the Interim Care Order. He stated that the issue of funding for urinalysis had to be dealt with if the HSE was relying on the mother’s misuse of drugs for its opposition to overnight access. If that issue was sorted out and the mother was disputing the HSE’s claims then the best way forward for her would be to cooperate with the HSE.

He said he wanted a schedule of parenting supports that could properly be identified for the mother and an assessment of her parenting abilities. He also directed that a more detailed assessment of the maternal grandmother and of the assistance that she might be able to provide should be brought before the court on the next hearing date. The court also appointed a guardian ad litem for the infant.