Parents collapse during hearing – 2014vol1#6

A very short term Interim Care Order was granted in the District Court when a father collapsed with three seizures before the hearing began, an ambulance was called and he was admitted to hospital. He had been in heightened state of stress that morning due to coming to court. He had been in the process of obtaining Legal Aid Board representation.

His wife became very ill shortly after her husband collapsed and another ambulance was called. She was assessed by the paramedics but did not need to be admitted to hospital. About three hours later she fell ill again and collapsed.

When the case commenced later that day, the mother’s Legal Aid Board solicitor told the court that the father had not had the opportunity to make his application for legal aid due to his ill health. The solicitor said that she believed the mother needed an advocate – she had had great difficulty understanding the solicitor when she was trying to go through reports and she was also illiterate.

Both parents were Travellers. The solicitor said the mother spent most of the morning contacting her family to see if someone could give them a caravan on a particular halting site. Although the family had difficulties, she wanted the three children to be allowed to remain with her, they had never been separated before.

The solicitor suggested that a family support worker be allocated to assist the mother to bring the children to school and to allow that pattern to continue for a period of days. This would be less damaging to the children. The solicitor was not satisfied she had sufficient instructions in court that day due to the mother’s ill health. She asked for a brief adjournment of the ICO application so both clients could participate fully.

She told the court the family were living in a flat complex but the eldest child was not living with them out of fear regarding some local youths at the complex. He was also not attending school. This concerned the judge.

Judge: “There’s always a danger if a young man of his age falls out he’s not going to go back, was it proposed if he moved to the halting site, would he go to school from there?”

Mother’s solicitor: “The youths he’s in fear of are at the school, judge.”

The Child and Family Agency solicitor said there were concerns in the social work department regarding the family for a long period of time. Now that the father was hospitalised, the CFA solicitor asked if “sufficient protective factors [were] in place for the safety and welfare for the children. If something happened, if an individual was harmed or hurt it would come back to us,” he told the court.

He felt the Interim Care Order should not be adjourned but granted for a very short period of time.

The judge also acknowledged the risk as the parents were unwell and the fact both parents wanted to participate in the proceedings. “Given the fact a brief adjournment has been applied for so her clients can participate, has that risk been assessed?” she asked the legal teams.

The CFA solicitor told the judge that a private residential placement had been obtained for the children, it was culturally appropriate. If the children were not placed there he could not tell the court if a family support worker could be provided. “Support for the mother in the past was provided by the father, who that person [to provide support] now is we don’t know and we can’t assess in a vacuum.”

“One has to be assured of the welfare of the children,” said the judge, but she was also very concerned about mother’s welfare.

The judge rose so the parties could talk. On their return the solicitor for the mother told the court that she had agreed to consent to a short order for five days, on a strictly without-prejudice basis, with daily access. A social worker would visit the halting site where a family member had said a caravan would be available to them on a long-term basis. The mother hoped to go there after the five day period.

Judge: “It gives the mother a chance to look after her health, it gives her breathing space, and it’s only till [end of five day period].”

The CFA solicitor told the court access would be facilitated at the placement and they would provide transport to and from there for the mother. A scaffold of all supports necessary would be put in and the children would go to school.

“You will investigate the halting site?” asked the judge. “That’s very important.” He confirmed it would be investigated.

The judge granted the very short term order on a strictly without-prejudice basis. She directed that an advocate be appointed to the mother.

A housing officer of Dublin City Council (a former nurse) had sat in court with the mother and assisted her throughout the day, she had also assisted medically when the father was having seizures. The in camera rule had been lifted to allow the housing officer to sit beside the mother. The judge thanked her for assisting the court, she said it had been “extremely beneficial for [the mother] to have someone on her side.”