Parents concerned at reduction of access due to Covid-19 – 2020vol2#4

The reduction of access due to Covid-19 was the main issue discussed when the Child and Family Agency (CFA) sought a short extension of an interim care order, in place since 2018, until the full care order hearing in January 2021 in respect of two children. The original hearing date in October was put back due to delays in assessments caused by Covid-19. The parents had consented for the hearing dates to be vacated and rescheduled to allow the assessment to take place prior to the full hearing in January.

The father was represented by a barrister and a solicitor and was consenting to the extension application. The mother was represented by a solicitor and she had an advocate with her in court. It was indicated that the mother was neither consenting nor objecting to the extension application at that point in time as she wanted to reserve her position until all of the assessment reports were available. The hearing in January would be contested.

The solicitor for the mother said that the mother wanted a “clear plan of steps for her to take”. The mother had sourced a counsellor for herself and a parenting course and she wanted guidance and confirmation that she was “on the right track”, as she was looking for reunification with her children. The solicitor told the court that access was “back up and running” as there had been difficulties during the Covid-19 pandemic but that it appeared that the mother had been having less access than what the court had previously ordered and clarity was required as an access order was in place.

The barrister for the father summarised the position of the father. The father’s ambition in September 2018 was that he would be a full-time parent to the two children. In November 2018 he had consented to the full care order for eighteen months so that the work that had been identified by the psychologist could be undertaken and for his access and his relationship with the children to develop. The barrister told the court that she intended to cross-examine witnesses in respect of access orders made by the court that had not been complied with “to the detriment of the father”. The barrister told the court that delay in preparing some of the reports due to Covid-19 was accepted by the father and that was the only reason for consenting to the extension until January and he will be contesting the hearing at that stage.

Father’s barrister: “He is working to be in a position to parent the boys.”

The father’s barrister said that the judge who had granted the initial section 18 order in 2018 for the eighteen month period and had made a direction that the CFA were to fund EMDR therapy for the father as recommended by the psychologist and there were questions over whether this therapy had in fact been carried out by the psychologist he had attended. (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an interactive psychotherapy technique used to relieve psychological stress caused by trauma.) There had also been a direction that the parents engage with an attachment assessment for the purpose of improving access. A further attachment assessment was underway and that was one of the reasons for the delay in the case.

The barrister for the father said that she was seeking a direction from the court that the order for access remain in place. She said that during the initial interim care order when the parents were in a committed relationship, the District Court judge had made an order that access was to take place three times per week. When the initial Section 18 order of eighteen months had been made it was directed that the same access order remain in place.

The barrister said that the CFA had sought to reduce access in November 2019 but on that date agreement had been reached outside of the court. It had been agreed that the order would be provided to the Court and would be circulated and that access was to take place twice per week and with special occasion access at Christmas, Easter and birthdays. The parents were still in a committed relationship at that stage.

The father’s barrister said that in February 2020 the CFA had re-entered the matter in court and had sought a reduction in the access and a District Court judge had made an order in respect of access. The order was for access once a week for 1½ hours and up until March 2020 that is how access had proceeded up until the Covid-19 pandemic.

Father’s barrister: “Access had to stop for a period during Covid and then it re-commenced. The CFA unilaterally reduced the access in place between the father and the boys. It is accepted that one of the boys in particular was making strange. There had been video calls over Covid. The father has put in enormous work to parent the children and Covid has damaged his ability to develop the relationship.”

The barrister told the court that access has been reduced to 45 minutes per week and was reducing the father’s ability to develop the relationship. She said that the CFA was in breach of the access order in place and the reduction in access was not assisting in allowing the father’s relationship with the children to develop. She said that the father will then be “finding himself on the back foot going in to a contested hearing in January”.

The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said that the GAL was supporting the CFA’s application for an extension as because of the Covid-19 restrictions there were a number of assessments outstanding.

The CFA solicitor told the court that consent had been provided by the parents to vacate the hearing dates and set new hearing dates in January 2021.

Father’s barrister: “There is consent but the court also has a responsibility of compliance of its own order and the CFA breaching them should be of concern to the court and for the welfare of the children. This court can make an order under section 18(2) and also make a direction to comply with your order of February 2020 and [the District Court] order that EMDR therapy take place.”

The allocated social worker gave evidence to the court and said that it was her professional opinion that the circumstances at the time of the granting of the initial section 18 order continued to exist and the children continued to require the protection of a court order. The social worker indicated that it was the intention of the CFA to proceed with the care order hearing on the dates fixed in January 2021 and that the outstanding assessments such as the attachment assessment and reports would be completed in advance of the January dates.

The solicitor for the mother asked the social worker a number of questions about how the CFA had communicated with the mother, having regard to her cognitive difficulties and her need for an advocate.

Mother’s solicitor: “[In] relation to communication the mother has significant difficulties. The mother has an advocate and requires a specific style of communication. How have the CFA adapted work to ensure that she understands the plan and details of access?”

Social worker: “I have made a point to keep in contact with her if there are changes to the schedule. I keep in touch with telephone and text.”

Mother’s solicitor: “How frequently do you meet?”

Social worker: “Due to Covid there has been no in-person meeting, but on the phone.”

Mother’s solicitor: “When do you plan to start in-person meetings?”

Social worker: “When the restrictions allow.”

Mother’s solicitor: “So there is no plan?”

Social worker: “We have been directed by Tusla to do visits for essential purposes only otherwise to communicate over the phone.”

Mother’s solicitor: “The mother is looking for family reunification with her two children. Is that not essential communication? … there seem to have been a number of mis-communications over a few months.”

The solicitor for the mother asked a number of questions in respect of access at a particular venue. The social worker said that with Covid there had been difficulties with the boys settling back into access. The social worker said that she had received feedback in access reports in respect of a recent access and that there seemed to have been an improvement over time.

Mother’s solicitor: “Who decided access would be 45 minutes?”

Social worker: “In the best interests of the children as they had difficulty re-adjusting back to access after Covid and they were settling into playschool. The children were distressed at the first access and it was cut short. The second one didn’t go ahead at all. In the best interests of the children the CFA decided to shorten the access in the best interest of the children.”

Mother’s solicitor: “Did you think about the implications? Were you aware that there was an access order by the court?”

The social worker said that she had discussed the reduction in access with the parents and that they had consented.

Mother’s solicitor: “With the mother’s cognitive difficulties how were you satisfied that she understood what she had consented to?”

The social worker said that there was a phone conversation and that she was looking at the best interests of the children. The mother’s solicitor said that the mother had instructed that she accepted the reduction for the first few accesses as she did not want the children to be distressed, but that there was no plan to increase or make up for the missed access. The social worker said that she was monitoring the access reports and there had been a gradual improvement but that the children were in need of support and they shortened access as they were adjusting and can then revert.

The solicitor asked the social worker if there was a timeframe or a review plan for access and the appropriateness of telephone conversations “when dealing with someone with an impaired understanding of matters”.

The solicitor questioned the social worker about what criteria and markers were to be used for access to be reviewed and for decisions to be made as the court order had stipulated access for 75 minutes. The social worker told the court that she received weekly access reports and she conducted a review when it was “deemed needed” when there was a significant change with how access was going.

The solicitor asked when the last child-in-care review took place and, as access had been “a contentious issue since the outset”, whether there was a frequency for meeting stipulated.

Social worker: “I would say it is reviewed nearly on a continuous basis and [there are] conversations over the phone”

Solicitor: “Is that a little bit casual in light of the difficulties in this case?  Should there be a structured review for marks and what are the markers for upping [access] or downing [access]?”

The solicitor sought a commitment from the social worker to review access and to set up a meeting in person with the mother and her support person.

Solicitor: “When can that be done?”

Social worker: “It could be in the next month or two.”

Solicitor: “Very casual where we are looking into a contested care order in January.”

The social worker said that the CFA were looking at access on an ongoing basis and this was clarified by the team leader and the court was told that a formal meeting could take place instead of updating the mother by telephone and that a meeting could take place in three weeks’ time and another meeting could then be scheduled.

The solicitor sought clarification on what steps the mother needed to take and whether the CFA were satisfied with the counselling service that the mother had engaged with or whether it should be a different service. The social worker said that she was not aware of or familiar with the service that the mother had engaged with but that she knew the key worker the mother worked with.

Solicitor: “We are talking about counselling not her key worker?”

Social worker: “It is not my area of expertise so I couldn’t say.”

The solicitor asked if the social worker had sought information to assess whether it was the right type of counselling the mother had engaged with or whether the two previous assessments in terms of capacity should be updated to assess if she should receive a different therapy. The social worker said that the department did not think that there were grounds for a further parental capacity assessment “as the first two show she is not able to parent the boys at this time”. In terms of therapeutic input the social worker said that it had been decided earlier in the week that the social work department were going to consult the CFA in-house psychologist. The solicitor questioned why that had not been mentioned in the report prepared for the court and the social worker replied that it was “something we talked about recently”.

The solicitor said that the mother had sourced a parenting course which she was attending and she sought clarification from the social worker as to whether there was a bespoke type of parenting course that the mother should be attending.

Social worker: “It is something we can discuss.”

Solicitor: “Is there a reason why doing it at the end of the two-year period when the order is due to expire rather than over the two years?

The social worker was allocated to the case seven months previously and she had taken over the case from the team leader who had been assigned to the case. The solicitor put to the social worker that it was unusual that she was only looking now at what parenting course or therapy was appropriate. The social worker said that having regard to the outcome of the previous assessment of the mother they did not feel that there were grounds to look at the course for the mother.

The solicitor listed out all the previous dates the matter had been before the court where her instructions had been that the mother was looking for reunification with the children and she had wanted to know what she needed to do. The solicitor asked the social worker if she had had any conversations with the mother in respect of what she needed to do. The solicitor expressed surprise that the social worker appeared unaware that the mother was seeking reunification with the children.

Social worker: “There was no mention of her seeking to return the boys into her care.”

Solicitor: “Were you not aware she was looking for family reunification? When did you become aware of that?”

Social worker: “Only in recent weeks.”

Solicitor: “Were you in court in February 2020?”

Social worker: “Yes.”

Solicitor: “I said to the court it was a case looking for family reunification, do you not remember that? The parents split up in December 2019 and it was immediately told to the CFA that we would be looking for reunification independently.”

Social worker: “Because of the previous outcomes we did not pursue that.”

Solicitor: “The CFA have a duty to look at family reunification. It is a statutory obligation and there is only a short care order in this case? Have you ever met with the mother?”

The social worker told the court that since her allocation in February she had not met with the mother in person and had only spoken to her over the phone. The social worker said that the only time she had met the mother was at court.

Solicitor: “Is that best practice? Is that standard social worker practice not to meet parents?”

Social worker: “Lock-down happened quite soon after that.”

The solicitor asked the social worker if there was a reason why no written access schedule had been given to the mother each month.

Social worker: “Access is very dynamic with Covid as we are having trouble finding indoor venues. We had an outdoor venue in a park. There have been some difficulties finding new indoor venues. There are limited spaces due to Covid restrictions so due to that [there are] a lot of inconsistencies.”

The social worker confirmed that the current venue was suitable and that it was available until the hearing of the full care order in January and the social worker confirmed that she could provide a written access schedule to the mother giving details of the location and time.

The solicitor asked if a referral had been made following the recommendation of the GAL that Barnardos be engaged to give a plan to assist with the quality of the access. The social worker said that she had not made the referral as the access was “too inconsistent to engage a service like that”. The solicitor queried the inconsistency referred to and asked if there was a reason why it was not communicated to the parties through the CFA solicitor why Barnardos had not been approached as per the agreement made in court. The solicitor said that the recommended Barnardos referral was “again something fallen through the gaps”.

The barrister for the father posed a number of questions to the social worker and she asked what type of handover occurred from the team leader when she was allocated to the case. The social worker said that there was a transfer summary and an in-person discussion. The social worker confirmed that when she took over the case she did not contact the father “to set up a face-to-face meeting” but that she had introduced herself over the phone and the Covid-19 pandemic occurred soon after her allocation.

The social worker confirmed that the hand-over document had indicated that it was a case where a short order was made “to allow the father to re-engage in certain works to see if reunification was possible”. The social worker confirmed that she was aware that the father had wanted the boys to be returned to his care eventually.

Father’s barrister: “Were you made aware of the access order from November 2019?”

Social worker: “Yes.”

Father’s barrister: “It is not a decision of the CFA how often access occurs.”

Social worker: “Yes.”

Father’s barrister: “What is your understanding of an access order?”

Social worker: “It is court directed.”

Father’s barrister: “The CFA as a party to the proceedings what kind of compliance does it have to have with the access order?”

Social worker: “Full compliance I suppose.”

Father’s barrister: “If the CFA fails to comply do you know what the effects are?”

The CFA solicitor interjected and told the court that if there was implication of an alleged breach that the social worker needed legal advice. The social worker confirmed to the father’s barrister that she was aware that she had to have full compliance with the access order and that the team leader had also advised her that court directions were made in 2018 when the eighteen-month care order was made. The barrister said that she was trying to clarify if the court directions had been complied with by the CFA. The barrister for the father asked if the social worker was aware that the risk assessment had recommended that the father attend EMDR therapy. The social worker told the court that she did not remember that particular term of “EMDR therapy” but that one-to-one therapy was provided.

Father’s barrister: “Do you believe he carried out EMDR therapy?”

Social worker: “I don’t know what EMDR therapy is.”

Father’s barrister: “Did you have concern if the therapy was in accordance with what you understood had to be done?”

The CFA solicitor interjected to tell the court that the individual involved was qualified in EMDR therapy in his CV. The father’s barrister said that she had received a report the previous day outlining the work carried out with her client and it was arranged with the individual as he had a particular skill set. The barrister said that she “as a lawyer with no psychological training” had a concern whether the therapy undergone complied with the direction and recommendation that EMDR therapy be carried out.

Father’s barrister: “I will move on but the court should be concerned that nobody knows if EMDR therapy has been provided. We are all working towards one end goal and not ascertaining if he has hit targets…. These are welfare issues pertinent to the boys and the social work department don’t know if the therapy has been done and it is of concern to me.”

The barrister confirmed with the social worker that access was three times per week with the father when the order was made and the purpose was to “keep up the relationship with the parent and child”.

Father’s barrister: “Now the father who wants to fully care for the children has 45 minutes per week, that is not sufficient time for the father to build up a relationship?

Social worker: “The decision was made with consent and in the best interest of the children after a long period of reduced access with Covid.”

The social worker accepted that the CFA needed to comply with the access order in place.

Father’s barrister: “Did you ask for their legal advisors to be advised?”

Social worker: “Since all were in agreement we proceeded.”

Father’s barrister: “Do you think my client knew he had a legal right to say no to you?”

Social worker: “I don’t know that.”

Father’s barrister: “I put to you that he didn’t know that he could say no to you and he thought you had the power. Do you think [it was] a fair interference by the agency with his right to access?”

Social worker: “It felt to me he was in agreement with it as he was also looking at the best interests of the children.”

Father’s barrister: “I concede that he did agree but that he did not know that he could say no. He said that he thought it was for a few accesses but not ongoing.”

The barrister said that it was her reading of the social worker report that the children were distressed attending creche and attending access and put to the social worker that it was due to “leaving the foster carer as opposed to seeing their father?” The social worker said that she was not sure what it was attributed to but “it could be a bit of both”.

Father’s barrister: “Are children distressed seeing you?”

Social worker: “Yes, they could be.”

The social worker had agreed that the foster carer was introduced to access to calm the children and she said it was to ease them in “as one access couldn’t happen as one child was distressed and crying”.

The children had begun creche at the end of August and the barrister asked why it was decided to reduce access with the birth father and not reduce the time at creche if the children were distressed. The social worker said that it had been discussed with the foster carer and the attendance at creche was shortened a little bit but the “carer also wanted to put them in routine again for the best interests of the boys”.

Father’s barrister: “The consistency of seeing their birth father is in their best interest?”

Social worker: “Yes, consistency with the same day and same time.”

Father’s barrister: “Is 45 minutes enough where the purpose was for the relationship with the father and children to continue?”

Social worker: “We thought [it was] manageable for the boys and not adding excessive distress… [it was] a decision made by the CFA in the best interest of the boys.”

The social worker said that they could not reduce the children’s attendance at school and that it made sense for the boys to have consistency and it was not related to the length of access.

Father’s barrister: “Access was reduced to once per week for 45 minutes and as they were distressed this was the reason given for reducing. If they are the same way at school why not the same attitude?”

The social worker said that the school attendance had also been reduced ending at 11am and not at 12pm. With the increased attendance at school the social worker said that the improvement was a “slow and gradual process”.

Father’s barrister: “Similarly if you gave slow and gradual increased access with the father they would improve.”

The social worker said that access needed to be what the boys could manage at the time and they had been distressed after access and acting up a lot and that she did not think that increasing access would be in their best interests.

Father’s barrister: “Have you tried to increase it to two periods of 45 minutes?”

Social worker: “No, we have not.”

Father’s barrister: “Have you come to court aware you are in breach of a court order?”

Social worker: “No, it was made with the consent of the clients.”

When asked by the CFA solicitor the social worker confirmed that she would be happy to have a review meeting with the parents to discuss access and to provide a written access schedule to the mother and father outlining when and where access was to take place. The social worker confirmed that it was with the agreement of the parents that access was reduced to 45 minutes and physical access had resumed in the park but that it was cut short as one of the children was showing a lot of distress. The social worker confirmed that she was reviewing access every week.

CFA solicitor: “Have you seen sufficient improvement of presentation to give confidence that increasing time is in their best interest?”

Social worker: “Not quite yet. Up and down and only slow improvement recently”.

The mother’s solicitor asked if she had ever observed access with the mother. The social worker said that she was present at one access with the father as support for one child’s toilet training but she confirmed that she had not observed access with the mother.

The court was told that the mother and father were not giving evidence but the father was seeking a direction from the court that the CFA comply with the access order in place. The CFA solicitor submitted that the decision to reduce access was made with the agreement of the parents in June 2020 and the issue was not raised on the last court date or at the time when access was reduced. The CFA solicitor indicated that there was no problem if an access hearing was required if the position was that the parents were no longer in agreement with the reduction. The father’s barrister submitted that the agreement was without legal advice and in breach of a court access order and if the CFA wanted to reduce access a formal application had to be made.

The GAL gave evidence to the court and indicated that they were supportive of the CFA’s application to extend the care order to the hearing dates in January as it was in the best interest of the children to allow the assessments be completed. The GAL said that the children had not managed the re-introduction of face-to-face access with the parents as they would have liked and the children had struggled separating from their carers and the transition into play school.

GAL: “If [the foster carer] had the opportunity to settle them into the classroom it might have helped but the problem is they can’t go in and [are] waiting outside the door…”

The GAL said that school was improving but taking more time than he would like or anticipate for children of their age. The GAL said that when issues occurred around separating there was a “bit of a pattern” as when one child saw the other boy distressed he could also become distressed and “the same at school, if one wants to leave school he wants to leave too”. The GAL said that they try to meet the two children’s needs simultaneously but that they were presenting differently.

The GAL described the issues with the access venue as the children had had a very familiar venue and then it became no longer available and he said “that was the initial piece that upset the boys” as there was a break with access for Covid and then it started at a new venue outside. The GAL said that the children were not settling for the access workers or for the parents and the foster carer had to stay during the access. The GAL said that some days the weather was good but that there were “a lot of variables at a time where it needed to be consistent”. The GAL told the court that over the previous couple of weeks the children were attending access for a shorter period of time with the foster carer and that this had helped the boys “to maintain an access experience” with their parents.

GAL: “We have to decide do we pull back the carer at visits to promote the parents in an access visit for a shorter time or go for a longer period of time with the foster carer staying there… we have attachment assessments and parenting capacity assessments live and they need to be progressed and the parent parenting the child has to be seen.”

The GAL told the court that stability of access was needed where the boys felt comfortable for the carer to withdraw and he said that the children have attachment issues.

GAL: “Access has always been an evolving situation with the boys where the two children’s needs have to be met. They may not always present the same. One child might manage and one might not.”

The GAL said that the time to review access was when the attachment assessments were back to see the attachment styles of the children and “how can we support any adaptations”. The GAL said that there were lots of ways of looking at access and it was not one way or the other but he was keen that the assessments should progress.

GAL: “We can continue to try to pull back having the carer there in a way the boys can manage and then try to increase to a timeframe the boys can manage but I can’t be prescriptive about that today. We need to try to establish a regular rhythmic pattern around the process with the children with both access and play school.

“I don’t think it is helpful or fair to have the idea that the boys are sitting for 45 minutes crying and very distressed. [It’s] not helpful with associations with their parents. We need to try work together as collaboratively as possible but that doesn’t prohibit the parents engaging.”

The GAL told the court that “day to day they are doing well” but that one child had met their developmental milestones quicker than the other such as walking, toilet training and speech and language and he described the dynamic between the children as “lovely” as they can fight but also get on.

The GAL said that in the midst of everything there was also the breakup of the relationship of the parents and different trajectories about managing access and contact.

GAL: “We need to manage their time on their own with their parents and then look at increasing it. We need to be collaborative rather than prescriptive, rather than minutes and court orders. I am not disrespectful to their concerns.”

The GAL acknowledged that the father had always indicated that he wanted to be considered for reunification and to look after the boys. The GAL said that they were originally looking at the father’s capacity to ensure the children’s safety, welfare and wellbeing and his role supporting the mother around care and there were a number of reports and assessments. The GAL said that with the mother’s neurological and cognitive profile “she will remain static in respect of those issues” and she was unable to manage the multitasking, skills, insight and predictional needs of the children and that will remain static.

The GAL said that if the mother wanted to proceed with an independent parenting capacity assessment that he was not so sure if it would happen immediately.

The GAL said that one of the ongoing discussions was to provide the mother with the type of information to support her on access visits and that was why Barnardos was previously mentioned in recommendations as it could provide not just verbal but visual assistance to assist the mother in responding to the boys’ different needs. The GAL said that “Covid hasn’t assisted” but that he was satisfied that the excellent placement was meeting the boys’ needs. The GAL said that with the carers’ commitment to the children there was never any concern into the quality of their care.

The solicitor for the mother said that the mother wanted it to be clear that she had no difficulties with the foster carers and she wanted what was in the children’s best interests. The mother’s issues were in the context of where there was a lack of communication from the CFA and she was “in the dark” as to when access was to be reviewed. The solicitor asked the GAL if he had any suggestions.

GAL: “In fairness to the mother she would ring me on occasion when she is upset about something and we would talk it through. The mother is not trying to do anything to cause the children distress. The mother requires support in day-to-day life and she needs assistance around organisation and ensuring she gets to the venue on time. I spoke to the social work team [saying] that she needs to know where she is going and what time. As her stress levels go up her capacity to organise decreases.”

The GAL said that when the parents’ relationship ended there were a lot of demands on the mother and that she “needs information provided in a clear, simple and consistent way” and the schedules needed to be clear. The GAL agreed that there should be a meeting to discuss access and that a schedule should be provided at the start of each month so that there was no lack of clarity.

The GAL said that the mother has three children in the long-term care of the CFA and in the process she had gone through a number of parenting capacity assessments.

GAL: “She does want to be considered to look after them but it needs to be clear what we are asking her to do in the parental capacity assessment… The recommendation [is] for Barnardos, as visual components in access will be of assistance. In relation to counselling, I think it is helpful she is attending.”

In respect of the parenting course the GAL said that his own view was that the mother required an approach as to how information was disseminated and a generic parenting course did not provide her with an opportunity to process the information so he had no problem with a review of the parenting course that she was attending.

The GAL confirmed that since access recommenced with the father after Covid in June 2020 he had not observed an access with the father.

Father’s barrister: “You made comments that access was positive before Covid, have you observed access before?”

GAL: “I observed it in advance of the last access hearing but I have not observed it since Covid and since access recommenced. The evidence appears to be that he had a good relationship and access went quite well.”

The barrister said that she was instructed by the father that as he didn’t have access from March to June the boys were not that familiar with him and it had affected access since June. The barrister asked if access was to increase to even twice per week for a time comfortable for the children would that allow familiarity to increase. The GAL said that access was “not quantity but quality” and to get both parents to get the relationship back to the point where it was before Covid, as he was conscious they were going into an assessment period.

GAL: “It is easy to have a situation where the two boys are crying during the duration of access visits and for the assessors to observe. I think it does everyone a dis-service as it is not where the boys were but where they are now.”

The GAL said that he had “no solution today for the dilemma” with access as to whether access should be increased or changed to allow “familiarity to resume”

GAL: “Covid has had a really negative impact on that, it’s nobody’s fault and the necessity is to move it on now. It needs a venue as a familiar place for the boys that is inviting to them, with appropriate toys and stimulus… It is not just about your client’s access needs it is about the demands of the children in their entirety and they are showing us and telling us that it is hard on them at the minute.”

The judge noted the consent of the father and that the mother was neither consenting nor objecting to the extension of the order. The judge said that having heard evidence from the social worker and the GAL that he was satisfied that the care order should be extended to the dates of the full hearing in January 2021 and that it was “necessary and proportionate to do so”.

The judge decided to discharge the access order in place for the following reasons.

Judge: “In relation to the access, it seems to me a lot of change for the two boys and change in relationship with the parents, Covid and a change of venues [which is] another thing that makes it unfamiliar and as the GAL says a lot is going on. Access is one of the many variables that has changed over the last six months. The GAL was encouraged by the two last access reports that things are getting back on track.

“It seems to me that the question of access is always a question of art and balancing many variables. There is no science to access. We cannot say that an experiment may be viable or this will work as tried and trusted and shown to replicate, it does not happen in human relationships as all are different. It is a question of seeing how this will go or that will go. The GAL made a good point that if access doesn’t go well it reintegrates bad things and things that we don’t want to happen and it reinforces the children’s fears and anxieties. For this reason I am going to discharge the access order. The CFA are to provide written schedules to the parents.”

The judge said that difficulties had arisen in the case and “an amount of that is a lack of proper communication”.

Judge: “It may be difficult during Covid but if we don’t know why things are happening we fear the worst and that doesn’t make for good relationships. In so far as exchange of information goes, reasons given are always helpful.”

The judge listed the matter for mention a month in advance of the full care order hearing.