Placement breaks down amid allegations of physical abuse by foster parent – 2020vol1#34

A judge in a rural town adjourned the case of a child of post-primary school age, (Child A) for three weeks in order to allow for a suitable placement to be found by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and for the child’s guardian ad litem (GAL) to produce a report. The child’s original placement had broken down and she had made allegations of physical abuse against the original foster parent. The CFA had placed the child in alternative temporary foster care while a suitable long-term placement was found. The child had been admitted to hospital for severe anxiety and the ongoing future supervision of her medication was deemed to be an essential part of her safety plan.

Day one

Child A’s social worker reported that this case was re-entered before the court due to the fact that the child’s placement with a foster parent had broken down. The judge addressed Child A’s parents and explained to them the reason the matter was before the court. The judge told the child’s parents that the CFA was making an application to adjourn this matter for three months. He advised the parents to listen to what was being said and to ask questions if they wished for clarification.

Child A’s social worker told the judge that the placement had broken down five months earlier. She had attempted to make a home visit but this had proved very difficult. Child A had told the social worker that her foster parent had shouted at her, had stopped her looking at television and had also given her “the silent treatment”. The child also alleged that the foster parent had physically abused her by restraining her, leading to cuts and bruises on her arm and that she had been thrown into her room. The child alleged that she had consumed bleach due to her feelings of anxiety.

The social worker reported that Child A had been reviewed by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). The treating psychiatrist had put the child on medication for her anxiety but the social worker said that she was not taking the medication and was admitted to hospital locally three days previously. The social worker said she had secured an alternative temporary placement and that Child A had met with both the alternative foster parent and the treating psychiatrist while she was in the hospital.

The social worker told the court that Child A was being reviewed later in the evening and that it was vital to get the medication stabilised.

Judge: “If she is released, to where will this be?”

The social worker replied that there was a severe shortage of county placements and that the next stop might be to consider a residential placement.

Judge: “I will not be adjourning after hearing that evidence.”

The judge said that due to the recent circumstances in Child A’s life, he would only be willing to adjourn the matter for two weeks. At this point Child A’s father spoke up and said that neither he nor the child’s mother were made aware of the recent details about their child. He asked the social worker why she had not contacted them to inform them that their child had been admitted to hospital three days earlier. The social worker replied that their priority had been focussed on getting Child A to engage with her psychiatrist and that this had taken considerable time. The father said he was still not happy that he was not notified of the hospital admission. The judge advised the child’s father to speak with his solicitor and he adjourned the matter for two weeks.

Day two

Child A’s social worker told the court that the girl had been released from hospital three days earlier. The child had been admitted to hospital on three occasions suffering from anxiety and suicidal feelings. The social worker described A as being very diligent with all her homework from school but said that she had found this to be very stressful during the COVID-19 restrictions. She reported that the child was in good form but that there was neither a foster placement nor a residential placement available. Child A was getting on well in her temporary placement. The judge noted the appointment of a GAL for A. The child was refusing to engage in any access visits with her parents and the judge said that the GAL would encourage her to agree to some access.

The judge asked the father’s lawyer if she could represent both parents and the father’s lawyer replied that it was more usual for the second parent to be represented by an alternative law centre. The father’s lawyer said that A’s father wanted to be notified immediately should the child require to be hospitalised in the future and the judge agreed that this should be done. The father’s lawyer reported that she had read the safety plan for the child and that it seemed to be in order.

The social worker told the judge that a residential placement meeting was due to take place later in the week but that Child A was not in favour of this. The social worker stressed that the child would need supervision to ensure she took and swallowed the correct medication.

Judge: “The CFA shouldn’t make a decision about residential placement without coming before the court. I do not want that decision made unilaterally by the CFA… Come to court and persuade the court it’s necessary.”

The CFA lawyer said that residential care staff may be better placed to be able to supervise the child’s medication.

The judge said that he wanted to see the GAL’s report and he explained the role of a GAL to the child’s mother. The judge adjourned the matter for three weeks.