The District Court in a rural town granted a CFA application to discharge interim care orders for two children in a family of five siblings, and replace them with supervision orders. The court in a rural town granted the discharge.
This case concerned five children, A (a boy) and B (a girl) were teenagers, C (a girl) and D (a boy) were of primary school age. E (a boy) was at pre-school. The mother was in court and represented by a solicitor and barrister. The father was incarcerated and attended by video link, he did not have legal representation.
Reports from the social worker on behalf of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and the guardian ad litem(GAL) had been submitted to the court in advance of the hearing.
The CFA had wanted the supervision orders to extend for 12 months but the mother was only consenting to supervision orders for eight months. The father was supporting the position of the mother. Evidence was heard from the social worker on behalf of the CFA and the GAL.
The social worker told the court the eldest (A) and youngest (E) had been residing with their mother and had been doing exceptionally well. In the coming months it was planned that all five children would be returned to her care. The social worker said that she wanted the supervision order to extend for 12 months because when all the children were returned to their mother it would be extremely stressful. A supervision order would offer supports and respite to the mother that would help to ensure the reunification was successful.
She said there were still outstanding assessments, including a risk assessment, but a safety network meeting had been arranged. She was in the process of arranging all outstanding assessments. She said the supervision order for twelve months would enable different supports and therapies to be engaged such as play and art therapy. The social worker strongly emphasised how well the mother had worked with her and the GAL.
The GAL said she was delighted with the progress that had been made and the focus would now switch to assisting and supporting the mother in her role as primary carer. She supported the application.
The judge said that she had been delighted by the reports she had read. There was no doubt of the love the mother had for her children in these reports. She said she would be delighted to grant a supervision order and would do so for 12 months. It it was the least intrusive order but also would grant the mother supports that would enable reunification of all her children to be successful.
At a subsequent hearing, two months later, the judge extended interim care orders for two children and discharged an interim care order in favour of a supervision order for another child to facilitate the continued reunification of all five children to their mother. All five children had been the subject of interim care orders. Two children had been successfully reunited with their mother and were now the subject of supervision orders.
The mother was not in court but was represented by a solicitor. The father was present via video link from a detention centre.
The CFA solicitor told the court that there were three applications before the court. One of the children, who was the subject of an interim care order, had been successfully reunited with her mother and siblings. She said the mother and the child had managed the reunification well and the child had settled. The CFA asked that the interim care order for this child be discharged and a supervision order granted.
The social worker said there were two children who remained in foster care and it was hoped that over the coming months they would also be reunited with their mother and siblings. Some difficulties had arisen with the reunification of these two remaining children.
The social worker said she was conscious of the stress that the mother was under in having all five children returned to her sole care. She said that she, the GAL and the mother were conscious of the need for the two remaining children to return to the mother’s care at the same time. Neither the mother, the social worker nor the GAL wanted to leave one child in foster care because of the detrimental effect that might have on the last child in care.
There had been difficulties between two of the children on access visits which the mother had found challenging. It was difficult to manage as they were the type of children who set each other off. She and the GAL had been offering the mother extra support with strategies of how best to manage these situations.
A family support worker that had been approved in the beginning of the year had finally been appointed and she hoped this would be of a great support to the mother and keep the reunification plan on track. However, she said everyone was working together and recognised that the reunification plan timeline might be delayed to ensure it worked rather that rushing and have it collapse.
The GAL told the court things had been going very well but that the difficulties between two of the children was problematic and she shared the social worker’s concerns. One of the children had become aggressive and demanding, that made it difficult for the mother to ensure that all the other children were appropriately cared for. However, she felt this was a hiccup and that whilst things to date had been seamless, difficulties had arisen, they were recognised and needed to be dealt with rather than ignored in the hope they would go away.
The father said that even though he was not present in the home he could speak to the children as he still had influence over them and that might be helpful. In response the social worker said that whilst in principle she agreed with this, the father’s circumstances needed to be clarified prior to informing the children because the children needed certainty. It was acknowledged that the father’s position would become clear within the next week and the social worker and GAL would work with the father to try to help support the mother and the children.
The judge said it was very positive the father was offering support to the mother. The father had said that he had had no access with his children for some time. The judge said that he was entitled to bring a section 37 of the Child Care Act 1991 (an access application) in his own right and perhaps this would formalise his position. The judge commented that she knew this case well and knew the mother to be determined to do her best for the children and she urged the parties to continue to work together to ensure that family reunification was a reality.
At an earlier hearing where the interim care orders were extended the social worker stated that all parties were doing very well. She said the mother recognised that having all five children returned to her sole care would be difficult, but she had availed of all the supports that had been offered. She said that the father would not be a position to help the mother during this reunification period.
She said that she had worked with the mother and with the GAL to implement a phased return of the children that would meet the needs of the children but not overwhelm the mother. She said that the reunification of the children should not be held back because of the issues that the father had. She said there was still an outstanding psychological assessment which the father had to complete.
The GAL said that she agreed with a phased return of the children and noted that all three children were doing very well. She said that the foster carer of the youngest child had continued to support the mother and had offered respite care during the reunification period and for up to six months after the reunification had happened. She was happy with the progress that had been made to date, but the situation had to be monitored closely.
She said there had been family meetings which had been facilitated by a psychologist and this had helped the mother assert her authority. The GAL said this was important as the children were coming from different foster homes with different rules and routines. The GAL said that she was very optimistic this would be a successful reunification and the family had received an excellent service from the social workers involved with their case. The judge made it clear she hoped eventually to discharge the remaining interim care orders.