The CFA made a section 47 application for a child of Catholic parents, who was in foster care, to attend a Church of Ireland primary school in a rural town. The court heard the parents of the young child were not consenting to her attending the local Church of Ireland primary school on religious grounds. Both parents were present and legally represented. The father was from another EU country. There were two witnesses, a social worker and a GAL.
The CFA social worker told the court that it was in the best interests of the child to attend the Church of Ireland primary school. The foster parents’ own children attended this school and if the child attended a different school she would not feel as integrated into the foster family, according to the social worker. The school had confirmed it would facilitate the child’s Catholic religious instruction with a local Catholic school for her first Holy Communion.
“The issues haven’t come up until now,” the social worker replied when asked by the father’s solicitor what religion the child was being raised in by the foster family.
Father’s solicitor: “You have brought a [section 47] application but you do not know if the child is being brought up a Catholic. I put it to you, isn’t it a conversation you should have had?”
CFA social worker: “The subject hasn’t come up until now. My observation is that the foster carers are excellent and heavily invested. “
The mother’s solicitor: “The child was being sent by the CFA to a Church of Ireland school not to make her feel different. But she is different, she is a child in care with a different religious background, why should she be made feel any more different?”
CFA social worker: “I agree, but it would appear to be in her best interests [as stated] in my and the GAL’s reports to attend the Church of Ireland school. She has been with her foster family since 2017 and it is better for her not to feel isolated and [for] the overall psychological impact.”
The mother’s solicitor: “Isn’t it fair to say no thought [has been] given to religious upbringing or the religion the child was born into? The child was in placement for two years.”
CFA social worker: “I visited the family many times and A was very settled and happy. I have seen it first-hand. Religion never came up.”
The mother’s solicitor: “I never suggested the foster carers aren’t good people, but she does have needs that go back to the tradition in her family and [these] have been pushed aside. “
When asked by the CFA solicitor, the CFA social worker told the court A had attended her older brother’s first Holy Communion and he and another sibling, in a different foster placement, attended a local Catholic school and there had not been a particular issue around religion until now.
The GAL told the court the mother had no issue regarding religion when she discussed the matter and she was of the view the father was engaged in a battle with the CFA rather than holding a strong view. The GAL told the court she had spoken to the child psychologist for A and he had been clear that A attending the local Church of Ireland school was necessary for the integration of the child into the foster family unit. She was happy with the day-to-day care of A, but the issue of religion would have to be addressed. It was also important to plan ahead, the GAL told the court, as A would need a special needs assessment in primary school. She currently attended a pre-school where she had a special needs assessment.
The father’s solicitor: “[A] has been on interim care orders for over two years.”
GAL: “She identifies with the foster family.”
The father’s solicitor: “She is different than the foster family. [There is] no long-term plan made. We cannot assume anything.”
GAL: “[There are] short term orders but [it is] necessary to plan. While waiting [we] need to plan an appropriate school placement with resources.”
The court heard there was a Garda investigation pending the outcome of a psychological assessment and “it is in the interests of justice to allow criminal proceedings to run their course,” the judge said.
Judge: “[A]’s school has to be organised. [There were] merits advanced by the GAL, social worker and psychology expert regarding the local Church of Ireland school. The problem is the question of religion. It has bedevilled this country for many a long year. “
The judge noted there was a commitment given for the child to attend Mass and to offer Catholic religious education and in those circumstances he was happy to accede to the section 47 application for the child to attend the local Church of Ireland primary school. He put a stay on the application to extend the interim care order and adjourned the section 18 care order application and the interim care order application to the next month’s court date.