Shared care arrangement hoped for in case of African girl with special needs- 2022vol2#37

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A judge in a rural town extended an interim care order for a teenager who was described as deeply unhappy in care. She hoped there would be a move towards a shared care arrangement.

This matter concerned a teenage girl who had arrived in the country from Africa to live with her biological parents after the death of her grandmother. Once in the country she attended school. The school had become concerned about her behaviour, demeanour and presentation. An interim care order had been granted which had been extended several times.

The teenager had significant health and learning needs which had been compounded by cultural and language difficulties. She was currently in a residential placement and had been receiving one-to-one care from three o’clock in the afternoon until midnight as this was her most vulnerable time.

In court were representatives of the Child and Family Agency (CFA), both parents who had independent legal representation, and the guardian ad litem (GAL).

Evidence of the social work team leader

The social work team leader said that there had been an improvement in the teenager’s behaviour. The compulsive obsessive behaviour had decreased with the one-to-one attention she had received. Her anxiety had improved and she slept better with her prescribed medication. However, the teenager remained deeply unhappy in the residential unit and wanted to return home.

He said a parenting capacity assessment had almost been completed. No reports or results were currently available. It was hoped the parenting capacity assessment would recommend a medium- and long-term plan.

The mother had engaged very well and had wanted to learn as much as possible. The mother was open to discussion and willing to take advice and direction. Access between the child and her mother had improved. The mother was anxious that access be increased and her daughter be returned home.

The father had engaged but not as well as the mother had. He had to complete his final visit with the assessor. He had still to liaise and confirm with the social workers the progress of the teenager’s immigration and naturalisation status. Access with her father remained a concern. The teenager had access at home and enjoyed going home. This access was supervised. However, at access there was no interaction between the teenager and her father. The social worker team leader said they hoped to collaborate with her mother for her to provide a protective factor for this situation. He said the CFA were open to reunification, but it would be guided by the parenting capacity assessment.

The mother’s barrister asked if the child-in-care review forms could be translated for the mother as she wished to attend and participate. The social work team leader apologised for this and said they did have these forms in multiple languages. It had been an oversight on their part that an English form had been sent to the parents. He reassured the court that the correct language form would be sent and would ensure an interpreter was available for the child-in-care review. He said he knew the father was unhappy with the CFA and he would ensure the complaint forms were also sent to him in the father’s first language.

Evidence of the guardian ad litem (GAL)

The GAL said her concerns for the teenager remained. She said that the teenager had been discharged from the Child and Mental Health Services (CAHMS) as the consultant she had seen had left. The GAL had recommended that she be re-referred. She had also recommended assessments for autism, speech and language, disability, and capacity. She said: “This girl needed a full needs assessment, however, it would be important these were done in a planned manner so that she [the teenager] is not overwhelmed.”

The teenager had started to attend school one day per week, which had been an improvement, however, it had been reported to the GAL by the school that her learning had regressed. An educational assessment was also needed.

The girl’s compulsive behaviours had improved but remained a concern. The medication had helped, as had the one-to-one attention. The GAL said the teenager made it clear to her she wanted to go home and the parents wanted her home, but the teenager had significant needs. The teenager remained deeply unhappy in the residential unit. The mother’s insight had significantly improved. The father’s position had not really changed. It was difficult for him to be open because of cultural issues, the language difficulties, and his own parenting experience. The parents needed to work together if reunification was going to be possible. The GAL wanted to wait for the results of the parenting capacity assessment before she made any further recommendations.

Both parents were objecting to the extension of the interim care order but neither of them gave evidence.

The judge said she was concerned that the teenager was unhappy, and this was evidenced in all the reports that professionals had submitted. She was concerned the effect this unhappiness was having on the teenager. She was encouraged by the progress made by the mother and that access with her mother was positive. She hoped that the parties would be able to work toward a shared care arrangement. The interim care order was extended for 28 days.