“Shared care arrangement” to be examined – 2014vol1#9

The sharing of care between children’s grandparents and foster parents should be explored, a judge in a provincial city ruled. The children’s parents were in prison.

The social worker told the court that the parents had had no insight into how their drug-using lifestyle impacted on their young children, who were in primary school. They had first come to the attendance of social services in 2011, and a Supervision Order was put in place with a number of conditions, particularly relating to drug treatment.

Then in 2012 the father was imprisoned and the mother struggled with that. She was caught with an amount of heroin in a laundry basket where the children could have found it. She said she was threatened into carrying it. She was sentenced to three and half years for possession with intent to supply.

Prior to that the children’s grandparents had already stepped in to help and the children, who were very young, lived with them for a period. The mother made efforts to stop using drugs and the children returned home, but in July 2013 she started serving her sentence. The HSE had obtained an Interim Care Order and would be applying for a full Care Order. All along there had been a pattern in the mother’s drug use, whereby she reduced and even stopped using drugs, but then resumed.

“We feel she lacks insight into the risks this poses for young children,” the social worker said. “The parents have not been able to tackle their drug misuse. We worry that would continue, leading to more trauma and damage to the children.”

The children needed long-term stability, and foster parents had been identified in the same area as they were living with the grandparents. They would attend the same school. The social service department wanted to phase in the move over the academic year.

The parents’ solicitor said that the grandparents wanted to keep them.

The social worker said they had done fantastic work and loved the children dearly. But they were in their 70s and it took a lot of energy to mind two young children. The social work department did not feel they could be responsible for them for a decade. They hoped that the children would spend weekends with the grandparents, they could drop in on a daily basis if they wanted, but they would not have the core responsibility for the children.

The parents’ solicitor said that both parents were now off methadone. They would consent to a two-year Care Order, but would like a chance to have the children back. It would make it easier for the children to return home if they stayed with the grandparents.

The social worker said that they had made efforts to tackle their drug use in the past, but it was never sustained and they were worried that when they were released the stresses and temptations would lead to significant relapse. A decision had to be made for the children, not the parents.

The grandfather told the court he was 70 and his wife was 69. They were willing to keep the children.

The judge said that this was a question of long term care and giving the children security. She found the threshold for making a Care Order until the children were 18 had been met. She would review the matter in two years’ time.

“The children are living in a warm caring environment provided by their grandparents. They are very fortunate to have it. I am very aware of the onus this places on the grandparents. Seventy is not very old. But the children have to be parented until there are 18.

“I heard the term ‘care-sharing arrangement’. I would like the GAL and the Agency to prepare a plan. There is a need for the cooperation of all the parties. I don’t want it imposed on any of them.”

She also ordered that access be organised outside the prison for the children.