Short-term care ordered granted in provincial city – 2013vol3#14

A Care Order was granted for two years to the HSE, who had sought a Care Order until a young child was 18, by the District Court in a provincial city when the brother of the child’s mother told the court he and his wife would try to supervise access between the mother and child.

The social worker told the court there were concerns about the mother’s ability to regulate the issues she had especially during access, when she seemed to be more concerned about the child being in care than his needs. There was concern about her ability to retain information and understand the reasons for her son being in care. She had an IQ of 71 and a borderline learning disability.

The mother had below-average verbal comprehension and limited cognitive ability, which affected her capacity to multi-task. She was very dedicated to her son and was always on time for access. She brought toys she knew her son liked and when she was in good form she interacted well with him and played with him. However, sometimes she did not react well with him, asking the toddler repeatedly “who am I? I’m your mam.” He responded by looking away and she did not understand the impact of poor interaction on the child. She had problems in setting boundaries for the child because she did not like to upset him. This could have implications for his safety.

She shifted between asking how to do things and taking the information as a personal insult. Her advocate and her brother were present at child-in-care conferences. She had had a lot of trauma in her life, including her husband’s death, and was seeing a psychotherapist. The child protection conference had concluded the child should remain in care while maintaining contact with his mother and extended family. The child had very positive interaction with his uncle. However, the social work department did not think the mother could provide care for the child to an adequate standard. Her love for her son was not in question, what was in question was whether she could meet his needs.

The mother’s barrister asked her if she could meet his needs as he became more independent. The social worker replied that he would need boundaries as he developed. It was not appropriate that the child would have to cope with his mother’s difficulties. She got angry with the social workers in front of him and did not understand she should not show her anger. This was an age at which it was crucial that children learned to regulate their emotions. There were also concerns about security. She had allowed the child, who was just under two, to run up to a strange dog running loose in the park.

“A child and a dog that don’t know each other have no business being near each other except when the dog is under the control of an adult,” the judge said. “She’s not minding him. That’s the point.”

“She was running after the child. I’m just wondering if the reaction was over the top,” the barrister commented.

The social worker said there were also concerns about her allowing the child into a play area intended for older children, where he could have been hurt by their boisterous play.

The mother’s barrister said the mother was desperate for the child to return to her care. He would be out of nappies soon and able to dress himself. He would be more independent from the age of 6, even more from the age of 10 and would be extremely independent as a teenager. The social worker replied that parenting continued right through. It was not just about the physical care of the child, but about promoting his social and emotional development. The mother had done a huge amount of parenting courses but her ability to apply them was not evident.

She agreed the mother found access very stressful, and that it went much better when her brother and his wife were present. She agreed the mother’s relationship with the HSE had got off to a bad start, and she had not understood why her child was taken into care shortly after birth. She felt she was being watched during access and did not like social workers sitting in a viewing room.

Asked if the social workers were not tending to reinforce each other in their view of the mother, the social worker said that the concerns had not reduced over the previous two years. Problems were becoming embedded and she would require an increased level of support. At this stage the child was developing an attachment to his carers. Children could not wait for their parents, they needed stability. The mother had not managed to shake off the mind-set that the social work department was against her.

The judge said he was trying to envision what the situation might be like if it was not for the involvement of the HSE. “A certain fog arises from the [mother’s] conspiracy theories.” However, he said there was a certain accuracy in her view of how the case had developed [referring to separate events pre-dating the birth of the child]. “What would she be like with [her son] if her vision was not blocked by her perception of the HSE?

“If an order was not made I would have to be sure she was learning how to deal with the challenges. She takes on assistance and then walks away. Unless the brother was involved I don’t see how we can avoid an order. A difference between this and a lot of cases is that there seems to be tighter community support in this area.”

The social worker said that both the brother and his wife were working and not in a position to provide long-term support for the child living with the mother. She also did not take direction.

The child care worker who supervised access said the mother was often very aggressive during access, screaming at her. She sometimes failed to respond to the child, which made him frustrated. She insisted on confrontations with the HSE staff in front of him, she thought it appropriate to show him “this is the way the world is.”

She had embarked on a “Parenting Plus” programme which normally takes six weeks, but it had to be discontinued after four days because she became more and more defensive and aggressive. She found things like feeding solid food and putting on sun-cream difficult, yet also found it difficult to take instruction.

The mother’s brother told the court she adored her son and was completely stressed out by access and by the HSE generally. “She thinks they’re watching her all the time. When we move away [from the HSE premises] she gets on grand. She doesn’t like taking instructions from them.”

He said she did not have difficulty in taking instruction generally, she never had any problem getting work not just from one company but from several. He said he worked shifts but if there was more access between his sister and her son he would give as much support as he could.

The judge read from the social work report where the brother’s wife had said the mother did not accept advice. In the early days of the child’s life she had taken time off work to help the mother with the child and concluded the mother could not care for him without huge levels of support, which she could not continue to give at that time.

“Trying to give [the mother] advice is a hard sell,” the brother acknowledged. “That’s the problem,” the judge said. “The pattern is that when someone says to her, ‘you’ve got to consider the possibility that what you’re doing is not perfect’ she can’t take it.”

The brother said she didn’t listen to the HSE but she took advice from him because he was her brother and she did not see it as advice.

The judge said an order does not have to be until a child is 18. Often, for example in cases of addiction, an order was made for a few years. “Often the first year goes OK, the second year is very challenging, then in the third year you integrate the family. That happens regularly,” he said.

“If there is to be an improvement there has to be access. If ever she is to have the child she has to improve. I wouldn’t close the door, depending on how she gets on with you supervising access. That depends on your availability.”

The brother said he needed 24 hours to discuss this at home and the case was adjourned for two days. When it resumed the brother said he would try to supervise access. The judge made a two-year Care Order and said that formally access was to be at the discretion of the HSE. “If [the mother] is to come on at all it will have to be with unstressed access.”

The in camera rule was lifted so that the social work and psychological reports could be shared with the brother and his wife.