Six-month care order granted for very young baby in care since birth, mother had intellectual difficulties – 2020vol2#22

A judge in a provincial city granted a six-month care order for a very young baby (A), for whom an interim care order was in place since birth and whose mother had intellectual difficulties. The Child and Family Agency (CFA) had concerns about the mother’s ability to parent her child and had held a pre-birth conference. The CFA was attempting to carry out a parental capacity assessment of the mother.

The mother was present in court and was represented. The father, who was unrepresented, was also present in court. The court was informed that the parents were consenting to the granting of the care order.

The lawyer for the CFA told the court that an emergency care order had initially been granted for A and that an interim care order was subsequently granted. She explained that a parent assessment, based on a parent assessment manual (PAMs), which would take four to five months, was currently being carried out. She said that the PAMs assessment was a comprehensive assessment tool designed for use with vulnerable families to assess parenting ability when the parent had been diagnosed with an intellectual disability. The CFA was applying for the granting of a six-month care order, which could be reviewed after six months. She stressed that it was very important that A’s mother should attend all appointments and be consistent in her engagement with the process.

The judge welcomed A’s mother and advised her that it was very important to attend the assessment appointments to which the mother replied: “I’m not going.” The judge repeated her advice to the mother about the importance of attending her assessment appointments but the mother insisted that she would not be attending them. The lawyer for the CFA told the judge that the mother had consented to the application for the six-month care order and that the assessment would continue.

The judge asked the father if he had a solicitor and the father replied that he did not at this time but that he was all right and that he would “look into it”. The judge explained to the parents that this application was for a six-month care order and no longer than six months.

Judge: “Mum and Dad are very important people in this. You will be listened to. I note your consent to the six-month order. I need to be satisfied the threshold has been reached.”

The social worker confirmed that due to concerns about the mother’s ability to parent the child a pre-birth conference had taken place. The CFA lawyer asked about the mother’s parenting course and the social worker replied that the mother had left the course after a number of weeks prior to completion of the course.

The judge asked how the parental access to A was progressing and the social worker replied that access was going well. Access with the mother had gradually been increased from one to two hours. The judge addressed the mother directly and confirmed to her that the supervised access was going well. The CFA lawyer explained that the mother needed help changing A. The mother’s access, with the child’s maternal grandmother supervising, was progressing well. The social worker said they needed to observe how access would go with the mother unsupervised as the child was now a few months old. The judge asked the social worker how the access with the baby’s father was going and was advised that access took place once a week and was progressing satisfactorily.

The manager of the residential assessment unit told the court that the mother had only attended for one session of the PAMs assessment. She had been due to attend during the previous week but found it too difficult to attend. The lawyer for the mother enquired if it was absolutely necessary for the assessment sessions to take place in the residential unit as this was causing the mother such difficulties. The manager replied that the assessment sessions could take place elsewhere and that she could book a room for the purpose. The judge checked that the mother understood what was being suggested regarding the holding of the assessment sessions and told her that it was very important for her to attend all the appointments.

The judge explained that A was a very small baby and that the health and welfare of the baby was very important. She noted the parents’ consent to the care order and decided that the threshold had been reached to grant the six-month care order. She strongly encouraged A’s mother to engage with the appointments and PAMs assessment and explained to her that “bonding with your baby is very important at this stage.” She directed that access with the father should continue to be once weekly and that access with the mother should be at the discretion of the CFA. The six-month care order was made with a review listed for a date six months later.