Supervision orders for two non-national children where both parents had been hospitalised – 2021vol1#14

A judge in a provincial city made supervision orders for two children of primary school age, A and B, following four days of hearing. The case had begun with an emergency care order.

The children had been removed from their home two days before the emergency care order hearing and placed in the care of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) by Gardaí, who had reasonable grounds for believing that there was an immediate and serious risk to the health and welfare of the children. The children’s mother had been admitted to hospital with mental health difficulties two weeks previously and the father was subsequently admitted to hospital with chest pains. The father admitted abuse of alcohol while caring for the children and the family, of non-national origin, had no immediate family support network to assist them with the care of the children.

The CFA lawyer informed the judge that children A and B had been taken into the care of the CFA two days previously by the Gardai. The children’s father had phoned for an ambulance due to suffering chest pains. When the ambulance staff arrived at the children’s home, they found the children’s father to be very intoxicated. He informed them that the children’s mother had already been hospitalized with mental health issues. The children were then placed in an emergency foster placement. The CFA lawyer explained that this family had never come to the attention of the CFA previously and that a full assessment of both parents would need to be carried out.

The judge asked if the children’s parents had been put on notice of court proceedings. The CFA lawyer reported that the children’s mother did not know about the proceedings and was not medically fit to take part in the proceedings. The mother was too unwell to take a phone call from the children’s social worker.

The children’s social worker told the court that the mother had been hospitalised two weeks previously after having consumed a bottle of bleach. The children were subsequently in the sole care of their father who told the social worker that he was finding it very difficult to care for the children since their mother went to hospital. The father admitted to ambulance staff that he was drinking a bottle of vodka a day. The ambulance staff had called the Gardaí as the children’s father appeared to be very intoxicated.

The CFA lawyer told the court that the family was of non-national origin and that there were no family members in a position to care for the children. The judge asked if there was any further information about the children’s mother and the social worker replied that it was not known if the mother had been admitted to hospital on a voluntary basis. The judge enquired about the welfare of the children and the social worker reported that the older sibling, A, seemed to be caring for his younger sister, B. The judge asked the social worker about the children’s nutrition and clothing and the social worker described the children as being well fed but that B seemed very small for her age.

The social worker told the judge that the children had been upset by phone contact from relatives overseas. The judge asked about the legal status of the family in Ireland but the CFA did not have this information. The social worker informed the court that the children were going into foster care with a couple in the locality. The judge checked that the foster carers had undergone the Garda vetting procedure and the fostering care assessment and the social worker confirmed that both assessments had been done successfully. The judge enquired if there was a fostering link person appointed and the social worker gave the name of the person allocated.

The judge enquired if the parents had been served with notice of the court application and the CFA lawyer said both the mother and the father remained in hospital. The social worker reported that the children’s grandmother had suggested coming to the country to care for them but that this was not practical as she would have had to quarantine for a number of weeks on account of the Covid-19 regulations.

The CFA lawyer told the court that the family’s immediate neighbours appeared to be assisting the family since the mother’s hospitalisation. The CFA lawyer said intense assessment of the mother and father would be required and that it had not been an encouraging sign that the children’s mother had not been able to receive a phone call from the social worker about the situation.

Judge: “I will make the order sought but I am concerned with the lack of service.”

The CFA lawyer said the emergency care order had to be sought within the required time-limit and that the order would be hand-delivered to the parents. The judge asked the social worker to confirm that there was an immediate and serious risk to the children’s health and welfare and the social worker replied that it was his professional opinion that the risk as outlined was confirmed.

The judge made the emergency care order for A and B for a period of five days. She was satisfied that the threshold for the order had been met and while it deprived the parents of their rights, there was an immediate and serious risk to the children’s health and welfare and there was no fallback support network for this family. The judge also directed that a Section 20 report be carried out by the CFA to fully investigate the children’s circumstances and make recommendations.

Day two

On the expiry of the five-day emergency care order, evidence was provided to the court that the children’s mother remained in hospital in receipt of treatment. The judge granted an interim care order for the children to allow time for the relevant parental assessments to be completed. The matter was listed for a date 25 days later.

Day three

The CFA lawyer told the court that the agency was seeking an extension of the interim care order in respect of A and B for an additional 29 days. The children’s social worker informed the judge that the family had never before come to the attention of the CFA. She reported that the children’s mother had been released form hospital but was continuing to engage in mental health services. She said that the mother’s psychiatrist had advised that a risk assessment be carried out on the mother regarding her parenting ability.

The social worker reported that the children had settled well in their foster placement and were happy and that they had expressed their wishes that their parents should “get better”. The parents were disappointed that matters were progressing so slowly but they indicated that they understood how important it was for them to engage with the addiction services.

Child A had told the social worker that there had been some physical violence in the home and that he had to stand between his parents when this occurred. The social worker reported that Child B had a developmental delay and that she had missed some medical appointments with her paediatrician recently. She said that when school personnel were contacted about the matter, they expressed surprise as the parents had always presented as being very co-operative.

The social worker said an extension to the interim care order was necessary to allow time for the CFA to be assured that the mother was addressing her issues. She reported that the children’s maternal grandmother had very recently travelled from overseas to assist the family with the children, she had completed the requisite mandatory hotel quarantine period and was present at the courthouse. Despite the assistance promised by the children’s maternal grandmother, the social worker stated that the CFA needed to be sure that the children’s parents were “fully and comprehensively addressing issues”. The parents’ lawyer said that they were disputing any allegations that physical violence had taken place but admitted that there had been some family arguments.

The social worker reported that the parents were attending access time with the children for one hour each week and that this was progressing very well and was a very happy experience for the children. She said that the parents intended to travel soon to their home country overseas as they said it was necessary for the children to obtain places in a private, prestigious school, which was vital for their education. However, the social worker said she had no firm evidence to confirm this.

The parent’s lawyer reported that the mother was an only child and that the children’s maternal grandmother had travelled a long distance to be present at the court. The mother had her discharge notes from the hospital and was taking the prescribed medication. The parents’ lawyer stated that the family had moved to Ireland six years previously, bought a house and built a good life for themselves. She said B had been born with a serious medical condition which necessitated surgery in a specialised children’s hospital.

The parents’ lawyer told the court that her clients were objecting to the extension of the interim care order as the mother believed the children would be better being at home with their parents and grandmother. She said the maternal grandmother had a limited visiting visa and that it was very important that the family should return to their own country where they could have the support of extended family members. The mother was also very concerned about the children being home in time to start their education in the school chosen for them by the parents. The parents’ lawyer told the judge that the parents had co-operated fully with the access arrangements although the access had taken place in a social work department office.

The parents’ lawyer reported that both parents were high functioning people with very good qualifications but without a local family support network. She said that the court needed to consider the long-term solution for the family and the support network they would have on returning to their home country. The education of the children was a vital priority and the parents needed to return to the home country so they could attend an interview to facilitate their children’s admission to the private school of their choice.

Social worker: “We won’t be sending them home until all issues have been addressed.”

Parents’ lawyer: “A decision needs to be made now for these children’s futures.”

The judge said he was concerned that the father was an alcoholic and that the mother had consumed bleach. He said he had “a certain appreciation” as to why they drink as they have obviously had a very difficult few years, with the father leaving a job and having two vulnerable children to care for.

Judge: “I have enormous sympathy for them for what they have been through.”

The judge expressed his concern that these children might be uprooted from their schools here in Ireland and enquired if this was a sudden reaction to the predicament in which they had found themselves. The parents’ lawyer told the court that the family’s stay in this country was always planned to be temporary and that they had intended moving back home. The family was very respectable and had already paid the large sum necessary to facilitate the arrival of the maternal grandmother to Ireland and the subsequent mandatory hotel quarantine for two weeks. However, the judge stressed that this case was “all about the children” and the CFA lawyer stated that there was no evidence or documentation to back up the issue around the proposed schooling in the home country.

The children’s father gave evidence that his wife’s illness was the cause of his stress, along with the financial pressures of paying two mortgages, one in Ireland and one in the home country. He described the pressures of working from home during the Covid-19 restrictions, cooking the family meals and dealing with the children’s schooling at home. The future plans were always for the family to return home as he wanted to be able to care for his own parents.

The CFA lawyer asked the children’s father if he had documents from the prospective school at home and the father replied that he had. The CFA lawyer told the judge that the parents were only now at the beginning of their engagement with the addiction services and that it had grave concerns about returning the children to their care.

The mother gave evidence and described the stress of not being able to leave the home during the Covid restrictions as the children were at home from school and were doing their schoolwork from home. She said that her employment stamp status meant that she could not go out and get a job but that she had studied online for a second degree while in Ireland. The mother explained that the family plan was always to return home and that as she was an only child, her parents intended moving nearby to assist with the children. The parents’ lawyer asked the mother if she intended to go to her appointment with her psychiatrist at the end of the week and the mother replied that she did plan to attend her appointment.

The judge said he had listened to all the evidence and his decision was to extend the interim care order for a further month as he continued to have concerns for the welfare of the children. He hoped that the children’s maternal grandmother could meet with the CFA team in the interim. The judge asked the CFA lawyer if there was a necessity to ask for the children’s passports to be handed in to the court but the CFA lawyer said that this was not required as the access visits were supervised. The judge listed the matter for a date one month later.

Day four

The mother’s lawyer told the judge that A and B’s grandmother was present and wanted to attend the court hearing. Neither the judge nor the lawyer for the CFA objected and the grandmother was invited to attend.

The children’s social worker said she was making an application for a three-month care order as the children’s father needed further treatment to address the root of his alcohol misuse. The lawyer for the CFA pointed out that, while the father was capable of maintaining periods of sobriety from time to time, he needed more time to understand the effects of his alcohol misuse. The social worker reported that there were no concerns about the mental health of the children’s mother at that time as she had attended initial treatment and had planned to engage in out-patient treatment for some time into the future.

The lawyer for the CFA explained that three months was necessary and proportionate as the initial six weeks would involve the mother attending and engaging in appointments and the father attending community counselling. The plan was to work towards family reunification in three months’ time. The social worker said that a family support worker would be engaged to assist the family to integrate into the local community so that they would not be as isolated as in the past. She informed the judge that the level of access visits would be increased also.

Judge: “But prior to Mum being unwell, there were no concerns about these children?”

The lawyer for the CFA explained that, while the family was not known to the social work department, things had been deteriorating at home for the children but “they had nobody to tell”. That was the reason why the establishment of the safety network was so important.

The judge said he considered the father’s extremely long working hours meant that their mother was left with the entire burden of the remainder, including the care of a child with special medical needs. He described the family as “very private people” who, while they were allowed to live their lives in Ireland according to their cultural tradition, needed to see a rebalancing of the parenting roles.

Judge: “Both parents have treatable illnesses but they need to acknowledge it.”

The judge said he thought the application for a three-month care order by the CFA was a “very punitive request” and that there were many families caring for their children while dealing with similar issues.

Judge: “I am very taken with the fact that the grandmother has travelled to Ireland from [overseas] and will be here for another four months.”

The judge said he was minded to grant a supervision order rather than a care order although he was concerned that the GP had prescribed Librium medication for the father, which demonstrated the seriousness of the drinking problem. The judge described living with a person with this type of addiction as “walking on eggshells”, and said he wanted a commitment from the children’s father in this regard. If the father was suffering from cancer, he would attend chemotherapy but “he’s an alcoholic and doesn’t want to deal with it”.

The father’s lawyer told the court that the father was very committed to his children as they were his family and that he was willing to engage in all recommendations. She added that the new legislation allowing people to “switch off from working after hours” would be of great assistance to him. The family had paid €2,000 to facilitate the grandmother’s quarantine period following her arrival in this country.

The judge asked the lawyer for the CFA what a care order would achieve in preference to a supervision order and she replied that it would give the father the time to get a greater insight into his issues. The social worker said the children were anxious to return home to their parents but that they wanted their parents to “get better”.

The mother’s lawyer told the court that the access time was very short and also that the children were missing their own native food and not eating their lunches. The mother’s lawyer said that a child-minder was commencing to assist the family at the end of the following month.

The father’s lawyer pointed out that a supervision order could last for a full year and that this would facilitate the CFA to make visits to the children’s home and that the court could make relevant directions. The father’s lawyer informed the judge that the children’s father was very fearful of the effect on the children’s mental health caused by prolonged time in care away from their family and parents. He said the children were very bonded with their parents and had never been away from them before. The father was now sober for more than two months and the children’s grandmother was residing with the family for another four months.

The judge said that the grandmother’s presence in the home addressed a number of issues and the father’s lawyer added that the grandmother’s presence was a “huge positive factor”. The judge decided to grant a 12-month supervision order and listed the matter for a review in 12 months’ time. He said that a report for the children’s father would be very helpful at the review stage. The lawyer for the CFA requested that the judge include attendance at extra-curricular activities and medical appointments in the directions. The judge was satisfied to do this as he said that the children needed to have outlets.