Views of child sought in dispute over access – 2018vol1#17

The judge in a District Court in a rural town heard an eight year old child in private in her chambers before the court sat. The court heard that the mother was in contravention of a court custody order. On foot of a section 20 application a Child and Family Agency (CFA) social worker met with the mother. The father accepted that the child was currently largely residing with the mother and through his solicitor was seeking overnight access to be built up. The solicitor for the mother said she had no objection, but it could be done gradually.

This case was among 13 cases which included five adjournments on the consent of the parents of full care order applications and a two month extension on consent for an interim care order, a review of a care order, an ex-parteapplication for a passport for a twelve year old boy, an application by the CFA to lift the in camera rule so that child care reports could be released to An Garda Síochána, dispensing with a mother’s consent for medical treatment,  a section 20 report and a supervision order.

When the judge asked how it had come about that the eight-year-old child moved to live with his mother the solicitor for the mother said the child wanted to be with his mother. The father’s solicitor asked the judge if she could make an access order so that the father could see the child for two hours on a Sunday. The court heard that the parties lived two kms apart.

The mother’s solicitor was seeking an adjournment as both she and the mother had not thought the case would go ahead for a full hearing on the court’s date and the mother did not have a babysitter. The judge said she was taking a dim view and she needed to need to find out why there had been no compliance with orders.

The judge said the mother had put herself in a situation where she had come to court without a babysitter and this put the judge in an invidious situation. She had taken the matter as the child was going kayaking later today. She said the mother was being manipulative. She came to court on the day and promised the child an outing. She had orchestrated that this case could not go on and secondly she had promised the child and his friend a trip. Now she was saying she would endeavour to send the child for access.

The mother’s solicitor said there were two sides to this.

Judge: “ I’m making no order re access, [as it is] not necessary, you can say [this] to your client and tell her how I feel about today … let her show her hand and see on the next day what she has done.”

She asked the solicitors to liaise with the courts office for a September date. The court heard the CFA were involved for the last year and there was a report. The family law matter had been specially fixed with both parties present. She said the office would give a date and it was peremptory against the mother. 

Dispensing with consent to holiday postponed

The court refused to make an order dispensing with the consent of a mother to a 12-year-old child, who had been in relative foster care since he was four, to the child being taken on holiday. This was the third year in a row that the CFA were before the court in making such an application.

The court heard that the mother’s mental health had severely deteriorated resulting in her hospitalisation for treatment. She had been in the facility for some time at this point. The social worker had some concern regarding the mother’s capacity to give consent.

Judge: “Have you any evidence from the psychiatrist?”

CFA social worker: “No, I’m waiting for a response. “

Judge: “[Are there] any imminent holidays planned?”

CFA social worker: “Maybe September. In 2016 the social workers met her [the mother] at home and were concerned regarding her capacity to give consent. She finds it difficult talking to social workers as she isn’t involved in the child’s care. I heard that the mother is fearful of responsibility regarding the child.”

Judge: “Have you any details of the holiday planned in September?”

CFA social worker: “No. On a few occasions it [the application] was down to the wire and last minute.”

Judge: “My difficulty is the mother has been made aware of the application in the past.”

The judge said she was not happy that there was no evidence from a psychiatrist or proof of a holiday and she told the CFA she would need more confirmation of plans for an immediate holiday.  There was no psychiatrist report before the court and an application was being made without a substantive report based on the social worker’s opinion.

Mother’s consent to medical treatment dispensed with

The court heard from a CFA social work team leader that another eight year old child was in voluntary care since 2014. The mother had been known to the CFA as she had concealed her pregnancy. She had never disclosed the identity of the father despite efforts to establish this. A child protection conference was held in 2014 and the child was in an “excellent foster care placement”. The foster mother and natural mother had a good relationship and access occurred weekly.

The child had a rare syndrome which affected her lower spine and she had issues with her bowel and bladder which meant she could get sick quite quickly and suddenly need care.

Judge: “Has that occurred?”

CFA social worker: “She has had to go to hospital quite urgently.”

The social worker said the mother could be hard to contact and dispensing with the mother’s consent would remove the foster carer’s anxiety about this.

The mother’s solicitor said the child’s health was paramount and the mother was consenting to dispensing with her consent to medical treatment for her daughter.

The judge made the order dispensing with the mother’s consent to medical treatment.

Family reunified on the consent of the parents to a supervision order

The judge granted a supervision order on the consent of the parents for twelve months and struck out section 17 and section 18 applications for the extension of interim care orders and care orders in relation to two young children.

The judge asked why the CFA were making an application for a supervision order which was a “step down” from an interim care order made previously.

The social worker told the court since the children came into care there had been an assessment. The mother engaged well, and had secured accommodation and a safety order. The father was attending a men’s group and a parenting programme. He was co-operating with supervised access at the social work department although his solicitor said he found this aspect “annoying” as he would prefer to see the children at home. The court heard the testimony of the CFA social worker who said there had been a child protection conference where reunification was agreed between the children and the mother and a twelve month supervision order agreed with both parent.