Mother consents to long-term Care Orders – 2014vol2#16

A Care Order was granted in the District Court in respect of two siblings (Children B and C) who had been the subject of a Section 12 Emergency Care Order in late 2012. Their mother consented to the Care Order but was not present in court. Their father, who lived in Africa, was aware of the proceedings and had been served notice, but was not in attendance and unrepresented.

The mother had had a total of five children under three, all of whom were now in care. During her last delivery of children D and E she had asked the maternity hospital for a procedure to prevent further pregnancies. However, it had been refused due to her [young] age, and a three month duration birth control injection was administered instead.

The eldest three children (Child A, B and C) had suffered severe neglect before coming into the care of the HSE, as well as unconfirmed sexual abuse. The facts to be proven had already been the subject of evidence from previous witnesses in Child A’s case. She was the subject of a Care Order since late 2013.

The Child & Family Agency proposed to address issues not dealt with in Child A’s case. The judge said that the decision of Judge O’Malley in the High Court allowed him to take into consideration evidence already heard.

Social Worker’s evidence

The social worker told the court that the mother continued to be homeless, sometimes there was no way of getting hold of her, however sometimes the mother did phone her when she needed help with accommodation. The father had been deported in 2010, the mother had followed him to Africa and then returned late into her pregnancy with Child C after their relationship had ended.

She had been incarcerated in a women’s prison last week, while she was out at present she was anticipating a six month sentence.

The social worker had spoken to the mother the day before the hearing; she had sounded worried and spoke about feeling quite low. She was also worried about harming herself, the social worker advised her to go to her local hospital, but the phone cut out.

The social work department wanted the mother to have a psychiatric assessment, but she did not want to attend it. Supports were available to her should she wish to engage with the department. Her own family were not supportive, there were drug and alcohol issues for a number of her siblings. She had been in care herself and was in sporadic contact with her previous carers.

The level of engagement with the father was hard and the phone line poor. He would not give the social worker a landline number and sought to speak about his visa issue rather than the children.

The children were very settled in their placement, the mother attended access infrequently but responded well to the children when she did attend.

The GAL solicitor asked the social worker if their placement had been long-term approved. The social worker explained that although long-term approval had been requested, it was a private foster placement, therefore the protocol was that every six months approval had to be extended.

Judge: “I would be terribly concerned the Child & Family Agency is seeking a Care Order and their own policy and procedures place the children in a somewhat uncertain situation. It seems as if the CFA is applying one standard to the care of a parent and it provides another standard to itself.”

CFA solicitor: “In relation to that issue, I am instructed that the review every six months is to confirm the placement meets the needs of the child.”

Judge: “The evidence is the funding has to be reapplied for every six months. This suggests to me there is a degree of uncertainty for the children in this placement if the funding cannot be guaranteed for longer than six months.”

The CFA solicitor said the Child & Family Agency, who had taken over from the HSE, had put a new policy in place and that was that private placements were not funded for 18 years, but on a periodic basis.

Judge: “Can you not see the inherent contraction, the CFA seeks Orders on the basis that the children have certainty in their care, and the agency by its own procedures places the children in a situation where they don’t have that certainty of care – where their placement could come to an abrupt end if the funding isn’t continued.

“This is a private placement, there is no evidence that a similar approach would be taken if this were a CFA placement.”

CFA solicitor: “I don’t know what more I can offer today, but I can certainly clarify that.”

GAL’s evidence

The GAL told the court that the mother did not have the capacity to provide daily safe care at this time. She recommended the social work department continue in their efforts to support the mother, she was going through a difficult time right now. The mother had engaged to the best of her ability to improve her situation, she was quite vulnerable herself.
A number of attempts were made to offer her alternative accommodation in a Travellers’ unit, but she had not accepted it.

The GAL told the court she had concerns regarding the long-term placement of the children and the policy of granting short-term approval. It left a possible risk they could drift in care or have multiple moves. She asked for a number of directions from the judge, including that if their placement broke down, the CFA should re-enter the matter and re-appoint a GAL and also to “have a further review to finalise a long-term plan, with a direction put in place to help circumvent an abrupt move that is needs-based versus a financial decision”.

In respect of the children’s father, they were in the process of initiating Skype, she recommended that as the most appropriate method and manner of interaction. She was happy the care plans adequately addressed both mother and father’s cultural identity.

The judge asked the CFA solicitor: “In light of the evidence heard, how can the agency deal with the issue of long-term care matching for the children?”

CFA solicitor: “The team leader was instructed by the general manager there would not be a difficulty for the children’s placement, provided it meets the children’s needs in each review, it is not an issue that is in difficulty, therefore I wouldn’t envisage a difficulty with a long-term matching taking place.”

Judge: “The social worker has given evidence and the GAL [the placement] is meeting the children’s needs. Is it going to be long term matched?”

CFA solicitor: “Yes.”

Judge: “How long will that process take?”

CFA solicitor: “As far as the social work department is concerned everything that needs to be done for the long-term matching has been done.”

Judge: “Are they long-term matched or not?”

CFA solicitor: “Since the new agency came into place, there have been changes…”

The judge said he would prepare his decision and deliver it in 15 minutes.

The Care Order was granted. In his decision, the judge said he was satisfied that the respondent parents had been properly served and notified of the proceedings. The mother’s legal representative had instructed she consented to the care order.

Evidence of the long-term matching process had to be submitted to the court within four weeks of the date of the Care Order. It had to be lodged in court, on the court file, if not, there must be a default re-entry of the case.

The judge also directed that both children be allocated an aftercare worker within one month of their 16th birthdays. Each child’s case had to come back to court for aftercare needs on their 16th birthday, with a GAL to be appointed six weeks in advance of that hearing, and a draft aftercare plan to be provided on that date.