A judge in a rural town said it would not be possible to hear a case that would take two or three hours as there were 79 family law applications on the list this family law day, including seven child care cases, and there was no way a long case could be heard. There were 88 cases on the family law list on the previous family law day, and one day he had 104 cases listed, he said.
Not all the cases involved separate cases, as in some cases there were a number of applications in the same case, but the total number of cases involved still ran to several dozen.
The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency said that his case had two or three witnesses and concerned requests for access from both parents. The case had been adjourned a number of times over many months. It would take about two hours, he said.
Both parents were represented, and discussions between their representatives and the CFA solicitor continued as other cases were heard. They informed the judge they had reached agreement on access arrangements and this agreement was made a rule of court.
In another case the CFA sought a Care Order until she was 18 for a child who had been in case for four years, since she was one year old. Her mother suffered from mental illness, abused alcohol and had made a number of suicide attempts.
A psychiatrist gave evidence that the mother suffered from borderline personality disorder and depression, there was poly-substance abuse, including abuse of alcohol. There had been a number of suicide attempts and self-harming incidents, including overdoses. Her engagement with mental health services had been erratic for a number of years, and usually only after a crisis and self-harm.
The mother’s solicitor said she had been in contact with the community psychiatric nurse, but her relationship with the psychiatrist had broken down. She knew changes had to be made and hoped to re-unite with her daughter in the future.
The psychiatrist said she was not the only doctor in the service, and other doctors in the psychiatric service had the same experience with this patient. Although they had an open door policy and she could drop in at any time she did not engage with the service.
“Suppose a miracle were to happen and she did improve, how long would it be before she was acceptable as a mother?” the judge asked.
“She would have to be free of alcohol for at least a year and engaging with services,” the psychiatrist replied.
The social worker said that as well as her mental health problems and her ongoing alcohol abuse, there were problems with relationships which would make it very difficult for the child to live with her.
“The application can’t be refused,” the judge said. “The question is how long to grant it for. I won’t make it until the child is 18. I can’t forget she is the mother of the child. It is not a question of the convenience of the HSE, if she lost the child …”
“The issue is stability for the child,” the CFA solicitor said. “The interests of the child have to be considered.”
“I’ll make an order for three and a half years,” the judge said. “I’ll give you a chance to sort yourself out. If you come back in three and a half years and you are not 75 per cent in shape I won’t give the child back to you.”