A mother had overnight access to her children withdrawn in a District Court in a rural town following an incident where she gave her young daughter sleeping medication when she herself had been drinking heavily.
The children, who were all of primary school age, were the subject of an Interim Care Order, but were in the care of their father, from whom the mother was estranged. The couple were involved in separate private family law proceedings. At a previous hearing the judge had spoken with the children and, following this, ruled that they should have overnight visits with their mother.
However, when the matter came back to court for renewal of the order, the social worker for the Child and Family Agency said they had child protection concerns, as the mother had given sleeping medication to her young daughter, resulting in the child attending the local A & E department. The social work department had concerns about the overnight access, but they were happy for the children to remain in the care of their father.
“I’m dealing with this couple a long time. They have absolute hatred for each and they don’t care what collateral damage is done to their children,” the judge said.
The mother’s solicitor said that the CFA had expressed no concerns about the father’s use of alcohol. He had brought the three children to a public house.
The social worker said that the CFA had taken on board what the court had said on the previous occasion. “The children love their mother and want her to be well. Unfortunately [the mother] is unable to control her hostility and anger towards [the father] and as a result the children no longer want to engage in access. [B, the middle child] was trying to calm her mother down and get her not to talk about [the father]. Unfortunately, against all our advice, the mother can’t do that.
“[B] had to be admitted to A & E after CFA-ordered access. She was really traumatised. She knew she would get her mother into trouble. She said [her mother] had consumed one or two bottles of wine and she was given one or two sleeping tablets by her mother. After the second she started to hallucinate. It is with great regret I have to report this to the court. We want this to work out, but as a child protection social worker I cannot agree to overnight access with the mother.”
The mother’s lawyer said her client was under huge pressure. She was living in a house that was threatened with repossession. “She does have an abrasive personality and speaks her mind. She can get on the wrong side of people.”
“She had no intention of harming the child. She made an error of judgment due to alcohol,” the judge said.
The social worker said she was now suggesting one access visit a week, during the day. Two of the children did not want to go to access with the mother.
“[The father] has an important role to play here,” the judge said. “Irrespective of his feelings towards [the mother] he should encourage the children to go to access. It is important they enjoy access with their mother.”
Mother: “The only one who complains about me drinking is [the father]. He’s the only one who complains to the HSE. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m sick of that man interfering in my life. I’m very, very angry about my life over the past four years. I’ve been harassed by the Gardai and the HSE.
“I feel [the father] is manipulating the children against me. I was in a relationship of domestic violence for 15 years. He keeps saying, ‘I’m going to get you, I’ve got you now’.”
Judge: “What is in the best interests of the children? You need to move on from your relationship with the [father].”
Mother: “I have, your honour.”
Judge: “You haven’t, and I see that every time you’re in court.”
He asked the social worker if there were services that could assist the mother, and the social worker said there was a mediation service. The judge directed that the mother obtain the assistance of the mediation service to understand what she needed to do during access visits.
Social worker: “The children love their mother. They want two things – her to stop drinking and stop shouting. When there is evidence of this over a long period they will want to go back to living with their mother.”
Judge (to mother): “Isn’t that reassuring? Stand back and focus on what the children want.” He directed that access with the mother be during the day until a further application.
In another case the judge extended an Interim Care Order for a baby who had suffered from withdrawal from heroin at birth. Both her parents were drug abusers, but were attempting to deal with their addiction.
The social worker said they had missed some urinalysis tests, and the father had a few positive results. The father’s solicitor said that the positive results were for prescription medication, not heroin. The mother’s solicitor said his client had had no positive results.
“You need to engage so that the social work department can have confidence in your ability to care for your child,” the judge said. “I have no wish to keep you separated from your child. You are doing reasonably well. It is a balancing act. There are no perfect parents. We all have our faults. This is a challenge to be faced up to. People come in destroyed physically and mentally from drugs.”
“It’s finished completely,” the father said.
The judge said he expected full compliance with the drug tests between the hearing and the next renewal date four weeks away.