judge in a rural town agreed with a proposal from the Child and Family Agency to reduce access by a mother to her three children in care, having heard evidence concerning the negative effect which her access was having on one of them. The parents were consenting to the extension of Interim Care Orders (ICOs).
The CFA’s social worker said they were awaiting an important report concerning Child B who had severe language delay. His speech was improving but language comprehension was a problem. He had been assessed by a disability team and the conclusion was that the problem was environmental due to chronic neglect. When taken into care, he had very decayed teeth, some of which were removed. He was now on a more varied diet and his eating had improved.
When the judge asked about possible reunification the CFA solicitor said it was something that was “looked at all the time” but each of the children had different needs. The oldest child, A, had been reared by her maternal grandmother. The youngest child, C, had quite a severe physical disability and would be wheelchair-bound for the foreseeable future. Child A had been put into a kind of parental role and B had his own very unique circumstances. B was re-traumatised every time there was access and access with his mother was being reduced to once a month from once a week.
The mother’s solicitor said she was strongly opposed to the reduction in access and she would have no choice but to bring a formal access application before the court.
The CFA social worker said the reduction in access was drastic but there had been on-going concerns about B’s relationship with his mother since he was taken into care. There were also on-going concerns about his emotional development and various professionals including his guardian ad litem had raised the possibility that access was re-traumatising him. There was a very real possibility that his behavioural and emotional difficulties were due to contact with his mother.
The judge asked the social worker what had happened since her previous report, which stated that access was to remain unchanged. She replied that access during Christmas had been very upsetting for him. He was “a very troubled little boy” and she believed a reduction to once a month might throw some light on it. Asked by the mother’s lawyer why could the access not be reduced to once a fortnight, the social worker replied that this might not tell them if access was the problem.
The judge said it seemed to him there was an element of trial and error in what was happening. “If we try it out and it doesn’t work, the mother is without her access. It’s not the most scientific conclusion I have heard before this court. You see the doubt in my mind.” The social worker said the father of A, who lives in a different country, was very opposed to her returning to her mother’s care.
The guardian ad litem supported the reduction in access. She said B was one of the most neglected children she had seen. His teeth were rotten. Access was re-traumatising and upsetting him. There had been active deprivation in this case and it was important to give B every chance. She had noticed improvements since he came into care and she would prefer monthly access.
The judge said that, having listened to the social worker and the guardian he was happy with what had been done. It was open to the mother to bring an access application if she wished. If the reduction in access did not make any difference “we will look at restoring it to a certain level. There is an awful lot of work to be done.”