In the District Court four extensions of Interim Care Orders were granted for an infant (A) over a period of nearly four months. Care Order hearing dates were set for mid-2015, seven months after the first ICO application.
At the first Interim Care Order hearing (see Case Histories Volume 4 2014, No.14), the application was granted with a view to reunification. The parents had consented to the order on the basis that they could see their daughter five times a week. In the meantime supports and assessments were to be put in place for the parents. The young mother had herself been in both regular foster care and secure care as a minor.
Subsequently, at the first extension of the Interim Care Order, the court heard that the parents had attended six out of 11 access visits. The social worker told the court that on one missed access visit the father had later said that he had fallen asleep and had not been able to attend. On another of the missed access dates the social worker had tried to contact the parents by phone three times but they had not answered. She said on a separate occasion the father rang to say he had been awake most of the night and unable to sleep but that they were on their way, however he had rung back 15 minutes later to say they were unwell and could not attend the access.
The social worker said that on one access visit the father arrived later and was very confrontational, he had demanded to know why he had not seen his daughter all week. The social worker told the court he had missed the access visits that had been available to him that week and that access was a five minute walk from their home.
Access was being facilitated by Empowerment Plus as the social worker had found it difficult to handle the visits. She told the court that during access the parents were very focussed on the court case and social work business, rather than spending time with their child. Therefore the social worker removed herself from the visits and Empowerment Plus had stepped in.
The social worker said that the quality of access had been extremely poor with no focus on the child and that there had been extremely aggressive behaviour at access visits where the mother had been “over the top, elated and erratic”. At one access visit security had been called to escort the social worker and the baby out of the building.
Her assessment of access was that it was overall extremely chaotic, the parents were usually late but the mother more so. The father encouraged his daughter to crawl and walk and spent time with her and he was hands on and put her on his lap during the visits. The mother did not give her child the same attention – she was usually talking to the social worker, making complaints and contacting her solicitor and TDs.
The social worker felt that their relationship was being damaged by the child witnessing this erratic behaviour all of the time. The nurturing side of the mother was not available to her during access. The infant was not in distress when her parents were leaving the room. She was now thriving in foster care, said the social worker and could now stand on her legs and was crawling.
The social worker said that during access the mother wanted A to be dressed in certain clothes but that the sizes were six months too small. She had summer clothes for her and it was winter time and no tights for her under her sleeveless dresses. “Fucking liar,” interjected the father.
She said that the mother was feeding her treats that were not age appropriate such as pot noodle, Snax crisps and Buttons. She had fed her 100 grams of chocolate at one access and A had vomited afterwards and had been extremely sick.
The social work department had offered appointments to the parents to come and speak about issues rather than bring them up at access, but the parents had not attended them, said the social worker. Previous to the day of this hearing, the mother had made threats on the life of the team leader.
The social worker recommended that access be reduced to twice a week in order for it to become child-centred and focussed and therefore each session should be one and a half hours. Marty Mayo treatment was to take place and the parents’ drug addiction was to be addressed.
Reasons given by the social worker to extend the ICO
The parents’ drug use was impacting on their ability to parent and provide a stable routine. They had not availed of drug treatment. They were not attending access regularly and giving their daughter the attention she deserved and required. There was a lack of engagement with proper supports. They had not demonstrated appropriate problem-solving skills, which was impacting on their parenting capacity.
There was a risk of the parents becoming homeless due to rent arrears. There was a huge amount of aggression and erratic behaviour, both in front of their daughter and otherwise. It was very difficult to work with the parents under those circumstances and the threats and there was a general lack of insight into the effect this aggression could have on the child’s emotional well-being. There was a general lack of insight into the department’s concerns and they met these concerns with aggression.
At this point the father got upset and was crying. The mother arrived into court shortly afterwards.
The social worker told the court that anger management could start for the father in January 2015.
The mother’s barrister asked the social worker why she had said the parents might become homeless when they were paying arrears and had come to an arrangement. This was evidence she had heard in court.
The barrister said that the day after the Supervision Order had been granted it had been difficult for the mother that the social worker had arrived at the house with a Garda. She said it had been presented in court at the Emergency Care Order hearing in evidence by the social worker that the Public Health Nurse (PHN) had been refused entry. However during the Interim Care Order hearing the PHN gave evidence of a good relationship with the parents and that they had rearranged that particular visit.
The social worker pointed out that the PHN had not had any scheduled clinic visits with them for a few months prior to the Supervision Order.
The mother’s barrister put it to the social worker that there was a correlation between the family losing their support worker (with whom they had had a very positive relationship) and things deteriorating.
Social worker: “There could be, I couldn’t say.”
Regarding the mother’s methadone use, her barrister pointed out the doctor at the drug treatment clinic had said that if someone was stable on methadone they were in a position to parent.
The social worker said that before she was allocated to the case she had made a number of home visits – three or four over the summer months. She told the court that these visits were in the afternoon, but the house was in darkness and the parents were asleep. “There were a number of missed medical appointments for [the baby]. Being asleep in the middle of the day would indicate that she is not up having her breakfast and [having] a normal routine for that age.”
Mother’s barrister: “Aside from the concern regarding the aggression, what other concerns are there? You’ve elucidated on the drug use, what else is there about anything?”
Social worker: “The parents’ reaction to social workers is aggressive.”
Mother’s barrister: “If you take the social worker out of the equation is there aggression?”
Social worker: “I wouldn’t be able to say.”
Mother’s barrister: “Then how can you say they are aggressive?” She asked the social worker why an incident involving the baby being hurt while in the care of the foster mother was not in the social work report. (The foster carer had put the baby into her buggy but only put the buckle on her chest, then the baby had thrown herself forward out of the buggy and banged her head.)
“This is the second time since coming into the care of the CFA that she had been injured. On the previous occasion she fell on her head in hospital [off a bed]. Why was it not in the social work report?”
Social worker: “I suppose that’s normal, every child has bumps and bruises.”
Judge: “Why isn’t it in the report?”
Social worker: “I thought it was an issue that had been dealt with.”
Mother’s barrister: “This exacerbates the situation for [the mother].”
The ICO extension was granted.
On the third extension of the Interim Care Order application the CFA solicitor made an application to reduce access visits as the parents had attended three out of 11 visits. The parents did not attend court and the extension of the ICO was uncontested.
The social worker told the court that mother had been prescribed methadone up until early January but had not attended her clinic since then. Neither parent had offered urinalysis to the mother’s clinic. While three visits out of 11 had been attended, the quality of access had improved greatly.
As the parents were not managing to attend the visits regularly the social work department were suggesting one or two visits per week of one and a half hours, at the moment they were being offered three visits per week at one hour and forty minutes.
The judge granted the extension of the Interim Care Order.
Judge: “Ideally a child of that age would have a considerable amount of access. If it’s not taken up it speaks for itself and for whatever reason they are unable to take part in the access provided. In those circumstances access is suggested at two hours per week, once a week is appropriate, if there is engagement and attendance and the parents show a capacity to attend over three or four weeks I would reconsider [the amount of access].”
The fourth extension of an Interim Care Order
At the fourth extension of an Interim Care Order the mother attended court and there was no attendance by the father. The court heard that there had been no access since the last court date and that the social work department were anxious that access be re-introduced once a week for two hours.
The social worker told the court that in the last month he had made numerous attempts to get the parents to go to access without success. He had not been able to make any contact with the parents by phone or text. The mother had then called him last week and apologised for not being around. She had told him that she had been away with the father and that she had been abusing substances but now wanted to get herself together. The social worker told her it was imperative the couple come to the social work department as soon as possible the following day.
The court heard that he had wanted to set up access and the mother assured him she would attend, but then rang and said she could not attend because they were viewing accommodations. The social worker said that he impressed upon her that the access visit was more important but she had hung up and he had had no further contact with her until before the hearing today.
The social worker told the court that A was getting on very well in her placement and had developed very good upper body strength, she was sleeping well and was in a healthy routine. He was satisfied that the criteria continued to exist to continue the ICO.
The mother told the court that she had gone away for a couple of weeks to “get away from drugs and I got a new phone to get away from drugs, the phone I had people had my number.” She said she and her partner would like to restart access.
Mother: “Judge, the first judge that we had was very nice, she was a woman judge. That judge said the child was at such a fragile age she had to see us every day. The social worker stopped our visits twice because I was five minutes late and because I was sick. My child has been dropped twice since she’s been in the care of the HSE. The first time, giving evidence, the social workers were trying to say there were faeces on her undergarments. My child was well-looked after.”
Judge: “Hopefully it will get back to that.”
Mother: “Once a week [access] isn’t enough.”
Judge: “You have to engage with them, they didn’t know where you were.”
Mother: “The last social worker did nothing for us.”
Judge: “We’ll take it from where we are today – you’ve met with the social worker and exchanged details. The father will need to contact his own solicitor in relation to the matter.”
Barrister for mother: “Will you engage in terms of showing that you’re dealing with your drug problems?”
Mother: “Of course I will, but my child is at a fragile age, what is best for my child is to see her parents, Judge [X] said that. I never dropped my child. My child was well looked after and well cleaned, I don’t want to work with them people anymore.”
The judge extended the ICO for a further 28 days.