A Care Order application for 12 months for three children was adjourned to allow a parenting capacity assessment for the mother and for the eldest child to express her views through a guardian ad litem (GAL). Earlier the mother had consented to a five month Care Order and the children were in the care of relatives.
The social worker told the court that the eldest child, A, who was 13, had prepared a letter for the judge stating she wanted to go home. She had a very good understanding of why she was in care and was very verbal about her views.
“She loves her mum and wants to return. One the one hand her placement is going quite well. She is there with her brother. On the other hand she has a very strong relationship with her mother and worried about her. The relationship is more one of equals than of a mother and child, sitting up late and talking to her mother about adult issues. She was used to playing the role of carer for her siblings”, the social worker said.
“She is now being treated like a child and allowed to be a child. She has difficulties in foster care because she is not allowed out at night. She would have more freedom at home where she used to be out at night. She is struggling a bit in school, but that is due to a lack of consistency. She is about to go to secondary school.”
The social worker said the third child, C, had settled in very well and had very good relationships, especially with his male relative carer. There had been a lot of concerns about his behaviour and he was diagnosed with ADHD, but he was a lot calmer now. He had also overcome a bed-wetting problem.
The second child, B, was with other relatives. She did ask about going home but seemed to be more accepting of the situation than her older sister. She was very involved in sporting activities and her mother visited her in the relative’s house.
There had been a number of Supervision Orders and an extensive support package for the mother, but concerns remained. The main concern was alcohol abuse. The mother could go for periods without abusing alcohol, but when she was drinking the children were not a priority. There was a long history of not attending to their basic needs with regard to food and clothing.
When she was in relationships men would come to the house where there would be drinking and fighting and sometimes the guards were called to the house. There was a concern that the mother prioritised the men in her life rather than her children. She had asked if the most recent man in her life could attend access with her children.
The HSE had on-going concern about her mental health. She seemed withdrawn at times. Her GP had referred her to a psychiatrist, but she only met him once. “She isolates herself and spends a lot of time by herself in the home. She acknowledges she does not look after herself and does not eat properly.”
The social worker said there had been a family welfare conference involving the mother and all the carers, who were all relatives, to discuss why the children were in care, the supports available and access. Nothing had changed.
The mother’s solicitor said the mother was asking for a chance to prove herself. She had worked with the HSE and had attended a psychologist who said she was not mentally ill or depressed, just stressed at the loss of her children. If the children were returned she would avail of any other support available.
The social worker said the children had been exposed to neglect over the years. The mother needed to show she could change. “If the children are in her care she won’t drink,” her solicitor said. “She accepts she has had boyfriends. She’s prepared to not have any for the foreseeable future if the children are returned.”
The social worker said the children could not return under the current conditions. The social work department had worked with her for four years. She had not addressed the issue of her own health. “She may have the best of intentions, but she has not demonstrated any change. If she does, we will start by looking at access.”
Asked by the solicitor if the wishes of the children were not important, the social worker said: “Yes. But they are children. Look at A’s age. I don’t want them to be returned and then back in care in three months.”
Asked by the solicitor if she would consider respite so that the children could be with their mother three days a week, the social worker said not at this time, but she would be open to increasing access to overnights and eventually build it up from there.
The mother told the court she would change. She had applied for a house in another town. She said she attended sports matches with B and took the children to Mass. Access was difficult in the social work office because she did not have a car. She said she would give an undertaking not to drink if the children were returned. She would also not have boyfriends in the house.
Asked about the children’s lunches and the problem of head lice, she said these would not be a problem again. “I’m lost without them. It might boost me if they came back. I had a lot of help and I didn’t take it when it was there. I’ll take it now.”
The judge asked had there been a parenting assessment and the social worker said there had but the mother had not engaged and had missed two out of three appointments.
The mother told the judge she had not discussed her daughter’s letter with her. “I would like to give you the children back,” the judge said. “There is something you can do. What about getting medical help?” The mother said she thought she was on a waiting list for counselling. “The fact you can’t remember doesn’t impress,” the judge said. “Promises have been going on for four years. What has changed so dramatically since last November?”
“I’m starting to buck up now,” the mother replied.
“I’m prepared to suggest you have more access,” the judge said. “A full parenting assessment has to be completed. You daughter really wants to come home. It is up to you to make it possible for that to happen. I would like to extend the Care Order, but maybe not for a year. Maybe extend access to have overnights. I will adjourn to consider a shorter Care Order and extended access.”
Referring to A’s views, the HSE said she was too young to be separately represented by a solicitor. The judge said she would like her to be able to express herself more fully, through a guardian ad litem. Referring to access, she said no alcohol was to be consumed in the home or wherever access was taking place 24 hours before access and the mother was to attend a counsellor.