The district court in a rural town refused an application by the CFA for the extension of a care order until the age of 18 for a primary school age child who had been in residential care for two years and who had complex needs. She was now in her fifth placement. It granted an order for two years. There were four witnesses, two social workers, the mother and a GAL.
The mother, a single parent, was legally represented and present in court. She was contesting the duration of the order until 18 and was consenting to a two-year care order.
The court admitted social work, GAL, attachment specialist and CAMHS reports. The court heard that the CFA provided intensive supports to the child and her mother in the year before she came into care in 2016. At that time the child’s behaviour was out of the control of her mother and the child was refusing to attend school. The mother was struggling to parent the child and intensive supports and respite were provided by the CFA. Initially, the child was placed in foster care, but the placement broke down as the “foster family couldn’t respond to her needs,” the social worker said. The child had previously been in four foster placements before going into residential care, the court heard.
Judge: “It needs to be said [this is her] fifth placement. The first placement broke down after a week. In a three-week period, [there were] three families.”
The court heard the child had complex needs and found it hard to regulate her emotions. She had occupational therapy, speech therapy, educational psychology and CAMHS assessments. Both the child and mother also saw a parental capacity and attachment specialist.
The occupational therapist found the child had a developmental co-ordination disorder and sensory processing issues. An educational psychology assessment found the child had a mild general learning disability and dyspraxia and needed ongoing support. The child was in receipt of one-to-one support from a special needs assistant and was making progress in school but was behind academically. She had specific speech and language difficulties which required assistance. The CAMHS report found she had developmental trauma but did not meet the criteria for a mental health disorder.
The attachment specialist found the mother had limited reflective capacity and did not have the capacity at that time. The child had a punitive style of attachment which was a mixture of charm and anger to push people away. The judge read out some of the report which recommended sensory attachment intervention.
The attachment specialist had died unexpectedly, the court heard. The CFA social worker told the court that it was difficult to source an expert in sensory attachment intervention in this jurisdiction and that a service in the UK had been sourced. It was planned to roll out the sensory attachment intervention with the multi-disciplinary staff working with the child and to involve the mother.
“The assessment identified ways of supporting the mother [but] we still have a long road,” the social worker said.
The CFA planned to transition the child into foster care in less than two years as the residential unit in which the child was placed did not keep children past primary school age. “The child needed one secure attachment figure, and this is best provided in a family,” the social worker said. The social worker confirmed that a referral had gone into the fostering unit of the CFA.
The CFA social worker agreed with the mother’s solicitor that the child had multiple assessments since coming into care and that this indicated she had a lot of needs. The mother’s solicitor said the child was vulnerable and had given a credible account of negative experiences in school prior to coming into care, such as inappropriate touching. The school had referred the child for occupational therapy but not an educational psychological assessment. The mother’s solicitor said the multiple assessments lent credibility to the mother’s perspective that A was not offered services in a timely manner. “These services could have been offered years ago. This was a reasonable position to adopt in the circumstances,” she said.
In cross-examination by the mother’s solicitor, the social worker agreed that the mother and daughter had felt let down by the system and that the attachment specialist had noted that the circumstances of the child’s birth meant she was born with an activated stress response and that some of her difficulties go back to her birth.
Mother’s solicitor: “The circumstances outside the mother’s control might have contributed to [the girl’s] difficulties.”
CFA social worker: “I’m not a neuropsychologist.”
The GAL told the court that the child was missing her mother and although she would be upset if an order was granted until 18, it would give her an amount of clarity. She experienced being in care as a rejection as her younger brother, who is of preschool age, lived with her mother, she told the court. Word and picture work were helping her, but she was not able to process what had happened in her life.
When asked by the judge what the girls own words were about a care order until she was 18, the GAL said she was vocal and agitated and used expletives.
GAL: “When we get to a place where she said, ‘I can’t go home,’ she was calm. She knows she worries and doesn’t want to return. She wants to get to a place where things are better.”
Mother’s solicitor: “Is there not a danger you will lose the mother [with a long- term care order]. She is the only pivotal attachment figure in the report. Stuff could be done. “
GAL: “All services need to take a nurturing approach with [the girl] who is stressed and anxious.”
When asked by the judge if a shorter order might not be better, the GAL said she wanted to be in her mother’s care, but this created an anxiety and the mother struggled to work with the CFA. “The flip side [of a long-term care order] is that it doesn’t set A up for more of the court process. It is in the better interests of [the girl]. It protects her in 1-2 years’ time facing rejection and not being able to process it. “
Access was problematic, the court heard, because of the distance between the child’s home and the residential unit. The mother had to spend six hours on public transport. The CFA were providing her with overnight accommodation because of the distance. “The access arrangement seems bizarre,” the judge said.
When asked by the judge about providing a hackney or taxi service the principal social worker said there were issues around insurance, Garda Vetting and confidentiality.
Judge: “They [taxi service] don’t need to know. This was a matter for the mother. “
Principal social worker: “This is a possibility.”
Judge: “This has to be around the child. “
When asked by the judge which type of access would suit her best, the mother said: “Access split down the middle. One weekend locally and one weekend nearer to the residential placement. “
Access over Christmas was discussed. “I hope you have a lovely day again. It is great the staff are giving up their time on Christmas day,” the judge said. In response, the mother said: “I appreciate it. What I experienced with [my daughter], they are experiencing that now.”
The mother told the court that she was happy with her child’s school work and proud of her progress with her behaviour but was opposed to a long-term care order until 18.
Mother’s solicitor: “You are opposed to long term care not short-term care.”
Mother: “Yes, not till 18. I initially said another year, then said two. To be honest [the girl] started off locally. She settled in school [but] will be finished in two years. My biggest concern is where [she will be] after this unit. “
The mother confirmed with the judge when asked that she was prepared to work with professionals whom she trusted. “They didn’t understand the case from day one” she said.
Judge: “Part of the problem is the CFA needs engagement. You’re not happy about the people you are dealing with in the CFA.”
The mother said she agreed with the recommendations of the attachment specialist. Mother: “I got on with her. She listened. “
Judge: “What do you think needs to happen? “
Mother: “To be honest, I know if [my daughter] is placed in a foster family, she will break out. The social worker showed me her drawings. When I have a conversation, she is angry. She wants to see more of me. “
Judge: “Do you agree she needs to be where she is right now? “
Mother: “Yes, she has complex needs.”
When the judge asked the mother what she thought needed to happen, the mother said: “Return to me. She is my daughter and she wants to come home. A care order to 18! It is bad enough now that we are so far apart. It is upsetting. I would be concerned about the impact of a long-term care order.”
The judge said it was a very sensitive and difficult case and it was unfortunate the attachment specialist could not see it forward. The judge stated she would give judgment two days later in another court in the district. When she did she extended the care order for two years.