A Care Order until the age of 18 was granted in the Dublin District Court for a young child with very severe disabilities. His parents were not in court and could not be contacted, the court heard.
At the outset the issue of hearing the case in the absence of the parents was discussed. The social worker told the court that an Interim Care Order was in place since the previous August. A number of attempts had been made to contact the parents, who were from the Roma community, but these were unsuccessful. She said she was satisfied every effort had been made to contact them.
The solicitor from the Legal Aid Board who initially represented them also said she had been unable to contact them and had no instructions. She had met the father once, and he said he did not need an interpreter. Asked by the judge if she was satisfied he understood she said he said he did.
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem said that the parents and siblings were not engaged with the process. It was a matter of not being to contact them.
Judge: “It seems there are complex reasons why a person might feel they could not engage in the court process. It may not indicate disinterest. I am satisfied the parents did understand what is before the court. I am satisfied the application is properly before the court. I will hear the application.”
The social worker told the court that the child was in voluntary care since 2011. The social work department brought an Interim Care Order when it became aware the parents might be out of the country. They managed phone contact with the parents, but when they visited the house there was no-one there. The father was not happy the matter had to go before a court. The parents had not attended any of the scheduled meetings since.
The child had a programme of therapies, encouraging him to walk. His emotional and social needs were not being met, it would be better for him if he had more contact with his extended family. There were questions relating to his religion and thus problems relating to his christening.
The GAL said there were sub-churches within the church denomination used by this family. The issue could be addressed. She said the child had a very, very high level of special needs. He was non-verbal but highly expressive. He pulled people to him and pushed them away. He was extremely affectionate but not indiscriminately so.
He had no swallow, so was very fearful of his mouth. He was peg-fed. Very, very slowly his carers were putting things like chocolate spread on his lips to get him used to tastes in the hope that he may be able to control his saliva and possibly be able to swallow.
He was the youngest in the house where he was living and was doted on by the staff. He was very mischievous. He was small but very active.
The GAL said she could not comment on the parents’ capacity to care for the child, but she could comment on his level of need and the difficulty any parent would have in meeting it. “For any parent, with maximum resources, to meet the needs of a child with such complex needs would be virtually impossible. Young parents in a foreign country with other children, the youngest four months old, clearly have difficulties engaging with services and with their own physical health.”
She said she was satisfied with the child’s care plan.
The judge said she was satisfied the child’s health, development and welfare would be avoidably impaired if a Care Order was not made. She said this was a very difficult case. In relation to proportionality, she was initially concerned that while the parents were aware of the proceedings it may have been difficult for them to come to court and a lesser order would allow them to terms with the matter and come to court at a later date.
However, in the light of the evidence of the social worker and the GAL she felt it necessary to prioritise the needs of the child for consistency of care she considered it proportionate to make an order until the child was 18. It was always open to the parents to come to court to apply for the order to be varied or discharged, and make arrangements for access.
She directed that the parents should be served with the order in English and Roma, with a covering letter to explain it, outlining their right to an interpreter, a cultural mediator, legal aid and to appeal.