A Care Order was made by a District Court in a provincial city in respect of a three year old child whose mother suffered from a physical disability. The father had issues with drugs.
The mother had been referred to a psychologist to be assessed. She suffered from curvature of the spine, muscular dystrophy and required the use of a wheelchair. She said she felt “wrecked constantly, depressed following her diagnosis of muscular dystrophy and under too much pressure.”
The psychologist noted that she had suffered panic attacks and disturbed sleep when the child was taken into care on the last occasion. A number of tests were carried out on the mother in order to assess her general cognitive ability. The psychologist discovered that she had a mild learning disability. He examined the way in which she managed everyday tasks and remarked that “she managed things well but her limitations came from her physical problems.” He noted that “although she was able to learn in one situation she may not transfer that skill to another situation.” The psychologist concluded that the mother’s “physical disability combined with her cognitive function would hinder her care of the child.”
The social worker said that the child had been the subject of various orders including a Supervision and Interim Care Order and had been returned home on a phased basis. She said that initially the parents appeared to be “in tune with the child’s needs” and were focused but that concerns began to emerge quickly. She noted that it became difficult to contact the parents.
The father had previously completed a residential drug treatment programme, however, a referral was made alleging that he had relapsed and was carrying a knife. The social worker called to the home following the referral and found the father to be in “a disorganised state, in pain and holding his ribs.” She explained that the presentation of the father was concerning in that he was “erratic, upset and having difficulties.”
The social worker contacted a doctor who assessed the father. She explained that the father completed a urine test which tested positive for cannabis. The father was adamant that he had not relapsed despite numerous positive tests. It was also noted that substance abuse was affecting his mental health. The social worker met with the parents following the positive test and the father admitted to “one slip.” She said “if the father continued to use, it would be questionable how the mother would manage.” She explained there was a concern that “old patterns had resurfaced so soon after reunification.” She said “whilst the child was presenting well at crèche and it appeared that her needs were being met, there were concerns for her long term well-being.”
There were concerns with regards to the parents’ accommodation as they were sharing a bedroom with the child in an overcrowded house. The social worker said that the child needed to be in an “environment which stimulated her cognitive and physical development.” The parents had been advised to seek more suitable accommodation but they had failed to make progress. The social worker said: “If the parents were proactive with the supports, it would be possible to get better accommodation.”
The social worker said that the child “had come a long way, as initially she was shy and withdrawn but had come out of herself.”She was born ten weeks prematurely and had a number of health needs. She was described as “bright and alert” but suffered from mild hyperextension of the knee and low muscle tone. Her feeding and language skills were delayed and she required imaginative play both at home and at school.
She required a level of supervision due to her hypermobility and tendency to fall in crèche. On one occasion the staff noted that the child had fallen and her nose was bleeding. She was collected by her father and reportedly taken to the doctor but there were no records of the child receiving medical attention. She presented at the crèche on another occasion with a bruise to her eyebrow. The father explained that she had fallen off her bicycle at home. The mother maintained that the child sustained the injury at the crèche.
The social worker explained a referral had been made regarding an incident in the home where a man had allegedly made physical and sexual advances towards the mother. Her step father came to her assistance which resulted in an altercation. The mother denied the incident occurred. The social worker concluded that the child was “not in immediate danger but needed predictability and consistency.”
A key worker from Bernardos said that the parents were offered parenting support and help with the challenges of the child’s behaviour. She described the mother as “motivated” and said she “engaged well in comparison to previous occasions.” She said that the mother took direction and encouraged the child through play but struggled to cope with challenging behaviour.
It was noted that there was a change in the child’s behaviour during the time the crèche was closed and this was attributed to lack of routine. There was also a concern that the child was “over affectionate with strangers” and had “a tendency to lash out when she built a relationship of trust with someone.” The key worker said that the child was physically aggressive with the mother. The mother was advised to remove herself from the situation and explain to the child that her behaviour was not acceptable. She explained that the mother “could follow through with the advice but was unable to display the advice on the next occasion.”
A representative from a local charity said that there many supports in place for the family one of which enabled the child to attend crèche. She explained that the charity was struggling to maintain the cost of the crèche and the “child’s placement [in the crèche] was in difficulty.” She said that the issue of the crèche arrears had not been addressed by the parents.
It was noted that the father was attending self advocacy class but had missed some reports while the mother had missed five sessions of counselling which was being provided. The representative said when the mother did attend the counselling sessions she was engaging to the best of her ability but she had self care issues and struggled to absorb information. She concluded that the parents were not in a position to provide good parenting.
The mother described the child as “special” as she was told she would never be able to carry a baby due to her condition. She said that she and the child had a great bond. The mother remarked that she was distressed to learn that there were potential foster carers on stand- by for her child. The mother admitted that she had problems with her mobility but said that the child knew this and would not go outside or upstairs in the house on her own. She denied that she needed professional support and maintained that she was a good mother. The mother explained that she would be heartbroken if the child were taken into care.
The father gave evidence in relation to his relapse. He attributed his relapse to “meeting the wrong people at the wrong time and taking a few pulls.” He admitted to smoking every day and maintained he never paid for the smokes. He said that he planned to complete another residential treatment programme but that there was no place available for him for some months. He said that the mother would manage with the child in his absence and said that she would “get on better that she did the last time he was in a treatment programme.”
The judge said that there were significant resources in place for the family but that the parents had failed to engage with the services. She remarked that the family support service intervened in relation to “housing, counselling and crèche for the child which was for her well-being and prevented her from being taken into care previously.” The judge remarked that the parents had a “lack of capacity to do what they intended to do and what they are able to provide.” She noted that the mother was not able to parent alone and the father had acknowledged his relapse. She said that the mother “could not take full responsibility for the child due to her physical disabilities.”
The judge was satisfied that the threshold had been met under section 18 of the Child Care Act, 1991 and made an order that the child remain in care until she attain the age of eighteen.