A Care Order was granted in a case where the father of the child was in prison and the mother of the child was alleged to be neglecting him. Three of the mother’s older children were already in the care of the CFA and she had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
The judge was satisfied that the father had been put on notice of the court hearing and noted that had the father wished to attend proceedings then he would have issued a body warrant to the governor of the prison where the man was being held. However in this case the judge was satisfied that the father did not want to participate in the child care proceedings. The court heard that the mother opposed the application.
The mother’s solicitor at the outset raised an objection to the fact that the majority of social work reports were written by a social worker who was not going to be called to give evidence in the case. The court was told that the social worker who had written the reports was on administrative leave. The judge said that the paramount duty of the court is to the welfare of the child and that he would hear the evidence of the other social workers who had been involved in the case.
A social worker told the court that the social work department in another part of the country had contacted her social work department with a high level of concern in relation to the mother, who was pregnant. When the mother gave birth an Emergency Care Order was sought but the child was shortly returned to the care of his mother and a Supervision Order was granted.
The social worker said that a similar pattern of concerns were evident when the woman’s older children were taken into care. These mainly related to the mother’s ability to manage her children. The court heard that an assessment of the mother had taken place a number of years earlier and the mother had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder which affected her ability to care for her children.
The judge asked whether it was a cognitive ability or lack of education that impaired the mother. The social worker replied that the mother’s intellectual functioning was in the extremely low range and she would have difficulty processing information and she had issues taking in information verbally and taking on new and unexpected situations.
The social worker told the court that serious concerns arose in respect of the mother when she went missing at one point and was not contactable by the social work department. She had been spending time with a man that was wanted by Gardaí in connection with a serious sexual assault. The court heard that around this time a Supervision Order was granted and an intensive package of parenting was established. The social worker said that a number of concerns were continuing to arise in the social work department, with the child telling a social worker that the mother had hit him.
When the mother’s solicitor again raised an objection to the admissibility of the statements of a social worker who was not present in court to give evidence the judge said that “the higher courts have indicated that these applications [under the Child Care Act, 1991] are an inquiry and because they are an inquiry as to what is in the best interests of the child, a certain amount of hearsay evidence is allowed.”
The judge also referred to the nature of social work and the fact that when a person leaves the service for various reasons, their case load is taken up by other social workers.
The social worker said that a large bruise was noticed on the child’s forehead and when the mother was asked about it she said that she had just noticed it and had no explanation for the bruise. The court heard that the child had soiled himself a number of times at access and that a member of public had observed him coming home with his mother crying and saying he was hungry. The social worker said that she called to the house a number of times and the mother was not there.
The court heard that when attempts were made to bring the child back from the foster carers’ house to his mother he was upset and hiding behind a couch in the foster carers’ house and did not want to go home. The court heard that a bruise was found on his back and the boy said “mammy hit me and told me to go home on my own.” The social worker said that the child had volunteered this information spontaneously without being asked.
The social worker said that when the boy came into care he was reluctant to go for access with his mother. He appeared very anxious going to see his mother and was “very happy to get back to foster parents”. The court was told, however, that access had improved and was always supervised but was a positive experience.
The court was told that the concerns related to the mother’s engagement with services over the years, her cognitive functioning and her ability to maintain a level of adequate care of the children. Despite a large amount of services and parenting programmes the mother was not able to maintain care of her child. There were also concerns about physical abuse with a number of unexplained bruises having been found on the child.
The mother’s solicitor asked the social worker to confirm that the mother had tried her best to engage with the services offered to her. The social worker confirmed that to be the case and said that while the mother engaged in the work that was done with her, when the social workers returned there was “little evidence that she was able to put in place the things that were done.” The social worker said that she thought that the mother was being offered a sufficient level of support at present.
When asked by the CFA solicitor what the purpose of access was between the mother and her child, the social worker replied: “To maintain relations between both of them and to make it a positive experience.”
A family support worker who worked with the family gave evidence that it had been recommended that the mother should complete a parenting programme “to support her in staying calm and to support her in a positive way.” The court heard that a one-to-one parenting programme was offered to the mother with a focus on encouragement and praise. There was a specific focus on the idea of staying calm when the child was misbehaving and the mother was given skills to practice that which would enable her to stay calm.
The court heard that during the parenting programme it was felt that the mother required more support so the home follow-up visits were increased to twice a week. The mother was also offered individual work where the child would come to a playgroup and the mother would have respite and support. The social work department was also linking in with a community welfare officer and a public health nurse and discussing the issue of toileting and toilet training.
The family support worker said that on one home visit she heard the mother shouting loudly at the child but the mother denied shouting at the child. She also said that she observed the mother to flinch and cry when the child became upset and she admitted that she loses her temper easily. The family support worker also told the court that she encouraged the mother to play with her son and to read to him but the mother said that she thought that playing with him was childish and he would not understand books.
The court heard that the mother had started toilet training the boy even though it was the opinion of the social work department and and public health nurse that it was too early to start the toilet training. The boy had apparently soiled himself on eight occasions while on respite and the court heard that the boy was having three to four accidents per day at one stage.
The family support worker said that she “observed that mum was easily frustrated and she found it difficult to follow through on guidance from staff.” The court was told that the boy was absent for 50 per cent of his allocated crèche hours. The same witness said that the social work department had carried out unplanned visits with the mother to ensure that a routine was being followed but on three occasions when visits were conducted to the house after 6pm the mother and child were not there.
The court was told of one occasion when the mother and the boy had visited a farm with members of the social work department and the mother was observed pulling the boy by the arm and telling him to “get the f**k up.”
The family support worker, under cross examination by the solicitor for the mother, agreed that the mother willingly participated in what was required of her by the social work department but added: “My concerns were not just on her level of engagement but how she was putting into place what we were trying to do.”
The mother’s solicitor challenged the family support worker by saying that while she accepted that the mother engaged positively with the parenting programme and sought additional supports, the outcomes and concerns arising in her report did not seem to highlight any positive interaction. The solicitor asked her whether she had observed any positive observations. The family support worker replied that she did not see a pattern of positive interactions.
A social care worker gave evidence that the boy and his mother would not usually greet each other at access but that interaction between them had improved as the access increased.
However the social care worker said that there were a lot of inconsistencies, “she talks to him and he responds but then she drifts.” She described one occasion where the boy had visibly soiled himself but the mother had not appeared to notice.
The court also heard that the mother was quite inconsistent with boundaries with the social care worker describing one incident where the mother did not stop the child cycling out onto the road. Another social worker told the court that her concerns about the mother’s parenting were “her ability to ensure the safety of the children including her choice of partners.”
The mother gave evidence and told the court that she felt unhappy that her child was in care and that she felt that she did not get enough time with him. She said that she did not think that, at the moment, she could take care of him “but maybe in the near future.” She said that she would like more time to get herself back together and “get a proper place” for her son.
“Life is a bit bad at the moment, I am trying to get myself back together. I am seeing him for an hour every week. I don’t think that that’s enough time. I would like to see him more regularly. It’s not long enough.”
The mother said that she was “under depression”.
When asked whether she was confident that she could take her son to the toilet and look after him she replied that she was. When asked about the bruises on her son’s body, the mother said that he had slipped. The mother said that she would like more contact with her son so that “he doesn’t turn away from me”. She said that if a Care Order were put in place she would like to see her son at least twice a week.
The mother’s solicitor handed the judge a letter from the mother’s psychologist addressing the issue of contact with the child. The judge agreed with the contents of report in relation to the vulnerability of the mother and said that the mother has “serious coping deficits, largely due to a cognitive impairment, and that such a situation was not going to improve.”
The judge, in granting the Care Order, directed that the contact between the mother and the child was not to be reduced without an application being first made to court.