A full Care Order was granted for a four-year-old girl whose mother had also spent some years in care, and who had had the same guardian ad litem (GAL) as was allocated to the child.
Granting the order the judge said: “This is a deeply saddening case. The medical reports paint a very sad picture. Even more sad is that the GAL was previously the GAL for the mother when she was in care.” However, he added that there was no doubt the threshold had been reached for a Care Order.
The social work team leader told the court that the child had first been taken into care under an Emergency Care Order when she was two months old. She was returned to her mother, where she remained until 2012. The mother then said she could not cope, and the child went into voluntary care for three months.
The mother had been in the care of the HSE herself, where there had been allegations of neglect and sexual abuse within her family. The father of the child was known to the HSE and well-known to the Gardaí, and there had been interventions in his family. He was a “dangerous and volatile man” and had perpetrated a lot of violence against his family and against the mother of the child, including attacking her with a knife and with a chair. There were concerns about domestic violence, his alcohol abuse and his criminality.
The mother’s mental health was a concern. She came to the social work department saying she could not cope, though she had been doing quite well. She suffered heavily from depression. She had a number of hospital admissions, and missed a lot of access with her child as a result. She made a very serious attempt on her own life in February 2013. She had great anxiety she would be rejected by her daughter if she made the wrong decision about her future.
She had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to live independently, but they kept breaking down and she kept returning to her parents. She had an adult mental health social worker allocated to her, but she only used the mental health services sporadically, when she felt she was unable to cope. She did not accept structured therapeutic work, or take medication regularly.
The HSE had concerns about the maternal grandfather [of the child], who had been the subject of the mother’s sex abuse allegations. They were monitoring this situation. The maternal grandmother had told them that the child had witnessed the rape of her mother by the child’s father when she was a baby.
The little girl was a very bright and engaging child, and there were no health or educational concerns about her. The placement was excellent. She had attachment to her foster carers, she was secure in her placement, it was the place she had gone whenever she went into care. The long-term plan was that she would remain there.
The mother found court hearings and any formal hearing very difficult. The team leader said he had spoken to her the previous day and she said she could not cope with any court appearance and any additional stress.
A solicitor came to court saying he wished to come off record for the mother. He had attempted to represent her but was unable to get any instructions from her. She had rung him about 20 times but she thought if she participated in the proceedings she would collude in her child going into care. He said he was very concerned she did not understand what was going on and feared she was not a party to the proceedings.
The guardian ad litem said he had had difficulty in contacting the mother, whom he had known when he was her GAL. He eventually spoke to her but the conversation was cut short because she thought a Care Order was inevitable and she saw it as a life sentence.
He spoke to the child, but because of her age it was difficult. He spoke to her foster mother about general matters, allowing the child to be part of the conversation. Eventually he spoke to the child on her own, with the room door open. She made eye contact, but her answers were monosyllabic. When he mentioned her living with her mother she just froze and stared at her doll’s house. She cried and had to be comforted by her foster mother. “When her mother is mentioned there is a recollection of memories,” the GAL said.
He said he recommended a Care Order for this child, and that these foster parents be assessed as long-term carers. The case should be re-entered if they were not approved. In any event there should be a review of the case in 12 months.
The solicitor for the HSE said they were concerned for the mental health of the mother if there was a full review of the case. That was the only matter at issue with the GAL’s recommendations, she said.
Making the order, the judge said the case should be re-entered if the HSE failed to obtain approval for the foster parents, if they failed to hold a child-in-care review and if a social worker was not allocated to the child. He would not order a review in 12 months because of the possible impact on the mental health of the mother.