A Care Order was granted in the District Court in a provincial town for four children under four, who have been in care since they were born.
The parents were unmarried and both were present in court. An application by the father for guardianship was refused. Three of the children had been living with a relative since they were born. The fourth was in a foster placement nearby and had also been there since she was born.
A Garda told the court of a number of occasions when she was called out to the couple’s home amidst allegations of domestic violence against the father of the children. The Garda told the court that on all of these occasions the mother subsequently retracted her statements and indicated to the Gardaí that she did not want the matter investigated any further.
A mental health social worker told the court that when she met the mother, she found her to be “extremely tearful, head down, almost fearful.” She asked the mother whether she was fearful about returning home and the mother replied that she was. The social worker told the court that she then brought the mother to a women’s refuge. On cross examination, the solicitor for the mother said that the mother had instructed her that she did not say that she was afraid of the father but that she was afraid in general.
A clinical nurse manager from the special baby unit in the local hospital told the court of how she made a referral to the social work department when the couple’s first baby, child A, was born as she was concerned that the mother might not be able to look after the baby. She said that she was aware of a history of anorexia, depression and alleged domestic violence and was concerned that the baby wouldn’t be going home to a safe place. Both parents had insisted that they were in a position to care for the baby, A.
A social worker told the court that there was a multidisciplinary concern around sending A home to live with the parents. “Although she was showing that she could make bottles etc., we didn’t feel that the mother could protect the baby if an incident of domestic violence occurred.” A was placed in the care of a relative on a voluntary basis.
When the second baby, child B, was born, similar concerns were raised by both hospital staff and the social services. One social worker summarised the concerns of the social work department as centring around “the mother’s parenting capacity, mental health and relationship with the father and further concerns around decline in access [to A] and allegations of domestic violence.”
B was placed in the care of the same relative, along with child A. The court heard that after B was placed in voluntary care, access with both children began to decline. It had previously been taking place on an informal basis.
The court heard that any access would have to be supervised as “there has been no option of allowing babies to be alone with her. The risks are too high; her ability to take care of herself and take care of her health is very low.” The court heard that the mother had not demonstrated any capacity to care for the children. One social worker said: “I couldn’t engage her in conversation in a meaningful way about her children.”
When the mother was pregnant with the third child, C, similar concerns were raised as with the first two children. The court heard that by this time the parents had further disengaged from the social services and were not taking up access with the two children already in care.
A social worker gave evidence that when she asked the mother what her plan was for the new baby, C, the mother told her that there was none. That social worker told the court that the risk to the unborn baby was very high. There were still allegations of domestic violence and the mother had attended an assault clinic in a nearby hospital around that time. It was the assessment of the professionals involved that neither parent could care for the child. C was placed in the care of the same relative as the other two children.
The court heard that when the mother became pregnant with her fourth child, D, it was clear that the relative carer would not be able to care for a fourth child. The concerns for D remained the same as with the other children. A social worker told the court of an incident when the mother had gone to the accident and emergency department of a nearby hospital when she was 17 weeks pregnant saying that the father had hit her. The same social worker told the court that she received a text message from the mother asking for help getting away from the father. When the mother gave evidence she denied this.
The court heard from a social worker that the option of a mother and baby home was discussed with the mother but no plan was put in place due to the disengagement of the mother and her not answering phone calls from the social work department. The District Court granted an Emergency Care Order in respect of D. That child, like the others, went straight from the hospital into care. D however was placed in a non-relative foster home, albeit near her three siblings. The court was told by a social worker that sibling access between all four children was being facilitated by the social work department.
At the time of the proceedings D did not yet have a name and was referred to as Baby X (X being the mother’s surname). At the conclusion of proceedings the HSE solicitor asked the court to order the parents to name the child. The judge did not make an order in such terms but encouraged the parents to give the child a name soon.
The court heard that the mother had, at times, sought access with the children but then failed to follow it up. The court was also told that the father had suggested that access with the children take place in his caravan but the social work department had resisted, saying it was not a suitable place to conduct access.
The mother gave evidence that she found it difficult to see the relative carer taking care of her children. She said that she would cry at the end of every access. She gave an explanation to the court of why she found it difficult to engage with the social services. She told the court that if the children were released into her care, she thought that she would be able to manage with a bit of help. She said she would do what the HSE wanted if it meant getting her children back. She told the court that she thought her future was with the father and their children.
In relation to the guardianship application on behalf of the father, the HSE solicitor resisted the application, saying: “He hasn’t displayed any interest in the children’s care, he hasn’t enquired about their stages of development, there is no evidence of him being motivated in the best interests of the children.” The father, who has other children, when asked had he ever applied for guardianship of those children replied that he had not. The judge refused the application for guardianship.
When granting the full Care Order for all four children, the judge said that the fact that the children would be living in a caravan was not a concern to him. He said that it was the people that he had the gravest worries about. He expressed concern at the allegations of domestic violence that the mother had made and had later withdrawn. The judge pointed out that the mother had not changed her behaviour, co-operated with the HSE or kept up access.