A Care Order was granted in the District Court in a provincial town for a three year old girl amid concerns for the mother’s ability to provide basic care to her children.
The parents opposed the application but only the mother was present. The father had no legal representation and the court was told that he had left the jurisdiction. A series of Interim Care Orders had been granted while a hearing date was sought for the Care Order application.
The mother had four children but only one, child C, was the subject of the Care Order application. Two other children, children A and B, were in the care of a relative and the youngest child, child D, was in the mother’s care.
A social worker gave evidence that she had received a referral relating to a concern about the mother’s ability to parent and her non-engagement with the public health nurse. The social worker said that the mother had also made allegations that child C’s father had been violent with her. The social worker gave evidence that the parents initially accepted that the child should avail of respite foster care which began at two nights a week and was incrementally increased to five nights a week and then to full-time care. This consent was later withdrawn.
The social worker told the court that the public health nurse wrote to her expressing her concern that she thought the mother was finding it hard to cope. At this point the mother was expecting another baby. A child protection case conference was convened following the withdrawal of the parents’ consent to the respite foster placement of C. The social worker told the court that a pediatrician who attended the case conference expressed concern that C’s failure to meet her developmental milestones may be environmental.
The social worker told the court that, at the conclusion of the case conference, it was decided that if respite foster care was not to continue the social work department would have to look for an Emergency Care Order in the District Court. The solicitor for the HSE asked the social worker whether it was the view of the social work department at that time that there was an immediate and serious risk to C. The social worker replied that the social work department believed that there was such a risk.
When the fourth child, D, was born, a parental capacity assessment was carried out on the father which determined that he was in a position to provide basic care. A parental capacity assessment of the mother determined that C should remain in respite foster care as the mother was not in a position to enable C to achieve her potential.
When the solicitor for the HSE asked whether all areas of the HSE were concerned about the family, the social worker replied that they were and that the mother needed help to maintain a basic level of care in the home. She said that it was hard to determine if there was any routine in the house and that on one occasion when C arrived at the foster care placement she slept for 18 hours. Another example was given of the child going back to the foster care placement from access with her mother with soiled underwear.
The court heard that C’s development had stalled and she had begun wetting herself despite the fact that she was toilet trained. The social worker described an incident where neither of the parents was present when C was brought home from respite foster care. Evidence was given of the parents disengaging from the social services.
The court heard that at one stage the mother was uncontactable for some time and that she had been located in a women’s refuge with C and D. The social worker told the court that when asked why she had gone there, the mother had replied that she was afraid to return home and that the father of the children had threatened her with a knife.
At this time C’s foster care arrangements changed and she began residing on a permanent basis with the foster family, she and had started play school and was reported to be “thriving”.
The social worker said that the family support worker, the public health nurse and the social work department all shared the same concern about the mother’s ability to preform basic self care and were also concerned for her mental health. The mother herself had apparently said that she was nervous about going out unsupervised with the children.
The social worker said that she was concerned that C had missed developmental milestones, was lacking in basic care and was reverting back to using bottles. When asked by the solicitor for the HSE where C should reside, the social worker replied that for C to continue to develop and to catch up she should stay with the foster family while maintaining contact with her mother and siblings.
The court heard that the father, who was deemed to be a protective factor, had completely disengaged from the social services.
The solicitor for the mother told the court that the mother describes herself as having an intellectual disability and asked the social worker whether she thought it was a conscious decision on the part of the mother not to attend access or meetings or whether it was the case that the mother simply forgot. The social worker replied that she did not think the mother made conscious decisions not to attend access but that she might not have the capacity to remember such things. A social work team leader later told the court that clinical results had shown that the mother was in the mild range of intellectual ability.
The solicitor for the mother then asked if the mother engaged properly with the social services whether she would, in the social worker’s opinion, be able to pick up the skills she needed. The social worker replied that she did not think the mother would accomplish this.
In relation to the effect of the father leaving the home, the social worker told the court: “The father was part of the family. The mother relied heavily on him. Now that he is not there the mother’s routine has deteriorated severely. There is no longer a protective factor in the family home now.”
The judge asked the social worker if the mother could, with sufficient parental supports, look after one child, D, would it not be possible for her to look after two children, C and D. The social worker replied that Child C is better placed in foster care and that since the father has left things have dis-improved. A social work team leader told the court that the mother’s relationship with D was different in the sense that the mother recognised D’s cues a lot more [than she had C’s].
The social work team leader gave evidence of a conversation she had with the mother who had described her own childhood as “the worst childhood ever” as her father was an abusive alcoholic. The social services had been involved with the mother when she was a child, the court was told.
The social work team leader told the court that she had observed the mother as having difficulties putting routines in place. For example she would recognise that the children were tired but would not put them to bed and would try and feed them instead.
The mother told the social work team leader that the father had taught her how to cook and that she relied on him to keep appointments and to do the shopping. The social work team leader said: “She needs help with basic support. She is doing her best but is finding it difficult to put basics into practice.”
The social work team leader told the court that on one visit one of the children was very close to a clothes horse but the mother did not move the child, resulting in the clothes horse falling on the child.
The court was told that there was a marked difference between the foster home and the family home. In the foster home, C was dressed neatly, her demeanor was appropriate and she was engaging in appropriate play which was not the case when she was at home where she “was attention-seeking and didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. She was all over the place.”
The court heard that the mother’s intellectual disability combined with her background affected her own parenting and her ability to meet her children’s needs. The social work team leader told the court that the mother understood what needed to be put in place but on observation she wasn’t able to put it in place.
The judge, when granting the Care Order, said that although it was clear that the mother loved her children, she fell short in some respects and that C was better off in the foster placement. The judge went on to say that bonds must be put in place between the child and her foster carers but the bonds between the child and her mother must also remain. The judge asked for the parties to return to court in three years time to provide an update.