The District Court made a care order until the age of 18 for two children due to alcohol and prescription drug misuse and domestic violence in the home. The court heard that one of the children had ongoing health issues. The father attended court, but the mother did not.
The court heard that the parents were in the middle of divorce proceedings, which drew attention to the issues and the concerns that had given rise to the interim care order application granted earlier. These issues still existed, and were summarised as alcohol misuse by both parties, the mother’s poor mental health and prescription drug misuse, the volatile relationship between the parents, including the father’s threatening behaviour, and poor management of child A’s ongoing health condition.
The court heard that the children were currently in the care of an immediate family member on the mother’s side. The father wanted the children returned to his care and he had expressed concerns that the children were being brainwashed against him by their carer.
The court was told that the mother agreed that the threshold for a care order was met. She attended regular access with the children, and she was satisfied that the children were receiving a high level of care and were happy in their placement.
The court was told that a plan was developed to identify what steps the father would need to take if a reunification plan was to be considered, such as him entering a programme for domestic violence and engaging in therapeutic intervention with a named psychotherapist to help him understand the impact domestic violence had on his children. The court heard that the mother and the children had had to leave the home several times due to the father’s violent behaviour. It was also recommended that he engage in high conflict mediation with the mother and that he obtained support for his alcohol misuse.
The social worker gave evidence that the father alleged that the children were being brainwashed by their carer and because of this he had not had physical access with either child since November 2019. She told the court that the father disengaged from the social work department and said that he had washed his hands of his children. She said that the social work department was supportive of family access, but it was the father’s decision to end access. He had telephone access up until concerns arose regarding inappropriate conversations he was having with the children and child A requested that the telephone calls be reduced.
The social worker said that the children were happy with a telephone call every two weeks as the children felt that they had more to talk about with their father, but that the father wasn’t happy with this arrangement, so he stopped telephone contact. The social worker said there were concerns about the father’s poor insight into the children’s welfare. She said that the father had said he would rather see the children separated in general foster carer than with their current carer.
The court was told that A was thriving in his placement and saw his carer as a source of support. His ongoing health condition was previously mismanaged, now it was managed very well. There were also concerns about his mental health as there were behavioural issues and suicidal concerns which the social worker said were due to his previous environment and not due to a mental health disorder.
The court heard that B initially struggled to engage with professionals, but that he now saw the situation as normal and both children were now engaged. He was doing well in school and enjoyed a positive relationship with his mother.
The father’s barrister told the social worker that up until 2018 the father had been attending a counsellor. The social worker told the court that the difference between a counsellor and a psychotherapist were the qualifications. The barrister questioned the social worker on the father’s concerns that the carer had a drinking problem.
Father’s barrister: “Do you have unannounced contact?”
Social Worker: “No, I don’t, but I believe the children would be able to voice if there was an issue. I speak to the children weekly, I have also called and said I am around can I pop by in 30 minutes.”
The barrister for the father told the court that the father was concerned that the children are subject to influence when they are speaking of their wishes and feelings as their carer was a close relative of his wife and they are in the middle of divorce proceedings.
Social Worker: “The thing to look at is how well they are doing. If there were unfavourable undercurrents it would reflect. I think it’s important for the children to have contact with their father.”
The guardian ad litem (GAL) said that A was a different child from the one he had met two years previously. He said that child A had been an angry lad and there had been concerns about school and that his principal had been very worried about him. The GAL told the court that he was a transformed, bright boy who presented as very happy.
The GAL told the court that he could not get a word out of child B when he first met him. He said that child B would not even speak to his teacher, but that he would now have a chat and his progress was reflected in his school report. The GAL said that he had no worries or concerns and that he was satisfied the boy was being very well cared for.
He told the court that the father’s hatred for the mother’s family clouded his judgment and that he got angry when he hears how well his boys are doing when he should be pleased. He said that he had told the children that the court would be asked to make a care order until they are 18 and that the children were happy about that. He said that they did not want to move anywhere else.
The judge said that he understood the mother’s sadness at the care of her children being taken over by her relative. He complimented the social worker on keeping the children’s interest paramount in a situation where the father had given up access not because he was annoyed with the children, but because he was annoyed with something else. He said it was ridiculous for the father to expect updates from the social work department, but then refuse to give them his address.
Judge: “This case is not without hope. If he engages fully with the social work department he can establish a good relationship with his children.”
The judge said the court will give certainty to the children so that they can look forward to the future. A care order was made until the age of 18.