A care order was granted in respect of three young children, on the consent of the mother, in parallel with a trajectory plan agreed between the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and the mother together with her legal representatives and her advocate. The CFA solicitor explained there had been difficulty engaging with the father. However, he was aware of the application.
The mother’s legal representative was very conscious of what the children would hear about the application, and that two of her children had communicated to the mother that they “wished to enter into care”. The mother was consenting to that. An agreed narrative was read to the court, setting out the basis of what the girls would be told by their respective carers. In particular, that their mother believed it was their best interests that she “has chosen to listen to what they want rather that she wants”. Unfortunately, the mother had been in care herself since she was 11 years old, and two of her siblings’ children were also under the care of the State. Naturally, the mother had “trust issues” entrusting her children in the care of the State, the lawyer said.
The barrister for the mother outlined an agreed comprehensive 18-month trajectory plan for the children. The plan included trauma-informed counselling for the mother, together with provision for a parenting course on a once-weekly basis. It was requested that the case be listed for review within the year, to allow the mother to avail of the legal aid scheme. The court was further informed that it was anticipated that a review would be scheduled every three months in order to assess how the mother was progressing, engaging and performing. If appropriate, the therapist treating the mother may attend at those meetings.
The barrister for the father said he had difficulty obtaining instructions, but the father had previously “admitted that he was not capable of taking care of his daughters.”
The guardian ad litem (GAL) was supporting the application but was positive in relation to potential family reunification and the trajectory plan.
The social worker gave her opinion that the statutory threshold to grant a care order had been met. She outlined the father’s poor history of engagement with the social work department. The mother and father were no longer in a relationship; the relationship had previously been “unstable”. Therefore, it was appropriate that there be a separate trajectory for each parent.
The social worker said the mother was committed to attending access visits, and building up a relationship with her daughters. The mother had committed to attending therapy and child care reviews every three months. She was committed to improving her parenting skills, and recognised that the children required stability. Separately, the father had advised he had made an appointment with a therapist, but failed to provide evidence of this to the CFA. He had had no access with his daughters for approximately eight months.
The judge said that because the mother had been in the care system, she recognised the benefits of care. In order to affect the trajectory plan, it was suggested that she should “stay in touch with the Agency… [the instructing solicitor] and with her advocate” from the National Advocacy Service.
The GAL stated that he had been the girls’ guardian since May 2021. She described three very different girls; two of the girls were placed in the same placement. All three children vocalised their concerns about their mother, and wanted access with her going forward. In the opinion of the GAL, a care order was in the best interests of the children.
The court acceded to a request to lift the in-camera rule in respect of an independent assessment report to permit those working with the children to have sight of this report, and allow identified key workers to relay the parts about the children to the foster carers and/or other identified therapeutic services.
The judge commented that the court was “optimistic about the trajectory document handed into court,” and was impressed by the interactions of the mother and advocate. However, it was apparent that the legal basis was present to grant the care orders until the three children reached the age of majority.