A Care Order was granted until 18 for a boy who had been in care since he was a baby. The CFA solicitor said that “despite everyone’s endeavours it has not been possible for the mother to parent her child.” She said that the mother loved her child and it had been a sad and stressful case and the mother had attended court on many occasions.
The solicitor said that the mother and the child had attended a residential centre for mother and children. She also said that the mother’s IQ had been assessed and she was found to be at the “bottom end of the borderline scale” and that her verbal comprehension and memory was low and she had overall a very low functioning. Two reports had been sought and there was no significant difference between them, according to the CFA solicitor. The solicitor said that the reports underpinned what had been observed since the child was born in that it was clear that the mother found it hard to take on new tasks and to tune into the child’s needs as well as finding it hard to manage her own emotions and tended to focus on her own needs to the exclusion of her child.
A Care Order had been granted for one year in 2012 to see “how things would progress” and a two year care order had been made in 2013.
The CFA solicitor said that the mother appeared to have rekindled her ties with her
brother and his wife and that they had come into court and supported the mother. The mother’s brother (the boy’s uncle) was in court. The brother’s wife had however spoken to social workers with concerns about the mother. The mother had appealed a previous two year Care Order to the Circuit Court where the District Court order had been upheld but the judge had expanded access.
Due to the level of antipathy felt by the mother towards the social workers the Circuit Court judge had directed that social workers not attend the access visits. Access was taking place in a family resource centre until an incident took place and the mother and the boy became very upset, after which the family resource centre withdrew their support of access.
The social worker described the incident in family resource centre and said that the foster mother had brought the boy to the resource centre and the boy had become upset and didn’t want to go in. The mother started talking about the boy having two mammies and the social worker said that “was quite confusing for him”. The social worker said that staff at the family resource centre tried to calm things down and the mother got very annoyed with staff and the boy had got very upset and had to be removed from the centre.
The CFA solicitor pointed out that there had been “such a scene” that staff at the centre contacted the mother’s brother who came and took the boy away.
She also said that the child, on another occasion, had refused to leave the foster carers’ house and was upset when he saw his mother and that the child had to be brought crying into the mother’s house.
The social worker said that the boy was so upset going to access and was associating the social worker with his difficulties. The foster mother said his behaviour was deteriorating, he was becoming aggressive and he started wetting himself. The boy’s reluctance to go to access became more pronounced and reached a stage where the boy refused to leave the social worker’s car to go to access. The foster mother encouraged the boy to go to access and the boy’s foster sister had gone along with the social worker to try and coax him to attend access.
The social worker described another access visit when the boy had refused to go to the family resource centre and another occasion when the mother had become “belligerent and borderline aggressive” at access.
The social worker said that a decision had been taken for access to take place at a family play zone rather than in the resource centre. She said that a significant amount of work had been done to facilitate access which took place for an hour and a half a week at the play zone.
The CFA solicitor said that they were looking for an order until 18 as they were of the view that the issues identified during the initial Care Order applications were still present and the mother still struggled to put the child’s needs ahead of her own and she continued to discuss issues in front of him like who his mother is.
The mother’s barrister said that it was necessary for the “someone to build up a relationship with this lady”. He said that the mother perceived the CFA as people hounding her, and were “waiting for her to make a mistake”.
The mother’s barrister told the court that the mother’s husband had died two weeks after she had married. The mother had tried to run a taxi business and before that she had run a public house. The solicitor said that she had become embroiled in an inheritance dispute with her late husband’s family and she believed that her husband’s family had tried to tarnish her image by giving certain information to the HSE which brought the spotlight onto her and precipitated the care proceedings.
The judge at this point asked the mother to step out of the court as she kept interrupting. The mother was then re-admitted to the court.
The mother’s barrister said there had been times when the mother was totally at fault but that things had changed and access between the child and mother was very enjoyable and it was surprising that nobody had tried to build on this in order to allow the mother to have a meaningful relationship with her child.
The mother’s barrister said that there was a possibility that something could be built on in terms of access. A Care Order until 18 should not be granted and efforts should be made to restore access.
A social worker described access between the child and mother as “quite pleasant”. She described how the boy became more reluctant to go to access visits with his mother after the occasion when the mother became upset at access in the resource centre, and sometimes she would have to carry him crying into the access. The social worker was asked did the mother react to the child crying and she said that the mother replied by saying: “I didn’t do anything wrong”. The social worker was asked what the foster mother was like to deal with and she said that she was conscientious and facilitating.
The social worker said that she became concerned about the child’s reluctance to attend access and the boy’s toileting “had gone way back”, his speech had deteriorated and he would refuse to get out of the social worker’s car to go to access. She said that the mother would get very cross when this happened and would give out and say that it was not her fault. The social worker said that she asked the mother to bring a toy out to distract the child and the mother brought out a toy suitable for a 3 or 4 month old. The child was about three years old.
The social worker said that she was concerned about the child and that the mother had called her to come back and when she returned the child had wet himself and had no trousers on. The social worker thought that the mother did not have spare clothes for the child but the social worker had some spare clothes in her car.
The social worker described an access visit between the child and the mother which took place in the family resource centre. She said that the child was reluctant to go into the resource centre and when the boy went in the mother was speaking very loudly and the social worker said she encouraged her to put aside her issues so the boy would not see her upset or aggressive. She said the mother spent 30 minutes on the telephone and then left access 30 minutes early. The mother asked the boy, during the same access visit, how he would feel if he never saw his mother again and the social worker also said that the mother was “jeering and talking inappropriately”.
The social worker said that the mother said to the boy “I am your mother” and that she understood why the mother was saying such a thing but that it would be confusing to a three year old boy.
The social worker said that it would be nice to change the access location to somewhere outdoors for the summer but that it should be somewhere secure. She said the “mother’s default position is aggression and she does not try and meet the HSE a little bit of the way.”
Another social worker said that the mother would have inappropriate conversations with her son at access, asking him for example did he miss her and if he replied that he did not she would get upset. The same social worker said that the mother was not attuned to the child’s needs and “remains inappropriate in the information she shares with him”, she is not receptive to guidance but sees it as interference. The social worker was asked what her view of the foster mother was and she said that she was “very facilitating and acknowledged any positive improvements and had never been inappropriate.”
The court heard that the foster mother had written to the social work department to express concerns in relation to the boy’s reluctance to attend access, his demeanour coming up to access, his deterioration in speech and the fact that he was wetting himself. The social worker said that the mother would make no attempt to comfort the boy when he was upset and would say to him that his foster mother was not his mother.
The CFA solicitor said that the boy was due to have an assessment of needs completed and she also said that the mother and son had received various interventions including a stint in a mother and baby residential unit. The CFA solicitor asked the social worker whether she thought the mother could safely parent the child. The social worker replied that she did not think that the mother had achieved enough in the last three and a half years to be able to parent the child.
She said that the boy might have developed some self-care skills but the child would “need parenting way beyond that” and there would be more comprehension tasks as the years go on. She said that she did not believe that the mother was in a position to parent the child until he was 18.
The mother’s barrister asked the social worker where she would place the mother on a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of ability to parent. The social worker said she would place her at 2 or 3. She said: “No parent is perfect but that’s a long stretch from not meeting basic needs.” She also said that they (the social work department) had tried to encourage the mother to work with them but this had not happened.
The barrister replied that the mother was “an individual against the system” who did not have the same resources (as the CFA) and she was “very worried about the inequality of the situation and she is wondering when this war is going to end.” The social worker said that the mother has a “set understanding that we are against her” and could be quite aggressive and difficult but they were trying to assist the mother at access visits.
The mother’s barrister asked the social worker whether the mother was a drug addict and she replied that she was not. The barrister then asked the social worker was the mother violent and she said that the mother was not violent. The social worker said that the mother could be “a little distant at times” but there did not have to by physical injuries in order for the social work department to have concerns. She said that she did not think most children regularly regressed in their speech, toilet training etc. and would scream like this boy, not wanting to go to access.
The CFA solicitor said that the boy’s behaviour around access “clearly demonstrated” his level of distress. She said that when the court had previously refused a care order until 18, it had been hoped that the mother would work with the social work department but that had not happened. The solicitor said that an application to 18 was a fair and proportionate response in order for the CFA to fulfil their statutory duty as a first and paramount consideration.
The judge said to the mother’s barrister that the access order made by the Circuit Court had given the mother a huge opportunity but the implication to be drawn was that it had not worked. He said he was pointing the difficulties out so that the mother’s barrister could deal with them.
The boy’s uncle said that there was friction between the mother and the foster mother and that the foster mother, when picking up the boy “makes a big scene” about picking him up and that disturbs the mother. The uncle said that the foster mother should pick the child up and “get away as fast as possible”. He said that his sister (the boy’s mother) was constantly stressed out and could not enjoy access. He said that she was so anxious she would continue to attend access even if she did not feel well as she did not want to “lose an access”. He said that the mother is “completely stressed out” and rings him numerous times during the day and night.
When asked had he ever seen the mother treat the boy very coldly or ignore him, he replied “never”. He was asked did he think that the mother treated the child in a way that caused him emotional distress or emotional harm and he replied that he did not think so and if anything she was over-protective. The boy’s uncle said that he was told that he would be contacted about access but that he had not been contacted but had recently received a letter with the hearing date for the Care Order application.
The judge noted in relation to the psychologist’s report that it would be extremely difficult for the mother to care for her son. A psychologist had said that the mother was at the upper limit of the extremely low category of functioning which was “not great” the judge said. The judge said that things might be different if the mother accepted that she needed help but she was saying that the care proceedings were a conspiracy and that was “deeply ingrained in her”. The judge said that she needed to believe that she should be doing things better. He said that one of the reasons for this was the limitations the mother had and he said that she had done well for someone in her circumstances.
The judge said that the child must come first and that it was difficult where the mother was not accepting that she had problems and that she needed to be shown anything. The boy’s uncle said that the mother was very attached to her son and was anxious for his long-term welfare. The uncle said that he believed that the mother had the wherewithal to look after her son. When asked whether he thought the relationship between the CFA and the mother could improve, the uncle replied that it was “very doubtful”. He said that he took phone calls from his sister through the night and it was a very sad situation. He said that it was true that she needed to accept that she needed help.
The CFA solicitor said to the boy’s uncle that the efforts he had gone to had been acknowledged and that he had done everything possible for his sister but that access had been extended with the mother and it had resulted in the boy becoming distressed. The solicitor said that the mother had persisted in discussing certain issues with the boy after being told not to bring such things up in conversation. She said that the mother was not able to put her own issues to one side and focus on the boy.
The boy’s uncle said that he thought she was able to manage on her own and pointed out that there had been no mention of the times when the boy had not wanted to get in the car with the foster mother. He agreed that the access between the boy and his mother had not gone well. The CFA solicitor said that the boy’s uncle and his wife would be offered access with the boy at a separate time to the access the boy would have with his mother.
The judge granted the order.
See also 2013 Vol 3, Case history 14