Care Orders until five children reached the age of 18 were granted by a District Court in a rural town. A case involving the sixth child in the family was adjourned as the child’s father had been in a road traffic accident and was unable to attend court. A seventh child was in the custody of its father in another jurisdiction and was not the subject of any proceedings.
The mother was prepared to consent to Care Orders for two years, but contested the making of long-term Care Orders.
The court was told that most of the children had different fathers and they were all living with various relatives under Interim Care Orders made in 2011. The father of the eldest child, A, who was 17, had no objections to the care order until she was 18. The father of the second child, B, was deceased. There were no proceedings regarding the third child, C, the father was living in another jurisdiction and had no contact with her, the father of two of the younger children, E and F, was deceased, and the father of G had just been in a serious road traffic accident.
The social worker told the court the children’s mother was herself known to the HSE. She had spent a lot of time in the care of her grandmother, with her mother returning from time to time looking for her, which caused her a lot of distress and gave rise to attachment issues. This was a pattern which repeated itself, and was in danger of further repeating itself with her children.
She was 15 when she became pregnant with A. She was referred to social services when pregnant with C, then she left for another jurisdiction with B and C, leaving A in her grandmother’s care. She returned and the file was reopened in 2005. The children were left with various relatives and she was difficult to track down. There was no stable family home and she was not a consistent carer, there were several absences from the children’s lives, leading to attachment harm. She had no insight into the emotional development of her children and the impact of her behaviour on them.
“She seems to move frequently between relationships and without considering the impact on the children,” the social worker said. There was also a concern relating to substance abuse and a domestic violence incident while she was pregnant, which was witnessed by A. The children reported seeing people in the house using drugs.
A was received into care when she was 14. She had a high level of responsibility for her siblings and she dressed and fed them. She cared for the children overnight when the mother and her partner were missing. The children were frequently at home with no adult present.
There was a high level of concern about their school attendance, with them missing about 46 days. Home helps were going into the house, and they reported the house was cold, with no food and the children hungry, despite the fact that there was a lot of money going into the house in social welfare and child benefit. Cars were being burnt out outside the house.
In 2011 there was a lot of concern about the baby, who was being cared for by a 19-year-old relative. At this time also three kgs of cannabis were found in the house. When social workers visited the house they found the children at home when they should have been in school, they were dressed in unsuitable clothes and the mother was in bed. All the children except A came into voluntary care. A did not want to come into care.
The mother said she was afraid of her associates and intended to move to another jurisdiction, indicating she did not intend to return to Ireland. Interim Care Orders were granted mid-2011. She had very sporadic phone contact with the children, mainly initiated by A.
“She has a very enmeshed relationship with her mother, she is more her confidante than a daughter. When her mother left she was at a loss. She also had a lot of responsibility for her younger siblings and when they were taken into care she had to struggle with the loss of that,” the social worker said. “She attempted suicide. The mother was aware of the attempted suicide and was upset by it but did not come home.”
She did return briefly at the end of 2012 and met the two older children, but not the others, which caused difficulties between the children. She said she had established a career in the other jurisdiction and was concerned about being charged with offences if she returned to Ireland. She did return early in 2013 and had supervised contact with the children, apart from A, with whom she had extensive contact because of the latter’s age.
Access with the children was very difficult, because they all had different needs and all were clamouring for her attention. The youngest boy did not know her at all. The second youngest was quite wary of her and afraid she was going to take them away. The children were then divided into two groups for access, the three older and three younger ones.
The social worker said that A was a bright and ambitious student, but had ADHD and struggled with her diet. B, whose father had died by suicide, was with a paternal relative who had been very supportive throughout his life. “He is a very, very deep child,” she said. “He feels the amount of moves he has had to make has made it very difficult to make and maintain friendships.”
He had been referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), who found he had no psychiatric difficulties but had no self-esteem. He was having counselling. He was very smart, very good at verbalising his feelings.
D was with a maternal relative, whom she did not know very well before going into her care. The relative had two grown-up sons. She made progress in this family with improved school attendance and school performance. There was no disruption in school, but she was very emotionally insecure and had a huge sense of abandonment. There were a lot of behavioural problems with her relative foster mother.
There was a lot of concern about this placement. The foster-mother was not accepting of certain therapy recommended for the child and there was unauthorised contact with the mother. D was the most vulnerable of the children. She saw herself as different from her siblings, and less liked than the others. She gravitated towards male figures and was not secure enough in her attachment to her current carers to be brought through all the development she would face as an adolescent with attachment problems. The HSE was proposing moving her to another placement so that she could get the support she needed during her adolescence.
E came into care at the age of three and was living with his younger brother with a young relative, who was 22 when she took care of the two boys. They were both very fond of their older sister A, they looked up to her. They had a base-line of no trust in their mother and memories of bad times with her. E was very articulate and able to command attention at access visits.
He was exceptionally bright and was doing exceptionally well in school and socially. He was very settled in his placement and a play therapist specialising in attachment was working with him. F had been behind in his immunisations when he came into care, but was now doing well. He was very active. He too was very bright and doing well in school. He saw his foster mother as his primary carer and was worried his mother would take him back. He hit her and called her names. He was very unsettled after access.
The relative was only 22 when she took the boys into her care. At the time she was living in her family home, but she moved out with the boys. She never complained that their care would continue into the future. She accepted that any boyfriend would have to have Garda vetting. She met the boys’ emotional needs very well. She had support from social services because of her age, with a home help coming in three times a week. “She is very, very committed to the care of those boys,” the social worker said.
The mother was now living in the town and attending a FAS course. She was attending counselling.
In relation to the children returning to her care, the social worker said she had a pattern and a history that posed a high risk to the children. There were criminal charges outstanding which could lead to a custodial sentence. She had been arrested for drunk-driving in the summer. While she had changed her behaviour, it was “too little, too late” for the children, who needed long-term stable care.
The mother’s solicitor said that the support the children had had from relatives was a positive thing in their lives, and they had given their consent to the children staying with them when they were younger. “Without the support of the extended family these children would have come into care a lot sooner than they did,” the social worker replied.
The solicitor said the mother would consent to a shorter-term order, she felt that after two years she would be in a position to care for the children. “She was absent from the children’s lives for two and a half years. To expect children to wait another two years is not fair,” the social worker replied.
The solicitor said the mother had changed since her return to Ireland. She was no longer using drugs. She was willing to undertake any drug or alcohol assessment. She was learning from her mistakes in the past. It showed her commitment to her children that she came back. She made an arrangement with the Gardai, she was arrested, charged and released on bail. She was particularly concerned about the proposal to move D from her existing carers, who were 100 per cent committed to her and had a strong attachment to and emotional bond with her.
“You can call her as a witness,” the judge said.
A Garda told the court that the mother had 12 previous convictions and 36 involvements with the Gardai, mainly child protection notifications. The convictions were for theft, public order offences and drink-driving.
A psychologist said he had carried out a parenting capacity assessment of the mother, after reviewing the social work file. The mother was unable to complete her schooling because of the problems in her early life, but she was now completing her schooling and considering further study. She had normal intellectual capacity, and would have no difficulty with an academic course.
Referring to his personality assessment he said her responses were valid and consistent, with an elevated score under “narcissistic”, “anti-social” and “histrionic”. “We often see it with people have a history of attachment difficulties,” he said. Referring to the impact of these scores on her capacity to parent, he said this was an individual who found it difficult to control her impulses, to plan ahead for others. What the children saw was inconsistency in care, an insecure base to leave from and return to.
Referring to the children, he said A had been “a very good parent” to her younger siblings. B was a “very extraordinary young man”, discussing very advanced subjects with him. He had a very close and loving relationship with his carer, which was a protective factor, though there was a concern that, due to her age, she would not be around for a prolonged period. He was lonely and socially isolated from his peers. D was “a very bubbly girl” but she would need therapeutic intervention for a long time, as she was very confused about the adults moving in and out of her life, especially her mother’s partners. He was concerned about her understanding of attachment to male figures, which could make her vulnerable to teen pregnancy later.
Asked about the mother’s capacity to change, he said the only thing we had to predict future behaviour was past behaviour. She did want to change, but the question was whether it was sustainable. The proof of the pudding would be the eating. She was going to find herself in therapy for quite some time. Before the children were returned to her care there would have to be significant change. Both A and B did not think their mother would be ready to care for them before they reached the age of 18, and they were probably right.
D’s foster mother gave evidence, saying she had two grown-up children, one of whom had children, and D got on well with them, joining them in trips to the cinema and swimming. She loved and missed her mother, which was normal. She said she would have no problem engaging with D’s therapy and up-skilling in relation to her parenting needs. “I’m very committed and she’s doing very well in school. It would traumatise her if she was moved,” she said.
The judge said he was satisfied the mother suffered from a personality order, a histrionic personality disorder, with a tendency towards an anti-social personality disorder. Having listened to all the evidence he thought it was in the best interests of all the children that they be taken into care until they were 18.
He said A needed help with her ADHD. B should have multi-factoral intelligence tests to establish whether he had special needs in school because of his intelligence. He also ordered him to be psychiatrically assessed in two years’ time and a therapeutic plan for him. D was emotionally insecure and may seek comfort from wherever it comes. Plans for her must be permanent, but he was not prepared to order that she be moved. He wanted a therapeutic plan for her too, and if there was any deviation from that plan she would be moved. Her stay with her foster-mother would be short if she did not cooperate with all therapeutic interventions. He said he also wanted care plans and therapeutic interventions for the two younger boys, with access at the discretion of the HSE.
He said he was adjourning the case of D for six months and wanted her therapeutic plan prioritised.
Addressing the mother, he said: “The court is not laying any blame on you. You have had a lot to cope with. You can change. If you do, I will review the situation again.”