Full Care Orders were made for three children until the age of 18 in a provincial city, but the judge told the children’s mother she could have the case re-entered and seek the discharge of the order when she had completed psychotherapy as outlined by a psychiatrist. The children were in foster care under Interim Care Orders. The judge also ordered psychological assessments for the children and a therapeutic plan to meet the needs of each child, to be submitted to the court.
“Is it so bad you have to take my children away until they are 18 years old?” the mother asked the judge.
“Not necessarily until they are 18. You can apply,” he replied. “These children need a long-term care plan. They are seriously psychologically damaged at the moment. They need stability and psychological help.”
The children’s father, who is separated from the mother, said: “It will ruin the children. The senior social worker said to me, ‘it’s not your fault, it’s the mother’s fault.’ I kept being told the children would be back. I’ve been made out to be the big bad man in this court-room and I’m not.”
“I don’t think you are,” the judge replied. “The children are seriously damaged. I’m not going to return them at this stage. I want a care plan for them. I’m not apportioning blame to either of you. But I’m not satisfied it’s in the best interests of these children to be returned. I don’t want this to drift from month to month.”
Earlier the court heard a psychiatrist describe the mother as having a “histrionic personality disorder” which could be seen in her inter-action with social workers and the Gardaí, and would cause problems in her relationships with others. In relation to treatment for this disorder, the psychiatrist said that there was evidence of the benefit of a psychotherapeutic approach which was poorly available in this country. The mother needed boundary-setting and support.
Asked by the mother’s solicitor about counselling, the psychiatrist said that unstructured counselling was not recommended. She needed structured psychotherapy delivered by a senior clinical psychologist with clear supervision.
The solicitor asked about the impact on the mother of threatening text messages she was receiving, and the psychiatrist agreed this would cause increased stress. This, combined with the children being taken into care, made it a very difficult time for the mother. However, she agreed the mother was able to work and had good references from her employer.
She also accepted that the mother had sought counselling and was taking steps to help herself. The psychiatrist said she hoped her report would help her access the help she needed. Asked if the HSE had the resources to help the mother, the psychiatrist, a HSE clinical director, said that it did not have the psychoanalytic psychotherapeutic resources, but could help with cognitive behavioural therapy. She could refer her to her GP, who could refer her for this treatment, if she consented.
She said it was clear from her interactions with the children that the impact of her disorder was damaging to them.
A social worker told the court that access arrangements with the children had been changed following the receipt of threatening text messages by social workers. Threats were made to the children, the foster parents and to the social workers. Access with both parents was in HSE offices and was supervised.
All three children found access stressful and their behaviour changed around access visits. The oldest, A, suffered from bed-wetting. He had moved foster placement and had settled in quite well in his new placement and had a good relationship with his foster parents. He was still struggling to manage his behaviour and needed a lot of nurturing. He was attending a psychologist. His wishes were to stay in his current placement.
The two younger children, B and C, were together in a placement. Both had behaviour issues in school. B struggled to control his emotions. He could overturn desks. He put a lot of pressure on himself to be perfect and when he failed he had tantrums. At home he lashed out at other children and could not accept he did anything wrong, blaming them even for the way they looked at him. He was in CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). The school was looking for a resource service for him next year. He was happy in his current placement.
C was also getting on well there. He had ADHD and was also in CAMHS.
Asked about how access went, the social worker said the father engaged better with the children and had taken on board advice he was given. There were a lot of difficulties in working with the mother on access. There was a lot of unpredictability and volatility. The cycle tended to repeat itself. The children required a period of stability and security.
Asked about the threatening text messages, the social worker said these had been referred to the Gardaí, who were looking into them.
The mother’s solicitor said that six months earlier the judge had said a care plan for the children should be in place quickly. Was there one? The social worker said there had been a child-in-care review. “So there is no care plan?” the solicitor said. “The judge specifically wanted to see one quickly. My client will say she was never told the children were being assessed.”
“It was always part of the long-term plan they would be referred for psychological assessment,” the social worker said. “The engagement was with the foster parents.” Asked why the mother was not told, the social worker said: “I have not spoken to her. I was away.”
The mother’s solicitor said the situation was being allowed to drift. Her client would say the children’s behaviour was getting worse because they did not have more contact with their parents, they only saw them every three weeks. “If you made less of a big deal of it, it’s so infrequent and sterile. Should it not be more regular and normal?”
“Unfortunately we have not had the level of support to be able to do that,” the social worker replied. “Access had to be changed because of the threats that had been made.”
Asked if having two social workers present during access was not a bit heavy-handed, the social worker said that the recent texts were more serious than the previous ones. “My client denies any association with these messages,” the mother’s solicitor said.
The father’s solicitor asked the social worker why they could not build on progress made with the father. “There is an improvement. But he is refusing to acknowledge what the children have experienced,” the social worker replied.
The solicitor said he had attended a parenting course, and was prepared to attend another one and to attend counselling. “Unfortunately he is not engaging with what happened at home. The children were being hit, locked in rooms, being scared,” the social worker said. “He says it didn’t happen. It’s hard to move on from that.”
“He has admitted there were some difficulties, but does deny some allegations,” the solicitor said. “It’s something of a Catch 22 situation for my client. He has to admit he did something he says he didn’t do in order to make progress with the HSE.”
The social worker said all the children had recounted stories of concern. They were all different, but they fitted together. They were all very frightened when they came into foster care.
“There has been no element of unsupervised access since February 2012. There are two social workers present at every access. That can only increase the anxiety of the children,” the solicitor said. The social worker agreed the situation was not ideal.
Asked if she could see the reintegration of these children into their family, either with their father or both parents, the social worker said her opinion was they needed long-term foster care.
The mother told the court said child B had said he wanted to kill himself at access. There were problems around A’s access to the internet, which she did not think he should be allowed. She said he seemed happy enough and was very fond of his foster parents, though she thought he had too much freedom with them.
She was very worried about B, though. “All the life has gone out of him. The boys have lost faith. They want to come home. They want the stability of a foster home, but with me and my father.”
She said she had heard the psychiatrist’s report and accepted it. “I want to work with one person, not a few months with one and a few months with another.”
She denied she had anything to do with the threatening text messages. “I don’t even have phone numbers for the foster parents or the social workers. I’m very worried about A. There are text messages he’d going to be kidnapped and killed in front of me and me killed in front of him.” In tears, she said she wanted the messages to stop and she wanted the children back. “I want more frequent access. I want the psychological services to help me be the mother to my boys I need to be.”
Asked who she thought was sending the text messages, she said she did not think it was anyone in her or the father’s families.
She said she accepted she had to allow the children grow up. “I was trying to keep them as little babies forever. These children need their mother and their father. We do need support. We spent years looking for it and didn’t get it. Me and [their father] have come a long way in 15 months.”
The father told the court that the way access was cut had badly affected the children. He said he had taken it to heart he had been too strict with the children and would comply with anything the HSE recommended or the court ordered. He and the mother were making an effort to be more cordial with each other and supportive of each other.
Asked about the text messages he said one had allegedly been sent to a person from his phone while he was in a Garda station reporting abusive messages. “I’m not going to shoot myself in the foot and send text messages. If I have something to say to a person I’ll say it to their face.”
Asked what he wanted from the court, he said he wanted more freedom at access, to be able to take the children out to educational outings and such-like.
The judge said these children were severely psychologically damaged and needed psychological intervention. He had suggested this at the previous court hearing and it had not taken place. He was now ordering a psychological assessment for each child and a therapeutic plan to meet the needs of each of them.
He said he was making a full Care Order in respect of each child. The psychoanalytic psychotherapy that had been recommended for the mother would take a number of years to complete, which was why he was making the full Care Order. Turning to the mother, he told her there was nothing to stop her having the matter re-entered before the court when the therapy was completed.