A judge in a rural town carried out care reviews for two siblings of post-primary school ages, children A and B, whose other three siblings were also in care. The court heard that A, the older sibling, was currently doing very well in a residential care unit, following the breakdown of his previous two placements. He had not had any contact with his parents for the previous nine years although he requested access with them a year ago.
Child B was placed with his maternal grandparents. He had a good relationship with them but he had special educational needs and had had serious difficulties in school. The children’s guardian ad litem (GAL) described the bond between children A and B as being very close despite being in different placements.
A’s social worker told the court that the child had been in a long-term placement with his maternal grandparents but that the placement had broken down due to his behavioural difficulties. His failure to manage his own emotions had led him to behave in a destructive and unpredictable manner. He was then placed with foster parents until that placement broke down and his behaviour led to the foster parents contacting Gardaí and asking them to remove him from their home. The social worker told the judge that A is now doing very much better since his placement in a residential unit. She described A’s emotional relationship with the carers at the residential unit as good and reported that A was excelling in both sports and general education.
The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) reported that A had some regular access with his siblings until the Covid-19 restrictions interrupted this. She said that A had sought access with his parents a year ago, having not had contact with them for the previous nine years. A month after he requested parental access, his parents replied that they were very busy and would not be able to contact him for some months. The social worker said this resulted in A suffering feelings of rejection. The judge remarked that it was unusual and sad that the most recent parental access had taken place nine years earlier and that there had been no contact in the intervening time.
The GAL told the court that A was happy in his placement in the residential unit and that he excelled especially at sport, including playing football on the local town team. He was currently progressing well in his education and was placed in a small class group studying the Applied Leaving Certificate programme. He had started a trade apprenticeship and completed his safe pass certificate.
However, the GAL stated that A had “a lot of unresolved issues” about why he was placed in care. The sport had helped him to manage his emotions, but the GAL described his eyes “glassing over” whenever his family was mentioned as he did not want to cry. The GAL is hopeful A can work through his emotions through the medium of sport and hands-on activities like carpentry. The judge enquired if art had been used to try to help A but the GAL replied that it had not and that the existing activities seemed to be best suited to him.
The GAL described his relationships with his siblings as very important and he praised the CFA for their creativity in coming up with methods of contact between children A and B during the Covid restrictions. The siblings were facilitated to keep in contact through technology and playing X-Box games with each other.
GAL: “The worry is these kids are each other’s worlds… the sibling bond is very important”.
The lawyer for the CFA told the court that the younger sibling, B, was placed with his maternal grandparents and had a good relationship with them and with his extended family. B’s parents had made complaints about the care he was receiving from his grandparents but there was no relationship between the parents and grandparents and the social worker said she was quite satisfied with the level of care they provided.
The child’s social worker reported that B had serious difficulties in school. He had been diagnosed as having a mild general learning difficulty (MGLD) and had undergone speech and language assessment, occupational therapy assessment and psychological assessment. The lawyer for the CFA said that B had been suspended from school on 11 occasions during the previous year and also had been suspended on one occasion during the current year. The social worker reported that there had been lots of supports put in place for B during the current school year.
The GAL told the court that he was concerned that B’s behavioural issues could lead to his placement with his maternal grandparents becoming fractured. He described B as a “home angel and school devil”. The GAL remarked that B’s receptive language score on his speech and language therapy assessment was in the very low range and that this might mean that B was unable to understand directions he received. Due to his MGLD he was still at the level of only being able to read four letter words and there was an element of frustration there. The ongoing supports in school may help and B’s social worker assured the GAL’s lawyer that funding was available for B’s further planned psychological assessment.
The judge said these were two siblings with complex individual needs. They were now going through the stage of puberty and experiencing many changes. He listed the matter for review for a date six months later when B’s further psychological assessment will be completed.