An application for an interim Care Order was part heard and then adjourned for three weeks at the request of the HSE so that grandparents could be assessed as foster carers.
The case involved three children who had been neglected under the care of their mother who had low cognitive ability. Earlier on in the year, the mother had separated from her partner due to domestic violence and had spent time in a women’s refuge. However she had been asked to leave after the first month due to the fact she had consumed alcohol on one occasion at a family funeral and the refuge had a zero tolerance policy regarding alcohol consumption.
The case was adjourned for three weeks. The mother now lived beside her parents who had offered to become long-term foster parents to her eldest child, who had a disability. She would continue to care for the two younger children, with the HSE providing 15 hours of help per week and her parents would also help out. During the three week adjournment, the grandparents would undergo an emergency foster care assessment to ascertain suitability.
At the outset of the hearing, the solicitor for the mother told the court that the ICO application was premature, that situations had changed, the grandparents wished to foster the eldest child and the mother was now living beside her parents. When the HSE had become involved with the family the circumstances were different and the mother had been asked to leave the refuge she was in.
The manager of the women’s refuge told the court the mother rang seeking refuge as she had been physically assaulted by her partner. A keyworker was assigned to her and a care plan had commenced, child care staff worked with the family around their experiences and needs.
She said the mother went to court and sought and got a protection order, and safety order dates were set.
She was assigned a self-contained apartment but it was noted that within the first week the apartment was dirty, unkempt, the bins un-emptied, there was a bad smell from the bathroom and apartment. The children were not being washed and were in dirty clothes.
The keyworker talked to her and the mother said the smell was there when they had moved in, “she was asked to put the nappies in the nappy bin, not the sanitary bin. She was told there was a smell from the children, she said one child had a bowel disorder, she had to keep changing him.” She was approached on a number of occasions one day as one child had a heavy wet nappy and the child smelled, but she did not change him.
The manager of the complex went on to describe how the mother did not keep the apartment clean, empty the bins or keep the children clean. The three year old was not toilet trained, support around this was not taken up although offered.
Three child protection referrals were made. The children were “in need of better hygiene care, feeding, clothing, she said she was finding it hard.” She was not changing dirty nappies, the children had not eaten sometimes and were often left unattended in the building, in the back yard and on the stairwell. The infant was spending long periods of time strapped into his buggy and not meeting his developmental milestones. Child B’s speech was very minimal. These issues were all addressed with the mother at the time by the staff on duty, the key worker and child care workers.
When child B caught her finger in the back door, the mother stood there but did not seem to know what to do so a staff member attended to the child instead, said the manager. By the fourth week the mother had started to come back late several nights in a row. A decision was made for her to move on as she had come in smelling of alcohol, they had a zero tolerance policy on women coming in under the influence of alcohol. The social worker was rung.
It took the staff over three hours to clean the apartment, there were faeces on at least one duvet, stains on bedclothes and beds and the kitchen and bathroom bins had been un-emptied.
Their main concern was the mother’s inability to parent three young children and carry out everyday duties such as shopping, cooking and keeping a house clean. She would listen to advice but no action would be taken. They had concerns that her relationship was taking priority over the needs of her children and that she was still in contact with her partner.
The clinical psychologist told the court that the mother was referred to him by HSE child protection social workers in the context of continual concerns regarding the care of her three children, and a sense of little progress with their care. “Her children have some very significant needs, particularly the older boy,” he told the court.
From a psychological point of view there were a number of significant aspects, he said. The mother had had difficulties in school from an early age, which indicated learning difficulties, a psychometric evaluation showed this to be the case. She became involved with a boy at an early age and was the only girl in her class to give birth. She came home with the baby, returned to school and sat her Leaving Cert. Her parents assisted and supported her in the care of the child, then she had another baby, soon after that she was asked to leave the family home.
She had to live as a single parent with two babies. She had a violent abusive relationship with the father, she had been very attached to him and had great difficulty separating from him. She came to the attention of the HSE support services and had struggled since she moved out of home. Despite her best efforts she was struggling very hard to manage herself and the children.
The psychologist was trying to get a clear picture of her intentions regarding the children’s father. He had been abusive to the children, her eldest boy soiled himself virtually on a daily basis. The mother had said she did not have concerns about leaving the children in his care and that he was a good father. Her insight was very limited in terms of the destructive capacity of this man in relation to herself and her children.
She was “functioning within the borderline range of intellectual ability, in general her tests in language were low, with a limited ability to use language to describe issues and communicate deeper challenges through language.” She had a limited understanding of [the children’s] increasing development needs, “she tends to minimise difficulties, and is at a loss to imagine what’s going on for the child regarding emotional difficulties, she has a superficial [and] very limited view of the children and their needs.”
Cognitively she was at the fourth centile, which meant that 96 per cent of her peers are functioning at a higher level, she therefore had a significant learning difficultly. “Other people can manage to parent with this level, usually they have supports or a relationship with a partner. It’s the difficulty in addition to the other challenges which render her deficient in her learning capability,” he told the court.
There were “indications of an emotional immaturity and a dependent type personality and limited understanding and insight into the degree of suffering the children have endured due to her chaotic parenting. She finds it incredibly difficult to maintain anything in a consistent way. Children in her care will suffer neglect and possible abuse.”
“She now lives beside her parents,” said the mother’s solicitor, “she is separated from her partner, do you consider it a supportive arrangement?”
“From a psychological point of view, her resolve in that regard doesn’t remain consistent, when he pursues her she bends to his will. She would benefit from a variety of supports. Unfortunately the evidence is not good for women who get into abusive relationships from a very early age, women’s refuges are full of women who are in repeatedly abusive relationships,” he replied.
The judge asked him to speculate, would it make a difference. The psychologist said it would, but she had an awful lot of other skills and insights to develop, the children would still be subject to the neglect of their developmental needs.
The mother’s solicitor said the maternal grandparents would take child A full time as foster parents, the grandmother would leave her job and look in and support the mother.
The psychologist said it was the ideal for the children to stay within the family. He said he supposed it should be given a chance but he had not been briefed as to the level of support that would be offered on a daily basis. He wondered what delayed this option before now.
The mother’s solicitor said it was the relationship with the partner, but that was now over.
When the case returned the next day the HSE sought a three week adjournment. The grandparents would undergo emergency approval for foster assessment. “If they are approved they fully understand there will be regular visits and full engagement,” said the HSE solicitor.
The HSE also sanctioned funding for a parenting support programme and a paternal aunt had been suggested as a carer for the two younger children to avoid them being placed with strangers should a Care Order be granted in the future.
The application was adjourned as a part-heard application.
When the case returned one month later the HSE solicitor sought an ICO for the older child on consent, and an adjournment of eight weeks in relation to the ICOs for the two younger children.
The social worker told the court that once the ICO was granted, child A would go into the full time care of his maternal grandparents who had been assessed on an emergency basis. They were willing to become foster carers for the child. The grandparents would also support the mother in her on-going care of the two younger children.
The HSE would provide a parenting programme, involving 15 hours of support to the mother over seven days and a child care worker who would go into the house and see how she was managing. There would be weekly reports. Child A was linked in with speech and language therapy and to the mental health services.
The ICO was granted in respect of child A, based on the evidence heard to date from the manager of women’s refuge and the clinical psychologist. “The split hearing was the appropriate way to proceed”, said the judge, “as an agreement had been reached.”