On a busy sitting of a District Court in a rural town the judge made orders in 13 child care cases involving 20 children. These were in addition to several dozen family law cases which involved applications for maintenance, access and other family law matters. The judge also dealt with a number of criminal cases including the sentencing of a man who was in custody.
Most of the child care cases were applications by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) for extensions of Interim Care Orders. In one case, the judge extended the Order for three months with the consent of the mother. Her three children had been taken into care last year due to her addiction to heroin. The mother’s solicitor said the social worker’s latest report was “slightly unfair” in that it did not mention the opinion of the addiction services concerning the mother’s progress in dealing with her addiction. The social worker told the judge that, since January, only one test had shown the presence of heroin. The mother’s access with her children had been increased and she was continuing to provide urine samples.
The judge said reunification would need to be addressed in three months’ time if the mother’s urine samples continued to be clear. The CFA solicitor said that reunification was the overall objective and, on hearing that the children had been in care for a year, the judge said: “If re-unification is happening, it should happen quickly”. He extended the Interim Care Order for three months but said the court would want justification for extending it beyond that date. “All being well, it is clearly in the best interest of the children that they be returned,” he said.
In another case, the court discharged Care Orders in respect of two children who had been taken into care six years ago due to the parents’ drug and alcohol abuse. A social worker with the CFA said the parents had separated and the father had remarried. Both parents had turned their lives around. The father agreed to look after the children and they had been living with him for over a year. The oldest child had asked to live with his mother last summer and had done so for a while but he went back to live with his father a few months ago. Both children now wanted to live with their father.
The social worker said there had been a remarkable recovery by the father who had now been off drink, drugs and cigarettes for a number of years. The mother, who lived in a different town, was concerned that she might lose contact with her children but it had been agreed that they would spend every second weekend with her and some extra time during the summer holidays. The mother told the judge that she didn’t get to see her children “at all” at the moment. The social worker said the mother had a relapse with drugs and she was now living with her father. She said access with the mother was now taking place “on an agreed basis”.
The judge said he would leave it to the CFA to come up with a plan for access and he told the mother that she could apply to the court if that did not happen. The CFA agreed to a request by the father’s barrister that they would continue to provide supports for the family for six months after the discharge of the Care Orders. This would include support for a third child, whose Care Order had been discharged previously.
The judge made an Interim Care Order in respect of a young child whose mother had mental health issues. The father was consenting to the Order which was opposed by the mother. Both parents were present in court and the CFA solicitor said the proposal was to place the child in the care of the father. He described it as “a slightly unusual case”.
A social worker with the CFA said there were grave concerns about the emotional welfare of the child due to the mother’s mental health difficulties. The social work department had been engaged with the mother for over a year. There had been concerns about parties in the home and the house had been in poor condition. The mother had been dating a known criminal with a history of domestic violence who was awaiting sentence in relation to an assault. He had been involved in domestic violence with a previous partner. The social worker said there had been a noticeable change in recent months and the home environment had greatly improved.
The mother had become involved with a number of support agencies but she could be difficult to engage with and became overwhelmed by the amount of supervision. The social worker said she might have ceased taking her medication because her medical card ran out. She had now engaged with her GP and a psychiatrist who would undertake a mental health assessment. The father had been involved with the child since her birth and the CFA was proposing to place her with her father.
The mother told the judge she wanted the child to stay with her. The child’s father lived in another town and “she needs her mother.” The judge said he was sure she was doing her best but he needed a full psychiatric report. He directed that the social work report should be made available to the psychiatrist “so that you can be properly assessed.”
She told the judge she had not been on medication for over six months. The judge made an Interim Care Order for 28 days. He told her she needed legal aid. He said he required a full psychiatric assessment including an assessment for a personality type disorder. “Then I’ll be in a position to see how well you are doing,” he said.
In another case the judge extended an Interim Care Order for a very young child whose mother did not appear in court and had not given any instructions to her Legal Aid Board solicitor. The CFA solicitor said a six month extension had already been given in order to give the mother an opportunity to engage in a parenting programme but she had only attended on one occasion.
She had started to use heroin on a regular basis and was also using other drugs. She had attended a substance misuse clinic and had been advised to attend a treatment centre but she had declined to take up that offer. The situation had deteriorated. She had been living at home where members of her family found needles and bloody swabs in a bedroom. Her father had confronted her and she had denied she had a substance abuse problem. He had asked her to leave home.
The judge extended the Interim Care Order.