A district court sitting recently in a rural town sat until 7.25 pm in order to hear child and family law matters as well as criminal and civil cases. Most of the child care cases were applications by the CFA (Child and Family Agency) to extend Interim Care Orders and, in each of these cases, the parents either consented to or did not oppose the applications to extend the orders.
In one other case, the CFA asked the court to have a previous order directing the agency to pay the taxi costs to bring a mother to weekly access lifted as the mother was planning to move to a town over 200 kilometres away from where her children were in foster care. The solicitor appearing for the CFA said if would cost over €800 a week to bring the mother to access by taxi. She was asking that the court remove the direction that the CFA pay for the taxi because of the financial burden it would place on the agency.
The mother was not legally represented at the hearing and the court was told that the father, who lived in another town, never appeared at the child care proceedings. The two children had been taken into care in 2010 and full Care Orders had been made in 2012. In the course of a review of the Care Orders in 2013 the judge directed the HSE to pay the costs of a taxi to bring the mother to and from weekly access. In the course of a further review in March 2014, the judge reiterated his order that the taxi be paid for by the CFA.
However, the mother was now planning to move further away. The CFA was anxious that access should continue and the solicitor said the mother could use public transport and overnight accommodation was available near where her children were in foster care.
A CFA social worker told the court that the mother had informed her she had to leave her rented accommodation as the property was being sold and she had not been able to find alternative accommodation where rent allowance was accepted. The social worker said the mother went to New York on holiday for two weeks and, while the mother was in New York, she (the social worker) had researched online and had found a number of properties for rent in a nearby town and had printed the details. She gave these to the mother when she returned from New York but the mother had told her she did not wish to live in that particular town and that the town in which she was proposing to live was the only place where rent allowance was being accepted.
The social worker said that access with the children had been very positive and consideration was being given to moving access to the mother’s home with a view to expanding it to overnight access. If the mother moved to her proposed location, the children could not be expected to travel that distance to see their mother after school and weekend access could not be facilitated by the CFA.
The mother had suggested moving the children to a new foster home in the town to which she was moving but this was not acceptable to the CFA as the children were very settled in their current foster home. She did not believe that the mother had taken their concerns on board and she was placing her own needs in front of those of the children.
The mother said she suffered from high blood pressure and was not working. She was being forced to leave her current accommodation as it was being sold and only a small percentage of the houses for rent online accepted rent allowance and the only place that accepted her was in the town she was proposing to move to. “I can’t sleep on the street,” she said.
The judge said he expected the CFA to use its imagination to resolve the issue so that access could continue. He said that paying for a taxi would be excessive but the CFA could pay the mother’s bus fares. The CFA solicitor said it was prepared to do that. The judge directed that the access and transport arrangements be reviewed by the court in eight weeks time. “I find it hard to believe you can’t find accommodation nearer,” he said. “I’ve tried many places,” the mother told him.