A district judge sitting in a rural town extended an Interim Care Order for a Roma girl who is also the mother of two young children. The young children were also the subject of Interim Care Orders and the mother objected to the extension of the orders for her two children.
There were two applications before the court. The Child and Family Agency (CFA) was seeking an extension of the Interim Care Order (ICO) for the mother and was separately seeking an extension of the ICOs for the two young children, who are living with their mother in foster care. In the course of the hearing, and following discussions with the mother and her legal representatives, it was agreed that the children would remain with the foster carers under a voluntary care arrangement.
The CFA solicitor told the court that the mother’s parents resided in another jurisdiction and there had been a plan to return her to their care. A comprehensive care assessment had been undertaken but the mother changed her mind and said she believed she and her children would have a better life in Ireland. It had also become more difficult to contact the parents as they spent a lot of time travelling around Europe. The mother was an unaccompanied minor and the CFA application to extend the ICO for 29 days was unopposed.
However, the mother opposed the CFA application to extend the ICOs for her children. The CFA solicitor said the agency had the best interests of the children in mind. The mother was now attending classes out of the foster home during the day and the foster mother was caring for them. There were concerns that the mother would have full control over the access with the father of the two children and a full assessment would need to be done. There had been an assault on the mother by the father and the foster carers had concerns about his ability to care for the children. He had taken on extra responsibilities with the children since the mother had commenced classes.
A social work team leader said the father had assaulted the mother because he was envious of her going out all day to school. He was being left at home and was getting no education. The team leader said an educational outlet had now been identified for him. She said the CFA would be concerned if there were no legal orders in place for the mother’s children as the total responsibility would fall on the mother and a full parenting capacity assessment would need to be done for both parents. The mother had very little experience of managing the children. The foster carer did the shopping while the mother was at college and ensured the older child was brought to a crèche. She was doing an excellent job.
The team leader said that before coming into the care the mother had resided with the father’s family. She was 14 and they presented as a married couple. “She was begging on the street and we didn’t know at that stage she was the mother of a child,” the team leader said.
At one stage the boy’s mother was claiming that she was the mother of one of the children. On visiting the family home, a social worker learned that the mother had married the father (who was also very young) when she was 13 years of age. She was living with this boy and was pregnant with the second child. The team leader said the gardai were contacted and the mother was taken into care. The mother’s natural parents were contacted and they came to Ireland. “I understand it wasn’t a major concern for them,” the team leader said. “They viewed it as part of their culture.”
The CFA solicitor told the judge that many different accounts were given as to how the mother had come to Ireland and there were concerns about the truth of what they were being told and how a child of that age could be in a sexual relationship in a country away from her parents. The solicitor said the CFA was taking a cautious approach in seeking to extend the ICOs for the children. The CFA had been grappling with the question of whether the two children should remain in its care.
It was an unusual situation where there is a minor with two very young children. The mother was currently not responsible for the feeding and clothing of the children. This was being done by the foster carer. It was unclear if the mother would be willing to enrol the children in a crèche while she continued to receive her own education. “In her culture education is not valued as it is here. It’s untested as to whether she has the capacity to do all that.”
The CFA solicitor said they needed time to look at it. The mother needed guidance for her two small children and “she was getting it at the moment where she is.” She had been in care for over a year and there was an investigation as to how she got into the country. There was no suggestion of child trafficking, she said. The judge was told that the mother’s parents were 14 years of age when she was born. “There are cultural issues.”
The judge commented: “There may be cultural issues but there are social issues as well.”
The court heard that before being taken into care, one of the children had been admitted to hospital under a false name and the father’s mother had said she was the mother of the child.
The hearing was adjourned for a short period to allow the parties time to discuss the matter following which the court was told the mother had accepted she needed the ongoing assistance of the foster carers. She wanted what was best for her children and she needed the assistance of the foster carers to enable her to continue her education. She was consenting to her children remaining with the foster carers under a voluntary care agreement.
The judge said the vista of the placement breaking down and the children not being in care would have had quite serious consequences for the mother.