A judge in a provincial town extended an Interim Care Order for seven days while the mother obtained legal representation. The judge also said she wanted the mother’s alcohol counsellor to come to court to give evidence the next day on whether it was necessary to take the woman’s children away while she had treatment for alcohol abuse, and the CFA to further explore the possibility of relative placement for the children.
The social worker told the court that before the original order was made a week earlier the eldest child [A] had been woken up by an argument between her mother and the mother’s partner, who was the father of the three younger children. She had been very frightened and scared and said there were regular arguments.
After the first court appearance where the Interim Care Order was made the parents were prepared to address the issues, including substance abuse. The mother said she was willing to see an addiction counsellor and attend a residential treatment centre. She also said she would like to be assessed by the mental health services.
The social worker agreed with the CFA solicitor that the parents had acknowledged that the arguments and incidents of domestic violence were affecting the children, and had taken initial steps to address these issues. However, she said that the children needed to be in care until the social work department was sure they were safe. The father was also asking for assessment for residential treatment, and was attending bereavement counselling relating to a recent bereavement.
Following the incident the previous week the oldest child had gone to live with her father and was getting on fine there. The other three children went into mainstream foster care, and the parents behaved very appropriately in helping them move. The second child [B] was going to school. Access meetings went well.
“I think the parents need time to address their issues, including a residential programme. They need space to do that and then have the children returned to their care,” the social worker said.
The father’s solicitor asked how long a parenting capacity assessment would take, and the social worker said a number of months, and the children’s needs also needed to be assessed. Asked if the social work department could not try a less disruptive measure, she said: “Given that there were quite serious events we feel if the children are exposed to it further it will have a negative impact on them.”
The mother said the only incident was that of the previous week. “I’ve been involved in counselling and prepared to be for the rest of my life. Any help I got from the social work department I asked for myself.”
“Is it not possible for the parties to engage while keeping the children at home?” asked the judge. “I would like to hear from the counsellor about the level of her addiction and what work is required. Can they engage while knowing that if there is another incident the children will be put back into care?”
The team leader said that in the past the mother had made attempts to change but had not maintained them. The children were subjected to coming and going and arguments. “This is the first kick up the bum the parents had got. It has been drifting along since 2011. There are quite serious alcohol problems. They are not meeting the children’s basic needs. There are four very young children in the middle of this. There’s an eight-year-old who has had enough of it.
“The father often comes and goes and the mother is left alone parenting four children. Then he comes back and incidents occur and there are [child protection] referrals, including from the family, who are willing to offer help. Intervention has to be stepped up, because the situation is drifting along.”
She said the CFA was committed to relative care, but there were problems. The mother’s parents were in their late 50s, her mother worked and her father had health issues. The mother changed her mind regularly as to whether her parents should care for her children. The second child, B, could be quite challenging.
Another relative had five children of her own and there were school attendance issues in that family. Another aunt was put forward, but she had health issues of her own. Yet another aunt was already fostering, so these children would be a lot to take on. “Unfortunately no relative foster carer is available, though the relatives should have a role, especially in relation to access.”
She said that a residential programme of a number of weeks, following by an after-care programme, was envisaged for the mother. “If they don’t address the issues once and for all we will be back in a crisis situation.”
“My kids get washed. They are clean and well fed. I don’t understand why they should remain in care when there are relatives to care for them,” the mother said. “Why not voluntary care?”
Renewing the Interim Care Order for seven days, the judge said: “I then want to hear from the alcohol counsellor what is needed and whether the mother needs to be taken away from the children. An enormous amount of damage is done to children by taking them away. There are a lot of things here I’m very unhappy about. “
Addressing the mother, she said: “I know you are prepared to fight for your children. A lot of things happen in houses and we don’t take children away. I need to hear much more about relative foster care. It’s coming up to Christmas, I am reluctant to take children away at this critical time of year, but I will if I have to.”