An extension of an Interim Care Order was granted in the District Court for four children who had been returned into care for the second time two months previously. After being in care the first time, all four children were returned to the care of their mother under a Supervision Order.
However within three months the HSE brought Interim Care Order applications in respect of all four children, as the Supervision Order had been breached. In that hearing the judge had said there was “a significant risk of physical abuse of the children in their parents’ care, [and] a significant risk of emotional abuse of the children in their parents’ care, [A] was being forced to take on a parental role, [mother and father] are unable to provide effective protective factors for the children within the family home.”
Following this, during the Interim Care Order extension hearing, the mother’s solicitor said it was the mother’s contention that the relationship between the children and their parents was being damaged by being in care. She would not consent to the ICO extension.
Mother’s solicitor: “My client instructs that the children are showing evidence of trauma, their security is best achieved by being returned to her.”
The HSE solicitor said to the mother that the children had come into care this time round due to concerns that she had been caring for the children while consuming alcohol.
The mother told her that she had not had any meetings regarding alcohol use, she had not met with her GP, she had not used community support services, she had not met with the social workers and she had not considered residential care. She had followed none of the HSE recommendations.
HSE solicitor: “There are issues the social workers would like addressed, you haven’t taken any steps…”
Mother: “No I wouldn’t agree with it, on the understanding that alcohol seems to be a ‘no no’ in the house they could return.”
The HSE solicitor asked the mother why was alcohol a ‘no, no’ on this occasion when there had been a court order to that effect during the Supervision Order. The mother said as the father was visiting in the house at the time, he was the guardian at the time, even though she was in the house.
Mother: “He was the guardian, it was his visitation time in the house, I was physically there but he was the guardian.”
Judge: “I’ve already made a finding that the parents were drinking while they were in charge of the children.”
Mother: “Well, I don’t accept it.”
Judge: “Well, I’ve made the finding whether you accept it or not.”
HSE solicitor: “You’re aware the alcohol programme needs to be achieved before the children will be returned to your care?”
Mother: “I’m aware of that.”
HSE solicitor: “So to some degree we’re at an impasse?”
The GAL told the court nothing had changed his mind and he still supported the application. He said: “These children of such a young age have consistently told me that they are very clear that they do not wish to return to their mother’s care … trauma can be caused by a lot of things, by the circumstances that caused the children to come into care in the first place, moving to a different placement and having to adapt.”
He said there were serious issues in relation to the children’s attachment with their mother. The case was now at an impasse, the mother would not accept any of the concerns – “in relation to this court there’s been a finding and she doesn’t accept it.” The situation had to move forward, he said.
The judge granted the ICO extensions in respect of the four children.
Judge: I’ve heard [the mother’s] testimony of the trauma she suggests the children have experienced on being received into care … on considering the children have experienced trauma, I have to consider it’s not just the trauma on being received into care, but also around the reasons why they came into care. And I have pre heard extensive evidence and made findings on the parents’ use of alcohol while in charge of the children, this gives the court reasonable grounds to believe the children would be at risk of physical abuse and emotional abuse.
“There is absence of an adequate protective factor for the children in the family home directly flowing form the parents’ use of alcohol while in charge of the children, it seems to me it’s the use of alcohol and likely use of alcohol which ground the risks.
“I have already identified that there have not been any steps to address these issues since the matter last came before me, I have no option but to conclude that the grounds for extending the ICOs continue to exist.”
The judge added that the GAL had raised the serious issue of the attachment of the children to the mother. He said he anticipated that conversation would have been advanced somewhat by the next court date. “Consideration may also have to be given to looking at the impact on young children where alcohol appears to be a problem in a family home and take expert guidance on how to deal with that,” he concluded.