During the extension of interim care orders in respect of four children, and the granting of a supervision order for a fifth, the court heard there were issues in relation to access during Covid restrictions.
The children were in two separate foster placements. The team leader said they were trying to promote face-to-face access and this was explored with the parents. He said the foster carers were not willing to go down that road for various reasons. One of the foster carers was suffering from a significant health issue and it was recommended that no access take place due to this foster carer’s vulnerabilities. The foster carer had suggested he could self-isolate after access but that was not possible. Face-to-face access had been previously facilitated but the foster carer noted the mother was not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). The mother had removed her mask during access and had kissed the child goodbye.
The solicitor for the mother said while the mother understood the foster carer’s difficulties surrounding access, that should not be something that stood in the way of having access. She asked if there were any other avenues to be explored regarding the access.
The team leader said: “No, other than moving placement.”
The solicitor for the mother said: “She [the mother] will have no physical access with these children. The mother wants face-to-face access. She says she removed her PPE and could not stick to that rule. She could hardly be judged for giving the child a kiss and hug.”
The judge asked: “Is there a policy on access during Covid?”
The team leader said access could proceed if it was safe to do so.
The judge said: “These are interim care orders and there are different principles governing access. There is no section 18 order and there is an obligation [on the CFA] to keep proper contact between the children and parents until the court has made an order. Video contact is fine and well during the week. I am surprised to hear there is no physical contact during Covid.”
The solicitor for the mother said: “Two of the children asked for access with the mother and I would recommend that she participate in outdoor activities.”
The judge said: “If there is a fear [of Covid] you can arrange to have tests done. There is something disproportionate and unequal about children [subject to an interim care order] not having contact during the interim care order as the children could come back to their parents.”
The court heard the mother attended video access on three occasions. The access visits were also attended by the father and it was a negative experience for one child as the father was difficult with the child. The access worker asked him why he acted like that and the father said “revenge”. The team leader said there was a concern that the father was blaming the child for coming into care.
Sibling access took place between the four children every fortnight. The parents had two older children who were the subject of a care order but the older children did not join the access as they found it difficult to relate to the younger children.
The judge said: “The Child and Family Agency (CFA) will have to come up with a plan [regarding] access.”
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said there was national policy concerning access during Covid. He said we needed to look at how the risk could be assessed. The issue of the contact with siblings needed to be ramped up as there were 10 siblings in total and he favoured sibling access.
The interim care order was extended for a period of two months.