An application from the Child and Family Agency/Tusla to move a child in care from general to relative foster care was refused by the District Court in a rural town. The application was supported by the child’s mother, but opposed by the guardian ad litem. The proposed relative placement was in a neighbouring jurisdiction.
“Why should this child be moved at all?” the judge asked. The mother’s solicitor said the mother felt it was in the child’s best interests to be placed with family. The placement the child was in at the moment was not a long-term placement.
The solicitor for the CFA said that if a long-term Care Order was made the placement would be assessed as a long-term placement.
The child’s social worker said that she saw the child every three weeks. There had been a recommendation from the court to consider a relative placement. An eight-month care arrangement was in place. The question was whether the child had attached to the foster placement. The attachment had not bedded down.
This was shown in access. There was no community access outside social service rooms. The child was very stressed. If the attachment had bedded down the child would have sought comfort from the foster carers.
The relatives who were being considered as carers were a married couple with four children, three of whom lived at home. This child was nearly eight, and would spend 10 more years in care. The benefits of relative care were that this family knew this child from birth. She had attended social events in their home, and there were four years of that prior to her coming into care. She didn’t understand why the child said she did not know them.
The child was confused. She understands the decision on her placement would be the judge’s. She raised concerns about missing her school friends and the dog in her existing foster home.
The question was, was there a natural bond with the relatives. “We can’t work with children in the context of ambiguity,” she said. “Hard therapeutic work will be needed. [The family] have a history with her. She doesn’t have to tell [her history]. She will be a challenge. She is highly intelligent and strong-willed. Her brother lives nearby.
“When you have a relative placement you are not looking at a cut-off at 18 years. It will be a life-long relationship.”
The mother’s solicitor asked why these relatives had not been approached sooner. “I was not directly involved, but I think it was because they were outside the jurisdiction,” the social worker said.
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem asked if she accepted that more than a year earlier the existing foster carers had been considered the child’s likely long-term carers. “Yes. That was reassessed,” the social worker replied.
Asked if the child had seen the relative since going into care a year ago, the social worker said she had met her once. There had been a delay in getting the recommendation [on the placement move] to court. “If there hadn’t been, we would have been much further down the road.”
GAL solicitor: “Is there a strong attachment between the child and her current carers?”
Social worker: “There is an attachment. I do not believe it is a secure attachment.”
GAL solicitor: “What needs to be done to overcome insecure attachment?”
Social worker: “An in-home attachment programme.”
GAL solicitor: “It is unfortunate that though the mother nominated [the relative] as a carer, at the time it was not followed up.”
Social worker: “Yes.
“The most important person [for the child] in the current placement is the dog. That is very significant in terms of her attachment. Her mantra is that she wants to stay where she is. She then starts to contemplate it and say, ‘If I go …’ Her statements are related to her need to control.
“We have to offer true permanency. The family would take up the slack here. Will it be perfect into the future? Do I believe the current placement is perfect? I can’t say that. I have 30 years’ experience and I do believe my recommendation is in the child’s best interests.”
GAL solicitor: “Is it necessary?”
Social worker: “Necessity and best interests are two different things. If there is a potential that a young person comes back at the age of 23 and asks why she was not placed with her family, yes it is necessary. If we made the wrong decision because of a mistake Tusla made at the outset it would not be in her best interests.”
She said there was no reason to believe the child could not transfer from her current placement to the relatives in a planned way. A psychologist had been asked to assess her.
The GAL solicitor asked if there could be a psychological assessment of what the impact of the move would be. The social worker replied that a lot of time had been spent already.
The mother told the court that she thought it was very important that the child was with her family.” She needs to know her family is there for her. In this placement she doesn’t see her family.”
The guardian ad litem told the court that the child did not wish to move placement. “A change would be contrary to her wishes. She remembers going into care and is worried about it.” She could not remember the names of these relatives. “I don’t know why she says she does not know them if she did. A psychologist needs to assess this.”
Asked if she had met the relatives, the GAL said she had read the social work report. She said she had last met the child two months earlier.
CFA solicitor: “It is not unusual for a child in a foster placement to say, ‘I want to stay here’. You have met her three times. The social worker has met her every three weeks for 18 months. Do you accept a family placement is generally best for children?”
CFA solicitor: “Did you meet the relatives?”
CFA solicitor: “My understanding of the role of a guardian ad litem is not just to represent the views of the child but also to investigate her best interests. We are looking at two good foster placements. It does not make sense that you would not look at both.”
GAL: “I believe I did represent her best interests.” She added that she could not recommend the proposed move, and asked the court to direct a psychological assessment of the impact of such a move.
The judge said this was about the best possible foster family. “It is clear [the child] has had a very traumatic early life, with alcohol abuse and domestic violence. On the basis of the earlier reports on file I don’t believe she has had an ordinary family dynamic.
“The social worker has decided the relatives are the best placement and has played down the relationship between the child and her current foster parents. In earlier reports she said she has settled well. The GAL has said the child would find the move very difficult. I ask myself if it is in the interests of the child to put her through that again.
“Having read through the GAL reports and all the reports, and having heard all the evidence today, I do not believe it is in the child’s interests to move, but to remain in her current placement on a long-term basis.”