The District Court extended a care order for a girl of primary school age until she reached the age of 18. An initial care order had been made pursuant in January 2019 for a period of 18 months with the consent of the child’s parents, who were separated. The initial full care order was due to expire in June 2020 and an application was made to the District Court by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to extend the care order until the young girl reached the age of majority pursuant to section 18 (2) of the Child Care Act 1991.
The court was told that the father was present in court and consented to the order sought. The barrister for the mother informed the court that the mother was not able to be present in court on the first day of the hearing due to her partner having a personal emergency leaving the mother without childcare for her other young child, but she said that the mother would be present to give evidence and be in attendance for the subsequent hearing days.
The barrister told the court that the mother had attended for a detailed consultation with her legal representatives two weeks previously and during the previous week. The barrister said that the legal representatives and the mother had “discussed the level of instructions” and had decided that it was appropriate to proceed and that the mother would be in attendance for the subsequent days.
The barrister had received detailed instructions from the mother that she was contesting the order sought. The barrister had been representing the mother in the proceedings for three years and the mother had provided a detailed response to the summary of facts prepared by the CFA and there was a “clear delineation” of the facts that were contested and the facts that were accepted by the mother.
The barrister told the court that the mother’s position when the initial full care order was sought in January 2019 was that she agreed on consent for an order for a period of 18 months. In respect of the application now before the court, the barrister said that the mother was seeking an order for six months “to allow her to regularise her housing situation”. The barrister said that the mother was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her partner and her young infant child and there were no additional facilities for the young girl to reside with her at that time. The mother’s position was that there also needed to be an increase and improvement on access.
The first witness called by the CFA was a Garda sergeant. The sergeant told the court that while on mobile patrol in August 2017 he had been called to an assault incident at approximately 11.30pm. He had met with man outside the address where the mother resided at the time and he said that he had been checking on his brother who was the mother’s partner at the time. The sergeant said that the man had told him that the door had been opened by the mother and that she had attacked him. He said that the man had retreated from the address and had contacted the Gardaí and told them that his brother was in the address with the mother and the child of primary school age. The sergeant had observed a laceration to the man’s arm and a bite mark.
The sergeant said that as there had been an allegation of the use of a weapon he had requested assistance from the armed support unit and they had arrived in a matter of moments.
Witness: “While speaking to them I heard shouting and screaming and I heard a child screaming which heightened my concern. I approached the front door with four of them in front of me with a shield for knife protection.”
The witness said that the door was opened by a man who he described as “extremely intoxicated” and he had pointed up the stairs and said that the mother was in the bedroom.
Witness: “I went upstairs into the bedroom. It was lit by the ensuite light. I saw the mother standing there with an item in her hand and a child by her side. The armed support unit asked her to drop what was in her hand and it was a wine glass. She failed to drop it and she tried to retreat into the ensuite with the child. One member of the armed support unit put his hand around the door and the door was pulled open. She dropped the glass on the floor and it smashed…they used a shield to separate the mother from the child and they gave the child to me and she was given to a female colleague. The child was taken to another bedroom. The mother was arrested but she resisted violently…she was biting and kicking. She was arrested for assault causing harm.”
The witness said that the mother had been searched by a female colleague and that “she again went wild and was kicking and spitting and biting members and was off the wall towards my colleague.”.
The witness was asked if any weapons were recovered and he told the court that a Stanley knife had been recovered from the mother’s bedroom and had been submitted for forensic testing and it was found that the DNA profile on the tip matched the man who claimed that she assaulted him.
The witness said that the mother had been escorted out of the property and she had kicked out at another colleague who had arrived with the patrol van and she had “kicked him in the groin twice”. The witness said that the mother had been escorted to the patrol van that had been “requested due to her violence”.
He said that he had invoked section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 in respect of child as the other person in the property was highly intoxicated and was not a guardian to the child. The witness said that the child was brought to the Garda station refreshment area and said that the child had “eaten two bowls of porridge and fell asleep awaiting the out-of-hours social workers”.
The witness said that the mother was detained and that she had been “deemed unfit for questioning by the doctor due to her level of intoxication”, and that he had also considered her to be intoxicated. The witness said that he had been told that the mother had caused damage to the inside of cell and had “personally witnessed” the damage to the cell. The witness said that he had “never dealt with someone so violent in 14 years of my service”. The witness said that once the mother had been deemed fit for questioning she was questioned in respect of the allegations and was charged and brought before the District Court.
The witness said that he had remained on duty to make sure that “the child was put into the correct hands” with the social workers. He added he contacted the social workers later in relation to another incident.
Witness: “As part of her bail conditions she was to have no contact with the person in respect of the original charges. I was contacted by [name of man] to say that he was assaulted again and threatened by the mother.”
The witness told the court that he had recovered CCTV footage of that incident and the footage had been shown to the President of the District Court at the time of the initial interim care order. The CCTV footage was played to the court by the CFA solicitor which showed four cameras of the interior of an off licence. The witness explained to the court what could be seen on the CCTV footage and it had showed the mother entering the off licence and bringing a six pack of beer to the till and then showed an “irate conversation” with the man who was the complainant of the original assault. Later in the footage another person could be seen and the witness said that “the person standing behind her outside of the shop is the child [who is] the subject of the proceedings”. An assault perpetrated by the mother on the man could be seen on the footage.
CFA solicitor: “From your knowledge of the material does [the child] remain present throughout?”
The witness said that the man had contacted him directly and had reported the incident. Following the incident the witness had arrested the mother the following day concerning the alleged intimidation of a witness involved in criminal proceedings. The DPP had directed that the mother be charged pursuant to section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999 and bail was refused on that day and the mother was remanded in custody in prison.
All of the charges were the subject of a Circuit Court trial in early 2020. The mother had pleaded guilty to one of the charges and had been found guilty in respect of two of the remaining charges. The witness said that the sentencing hearing had been adjourned on a number of occasions and it was now scheduled for mid-2020.
The barrister for the mother cross-examined the witness and said that some of the evidence was conceded and some was contested.
Mother’s barrister: “You gave evidence that you went up the staircase into the bedroom lit by the ensuite and you said that when you went upstairs the mother was in the bedroom with the child. The mother will give evidence that she was acting in a protective manner over the child, is there any evidence to dispute that?”
Witness: “There were four members of the support unit with ‘Garda’ on every piece of clothing. When we entered the house we loudly announced the presence of Gardaí.”
Asked about the mother’s alleged locking the Gardai in the bathroom, the sergeant said: “She went into the bathroom and tried to pull the door.”
Mother’s barrister: “So it is not accurate to say that she locked them into the bathroom?”
Witness: “No, she didn’t get the opportunity.”
In respect of the CCTV footage from the second incident the witness confirmed that the only evidence he had was the evidence from the CCTV footage and the statement of evidence from the complainant.
Mother’s barrister: “The mother will stay that there was a verbal altercation but that he was threatening towards her. Can you dispute that?”
Witness: “Not particularly, but he contacted me immediately after this.”
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem asked a number of questions in cross examination. In relation to the first incident the witness was asked if it was his view that the child had been present for earlier events in the evening.
Witness: “Yes I could hear a child screaming in the property prior to approaching the address. It is safe to assume that she was awake and aware of the altercation. She was not in her pyjamas at 11.30 pm.”
GAL solicitor: “[The mother’s] demeanour in the station, was she intoxicated?”
Witness: “Very much so.”
GAL solicitor: “Was she operating in a protective capacity?
GAL solicitor: “Absolutely not… The child was brought to a different room and was extremely upset.”
The solicitor for the GAL asked whether the child was present for the “further altercations with the mother and your colleagues”.
Witness: “She didn’t observe them as she was in a different room but the child would have heard. I’d say the neighbours a couple of doors down could hear.”
GAL solicitor: “Was she traumatised?”
Witness: “Yes, my female colleagues were trying to calm her down and reassure her. She was crying her eyes out and was upset and she was still like that at the Garda station.”
The solicitor for the GAL asked the witness whether that mother had “insight into the child’s experience on that evening. The witness told the court that he had been trained as a hostage negotiator and that he still “could not get through to her while the child was present” to get her to desist and comply with the Gardaí and said that even when she was handcuffed she was aggressive and assaultive.
Witness: “I have always been able to get through to them in some shape or form and her demeanour persisted.”
In respect of the second incident and the presence of the child at the incident, the solicitor for the GAL asked whether “that parent was acting in an insightful and appropriate manner?”.
Witness: “Absolutely not.”
The second witness called by the CFA was the social worked previously allocated to the case. Details were given to the court in respect of the date of birth and age of the child. A report had been handed in to court that set out the reasons why the initial interim care order was sought. A section 23 notice pursuant to the Children’s Act 1997 was before the court and the social worker gave evidence that it was her opinion that the giving of evidence in court or by video link was not in the best interest or welfare of the child because of her stage of development and age and said that it was a “difficult process for a young child”.
Case notes in respect of an interview carried out following the first incident were disclosed in the booklet before the court and the witness was asked to tell the court about the interview with the child.
Social worker: “On the night she was received into care on section 12, myself and my colleague met with the child in the emergency foster care placement to talk to her about what happened and to get an understanding of what happened and to hear her voice. She shared information that made me worried.”
The social worker read out her case notes that outlined what was said by the child during the interview concerning the mother’s partner.
Social worker: “‘He hits mommy and she hits him back to defend herself… He hits kicks and pulls her hair… I don’t really see as I lock myself in a room… He hits her on her arms, stomach and head with his hands… twice in my house and three times in his… He was hitting her and he locked her in the bathroom. I hit him on the back and he said it was adult business… I locked myself into a room until she said it was safe to come out.’”
The social worker told the court that after she had met with the child in the emergency care placement and what she was told by the Gardaí that she was worried for the child’s safety and had applied for an emergency care order on that date.
Social worker: “Both the mother and father said they would work with us and a safety plan was agreed between Tusla and the child’s mother and father. The parents agreed that she would stay with the grandmother for seven days.”
The witness said that contact with the mother was to be supervised, both parents were to undergo urinalysis and the mother was to engage with domestic violence services. The social worker said that the plan was implemented over seven days and the parents had engaged with the plan over the seven days and had worked according to the agreed safety plan.
The social worker said that she had contacted the GP for the mother and child and the GP had said that she had only seen the mother three times and had no concern for the child from what she had met of the mother to date, but that she had not met the child yet.
The social worker told the court that she had attended at the family home later that month to meet the mother and said that there was “another significant incident”.
Social worker: “The mother’s ex-partner at the time rang the doorbell persistently and wouldn’t leave when asked. We had to contact the Gardaí. [The mother] explained that she was afraid of the man and that he was violent and had a significant alcohol addiction and she said he was stalking her and assaulting her. We supported her with a refuge placement. During that time the child was still on the agreed safety plan and with her grandmother. “
The social worker told the court that the mother had taken up the offer of the refuge and had stayed for a number of days. The social worker said that the next meeting in the mother’s home was a safety plan meeting to try and return the child to her mother’s care. The social worker said that the mother had agreed that it was not good for the child to see violence and she had said that she would not let her ex-partner into her home and that if he came to the door the plan was that a friend would contact the Gardaí.
The social worker told the court that the child had returned to her mother’s care at the end of August to be prepared for returning to school. The social worker said that she had called to the home on 30th August 2017 and said that “during the visit the child was different and much more quiet and reserved”. The social worker said that the child did not speak to the social worker much and the mother was very emotional. The mother had told social worker that when she was out at the shops the man who had complained about the assault “was abusive to her and she said that she gave him a dig in self-defence”.
Social worker: “I discussed with her ways of managing so she doesn’t resort to physical means. She was quite heightened that day and she said she was sick of dealing with social workers. I had no immediate concerns for the child that day.”
The social worker said that on 31st August 2017 she was contacted by An Garda Síochána who informed her that the mother had breached her bail conditions and had allegedly intimidated a witness and an assault was reported and that it was the intention of the Gardaí to arrest the mother. The social worker said that she told the Garda of what the mother had said to her about the incident and the Garda said that he would view the CCTV footage.
Social worker: “The Garda had described what was in the CCTV footage and later showed it to me as the allocated social worker at time. It shows the mother engaging in an argument and it shows her leaving and returning with the child and continuing a verbal altercation and physically assault and the child was present and saw all of that.”
The social worker said that following this incident and in light of the earlier incident the mother was charged and arrested and remanded to prison. The child was placed in a voluntary care agreement and was placed with the paternal grandmother.
Social worker: “The child was in voluntary care and the mother was in prison. I wanted to work with the mother and make the best plan possible and I went to meet with her in [the prison] with another social worker to make a plan within family resources for the child’s care. That meeting didn’t go well. The mother was very angry during the meeting and was very heightened. She said she was no longer willing to work with the social work department any more. She stood up shouting and threw the chair.”
The social worker told the court the background of the family’s involvement with the social work department and she said that 2011 was the first time the child became known to the social work department following a referral that said that the child had presented unkempt with a bad rash and that the mother was aggressive. In 2013 an assessment was carried out and the social worker said that there was “no child protection concern but a concern about welfare as there was no school placement and the family didn’t have much support”. The social work department had arranged a family support worker and the educational welfare board supported the family in respect of a school placement.
CFA solicitor: “The mother accepts that she couldn’t get a placement and had requested support for school placement.”
Social worker: “Correct. She had difficulty getting a school placement.”
The social worker said that in 2015 the mother had contacted the social work department and said that she was stressed and could not cope with the child. The mother had gone to her GP and the father had cared for the child for a period of time. The social worker told the court that the mother said she was concerned about the father’s ability and did not attend to the child’s skin condition or cook proper meals and the mother had asked for the family support worker to come back and the child went back to her mother’s care.
The social worker said that an incident in the doctor’s surgery led to a further assessment in May 2016 and the family GP had made a referral to the social work department. This incident was not accepted by the mother but a referral was made. The court was told that the next involvement was the report of a disturbance in August 2019, the specific circumstances of which were denied by the mother and disputed. A report from An Garda Síochána had been received reporting concerns to the social work department.
The social worker told the court that in May 2017 an assessment was carried out and the information from the file was that the social worker had had numerous home visits and had reported that the family home was clean and tidy and the child and mother had a “lovely relationship” but at times the mother had struggled to cope. The court was told that at that time the parents were before the court in respect of custody and access and the child was “caught in the middle”.
The social worker said that on 1st August 2017 the father had telephoned the social worker to report that the mother had been assaulted by her then partner and “the child had locked herself in the bathroom”. He reported that after a previous access when he had brought the child back to the mother that the mother was “covered in bruises and she said that the partner had caused the bruising”. The father had reported to the social worker that “four weeks previously the mother had told him that her partner had beaten her and the child had to lock herself in the bathroom and could hear them fighting”.
The social worker was allocated to complete an assessment after that report by the father. She said that she had tried to phone the mother and had called to the house and left a letter.
Social worker: “Then in response the mother phoned me and was verbally abusive and said she was not going to engage in assessments and didn’t want social workers interviewing the child or being involved.”
The social worker said that she had been due to have a meeting on 11th August 2017 but said “that was taken over by events when the child was received pursuant to the section 12 [application] on 10th August 2017.”
Mother’s barrister: “Over the course of your involvement with the case is it correct to say that you received reports of alleged violence perpetrated by the partner and the mother was the victim?”
Social worker: “Correct.”
Mother’s barrister: “Cumulatively would you accept that during your involvement that the mother was a victim of domestic violence from a partner who was described as an alcoholic?”
Social worker: “I accept she was a victim of domestic violence by her previous partner.”
The social worker agreed that on 16th August 2018 the mother had said that she was in fear of the man and had attended a refuge.
Mother’s barrister: “The mother will say she ended the relationship by reason of the abuse perpetrated on her and what the child was exposed to.”
Social worker: “I can’t speak for why it ended but I can say that it ended.”
The social worker accepted that at times the mother had engaged well with the social work department such as when the safety plan had been made.
Social worker: “We worked well together when she was calm. Other times that is not what I experienced.”
The social worker agreed that the mother had talked about struggling with anxiety and depression and had linked in with the medical services.
Mother’s barrister: “Your colleague social worker’s assessment in May 2017 said the family home was clean, the child was well cared for, [there was] a loving relationship with mother and daughter. Would you agree with that assessment?”
Social worker: “The home was clean and in good condition and well kept.”
The third witness called by the CFA was a social worker previously allocated to the case and she had co-authored the social work report in the booklet for the full care order hearing in January 2019. The social worker said that she was involved from March 2018 to September 2019.
The social worker gave evidence in respect of a number of assessments that were carried out of the mother.
Social worker: “An assessment was commissioned for supporting care planning and to assess the mother’s emotional regulation and to what extent it impacts on her behaviours and ability to regulate her emotions and her motivation or capacity to change her behaviours. The assessment was to see if safe reunification was possible and, if possible, the supports and interventions that would be required.”
The social worker told the court that the doctor had concluded that the mother had difficulty with regulating her emotions and that there was “no organic deficit for that and was most likely due to her traumatic childhood and developmental trauma experienced as a child growing up”. The report had said that the mother had “a tendency to act with hostility to any sign of judgment or rejection”.
The social worker said that the doctor’s recommendation was that there were not sufficient grounds for a concrete diagnosis but that there were “traits of a personality disorder and developmental disorder”. The doctor had recommended that the mother “would need lots of psychotherapy to retrain how she deals with triggers and stressors in her life and [this] was a big part of working towards reunification with the child”. The social worker said that the doctor had recommended cognitive analytic therapy and that “it was possible for reunification at some point in the future”.
The social worker said that the doctor had commented on the separation of the child from the mother and “had concluded that separation from the child would be very difficult for the mother and recommended that access continue at a high level”. At the time of the assessment the criminal trial was still pending and the outcome was unknown, whether the mother would receive a custodial sentence, and that remained the case.
The social worker said that when she was allocated in March 2018 she sought to implement the cognitive analytic therapy that was recommended for the mother, funding was approved by the CFA and commenced in March 2018. The social worker said that she had brought the mother to the first two appointments and then each week she had topped up the mother’s Leap card to attend.
The social worker told the court that attendance at the appointments “started to become a difficulty” and a report in April stated that the mother “had attended three of the offered appointments resulting in the mother being discharged from the service.” The doctor had said that “greater motivation and commitment was needed if it was going to proceed.”
Social worker: “It was suggested that she was no longer willing to engage. She said she did not need therapy and didn’t want therapeutic interventions. That changed with a letter in October 2018 [stating] that she wanted to re-engage with an alternative therapist as she felt the relationship with the therapist had broken down … She had mentioned at times difficulties with the therapist but not to that extent.”
The court was told that the CFA explored alternative options for the mother to engage in further cognitive therapy and that due to the waiting times it had been due to commence in February 2019.
CFA solicitor: “What led you to have concerns?”
Social worker: “My concerns at the time were around a lack of consistency of attending therapy and a lack of commitment to attending around her behaviour and emotional regulation and her level of volatility and aggression toward professionals and services.”
In respect of a parental capacity assessment carried out shortly after the social worker was allocated in March 2018 the court was told that there were eight appointments offered and the mother had attended five and “overall she engaged well in the assessment”.
Social worker: “The assessment at the time was that she had a good parenting capacity to parent the child at a high level and meet basic care needs on a sustained and long-term basis. One concern was emotional regulation …. While reunification was possible some things needed to be done and one of those was greater commitment to therapy.”
The social worker said that the mother’s inability to control and regulate her emotions was experienced over the phone and there were a “small number of outbursts in person but mainly incidents over the phone”. The social worker said that on some previous occasions the mother had emotional outbursts in court and left the court and “as far as I’m aware she did try to approach the father in an aggressive manner and had to be restrained by guards outside.”
The social worker said that the issue of accommodation was a concern as she was living in small accommodation with extended family and she did not have stable accommodation, and there was not a lot of room for the child. The social worker said that it was her understanding that when the mother was remanded in custody she was unable to pay her rent and there had been an accumulation of rent arrears.
The social worker said that when the child first came into care in 2017 access had been agreed at three time per week but due to issues with the mother’s attendance it was agreed that access was reduced to twice per week in November 2017. In early 2018 it was thought appropriate for access to occur in the mother’s cousin’s home and access commenced twice per week. Social workers would bring the child to access and “stay at the start for 10 or 15 minutes and if the mother was calm and appropriate they would leave for the rest of the visit and return on collection”.
The social worker told the court that the mother’s attendance and consistency at access had become a problem.
Social worker: “Access was inconsistent with regular cancellations. There was rarely a month without one or two visits cancelled at short notice which was disruptive and upsetting for the chid.”
The social worker said that they had attempted to facilitate the mother and her requests such as a change of time, day or venue and that where possible the requests were accommodated.
The social worker said that in April 2018 the reunification plan had started again with a gradual increase in access including overnights but that problems arose as the mother had had difficulties with the child’s behaviour and “on some occasions she wanted to bring her home early or cancel overnights” and the mother had requested that access be amended due to the child’s behaviour.
The social worker said that before everything had been facilitated by the social workers, but as part of the reunification plan they explored the mother’s “capacity to take on a more active role” with transport such as dropping the child home herself but the mother “had felt that it was not her responsibility but for the social work department.”
At that time the social worker said that the father had been unhappy with the plan and that he had had concerns that the mother had not made sufficient progress with her emotional regulation and he was concerned that the plan was moving too quickly for the child to return to her care. The child had reported to the social worker that she did not want access every week and that she was happy with the level of access and was reluctant for that to increase.
The social worker said that “it came to light when in the midst of a reunification plan” in May 2018 the child made a disclosure of physical abuse against her mother and the reunification plan was suspended for a time as the issues that the child reported were of concern. The social worker said that it was her belief that it was not in the child’s best interest to come to court and a notice pursuant to section 23 of the Children’s Act 1997 was before the court.
The social worker said that she had attended with the GAL at the grandmother’s home in order to get the child’s views on any difficulties arising with access and the reunification plan.
Social worker: “She said she had something she wanted to talk about and wanted to wait for her dad to arrive. We sat down and the child started to discuss recent issues with access and she stated that on a recent visit to Burger King the mother started to become irate … the financial pressure of access resulting in the mother and child having an argument on the visit and she was upset with comments made…”
The social worker said that the child’s demeanour was that she was very upset and reluctant to discuss her worries of access for reasons of fear of consequence with her mother but “with encouragement and reassurances she did decide to speak to us but it was difficult and she became upset and distressed at times.”
The social worker said that the father had arrived and sat down with the child and that he was a source of comfort for the child during the conversation.
Social worker: “She opened up about what was worrying her. She was crying throughout but reported that her mother hit her a lot and she showed a closed fist to demonstrate how she hit her and an open hand as well. She said she usually hit her on her legs or face.”
The social worker demonstrated the closed and open fist to the court and she said that that child had a lot of “free narrative of different incidents”.
Social worker: “She recalled an incident shortly before her Communion that mum kicked her in the face with two black eyes and she had to wear make-up into school and a teacher noticed and gave out to her as it was not permitted in school to wear makeup…. She remembered a time when her mother stood on a toy and hurt her and she swore she wouldn’t do it again but always did…. she said she got angry and hit her with a bottle opener on the head… The previous year she hit her on the head with a bunch of keys and made her head bleed…”
The social worker said that when asked how she felt about the reunification plan the child had reported that she didn’t want to go home and said she “felt scared most of the time with mum in case it happened again,” she could not remember the last time her mother had hurt her but that she had not been hurt since in care and that she had reported that she was frightened that her mother would be angry about what she had told the social workers.
The social worker said that the father had spoken to her about his views and concerns and that he had not been happy with the reunification plan as he had felt that the child would not be safe. The father had reported that he had remembered seeing the child just before her Communion and her “ear was black and blue and swollen but got different accounts from the child and mum about what happened”.
She had shown the social workers a photo of dark marks under the child’s eyes and the social worker had taken a photo of the framed picture on her camera phone and a coloured version of the photo in the report was handed in to the court.
The social worker said that the mother had denied all physical abuse allegation made by the child but had said that she did slap the child on one occasion but that it was “an isolated incident and had apologised after”. The court was told that the social work department had deemed the allegations made by the child to be credible.
Social worker: “I met with the child during the course of assessment and the main disclosure was made on the first date in May but at subsequent meetings other disclosures of other incidents she remembered and in total I felt it was credible account with detail given about specific incidents. She was able to describe location, context and objects used. Unusual objects such as keys and a bottle opener and an umbrella and she didn’t need prompting or questions but it was free narrative without much probing.”
The social worker said that the school had corroborated that the child had worn makeup in on one occasion and that there was stress surrounding the Communion with the family, and the school had noted another injury noted by a teacher.
The social worker said that the mother had denied the black eye but that there was a change in narrative and inconsistency as the mother had denied that the marks were black eyes but subsequently stated that the child had had a toothache at the time and the social worker said “that detracted from the mother’s credibility with change in narrative and other factors added to child credibility” and the father had also corroborated some of the timelines to the social worker.
The social worker told the court that “access took a different course after” and was suspended for one week and a safety plan and supervision were discussed. The child had not wanted to visit and the social worker said that the mother had not wanted supervised access and had disengaged for a number of weeks. When access resumed in July it was fully supervised as per the child’s wishes. The social worker said that the matter had been reported to the Gardaí and there was some information sharing and the child had been on the waiting list for a specialist victim interview.
Social worker: “On a subsequent date in September the Gardaí were about to come on board and the father overheard a conversation with the child and mother in which mum was encouraging the child not to speak to guards as if she did she would be put in jail. The child confirmed the mother said that and she didn’t want her mother going to jail. The child didn’t want to proceed with a formal specialist victim interview.”
The CFA solicitor asked the social worker to explain her motivation to look for a shorter order when the initial section 18 hearing had been listed in January 2019.
Social worker: “We looked at a shorter order for the child. The mother was going through a lot of change with the criminal trial ending, pregnant with her other child and a new relationship. She did appear motivated to engage with therapy. Given where the mother was in her life, we decided to go for a shorter order to give mother the opportunity to re-engage with supports to consider safe reunification. There was some discussion that in June 2020 it might be necessary for the child to have certainty … Stress where she would be living and what school she would be going to.”
The social worker told the court that the child had been offered some play therapy and had attended weekly and that the child had engaged very well and had found it helpful. The child had engaged with some joint sessions with the father and the social worker said that the father “showed good commitment” to the child.
The social worker remained involved in the matter until September 2019. The matter had been re-entered at one stage as the grandmother was no longer able to care for the child and she went to stay with a relative who was identified as appropriate and was emergency approved by the CFA and the child had remained at that placement since.
The barrister for the mother indicated that the mother “accepts the child made the statements but not that they are true” and she asked the social worker to outline why she had thought the child was credible in making the allegations.
The barrister questioned the social worker in respect of the mother’s response to the section 3 assessment, where the mother had given specific responses to the incident at access and her concerns with the content the child was uploading online and issues with confiscating the child’s phone.
Mother’s barrister: “Broadly the mother has said that the main factor was the discipline instilled by the mother and that she had confiscated her phone. Why did you not speak to the child about that?
Social worker: “I did address with her some of the reasons why she was making the allegations. The child denied that the phone was the reason for her saying what she was saying.”
The barrister for the mother put to the social worker that the child’s views had “tended to change” but that over the course of her involvement she was generally satisfied with the level of contact with mum and “her main desire was though to return to her care and she wanted to be involved with her younger brother that was born”. The child was described as “happy in her placement and scaled it 10/10” but that “her main desire was to return” to her mother’s care.
When asked the social worker said that she had become aware that there had been text and WhatsApp contact between the child and her mother but that she had not seen the content.
Mother’s barrister: “She was separately engaging in an ongoing secretive text relationship with her mother and saying that she wants to return home. Would that give cause for concern about the child ‘s honesty or credibility?”
Social worker: “I don’t know the content or what is going on as I am not allocated. Clearly no matter what happened the child loves her mum and wants to retain a relationship but she has been let down by her mum and it is upsetting and conflicting. She is wanting to be part of a family with her brother but [having] feelings of disappointment and [being] let down and she is conflicted in her views.”
Mother’s barrister: “Would you be concerned with her telling the social work department one thing but actions another thing?”
Social worker: “She has always wanted to please mum and say the right thing. She doesn’t want to upset her mum and she wants to preserve her mum’s feelings. I have not been involved in the last while.”
The barrister put to the social worker that attendance at psychotherapy was a recommendation but that there was no recommendation “requiring as a precursor that she attend a certain amount of psychotherapy” prior to reunification. The social worker said that the doctor had been clear that the mother’s emotional regulation was a difficulty and the social workers were of the view that psychotherapy “should have commenced prior to reunification so there was a baseline and understanding of the type of skills she would need to keep her emotion in check when parenting the child,” but said that when the mother had attended she had engaged well.
The social worker confirmed that at the end of her involvement she had still been getting engagement from the mother but described is a “up and down and quite unpredictable” but at times they got on well and would see eye to eye but if the mother had not agreed with something said it would have disrupted the relationship.
The barrister for the mother questioned the social worker as to the reasons why a formal handover transfer meeting to introduce the newly allocated social worker had not taken place with the mother.
Social worker: “It would be standard practice. I don’t have the reason why it didn’t happen. It is generally what we would do.”
Mother’s barrister: “Do you think it affected the ability [of the new social worker] to have a relationship with [the] mother and for her to accept the role of your successor?”
Social worker: “She was adequately informed and notified it was going to happen and she was told on the phone who was going to be taking over the case. She had reservations when I told her the case was transferring. She was concerned about the impact on the child.”
Mother’s barrister: “Knowing now that the mother disengaged from the CFA but was engaging with you, do you regret not having a handover with two social workers and a vulnerable mother?”
Social worker: “I don’t know if it was the sole factor for disengagement.”
The solicitor for the GAL asked the social worker about the five barriers to reunification that had been identified in the doctor’s report of December 2017. In respect of the first barrier of stable accommodation the social worker said that “for the most part” this had not been obtained between December 2017 and September 2019 and agreed that the issue had not been resolved three years later. In respect of the second issue, the criminal case not having concluded, it was stated that the case had concluded and there had been a conviction but that the sentencing had been deferred and remained outstanding.
GAL solicitor: “The third barrier to reunification is to maintain access at a high level. The last access was August 2019 and there has been no access since that point in time, no face to face contact. So that barrier is still very much a live and real issue?”
Social worker: “Absolutely.”
In respect of the requirement to engage in cognitive therapy the social worker accepted that there had been challenges with engagement and the mother had been discharged for non-attendance and had not taken up any further opportunity to engage with a therapist. The social worker agreed that the cognitive analytical therapy had remained outstanding.
GAL solicitor: “From December 2017 to June 2020, 2½ years and all impediments remain in place?”
Social worker: “I accept that.”
The social worker said that the mother had been advised of the provisional finding and entitlement to appeal the section 3 determination but that she had not availed of that and she had responded through her lawyers but there was “no further engagement from her”.
In respect of the allegations of physical abuse that had given rise to the section 3 determination, it was put to the witness that as the child had reaffirmed the allegations as recently as the previous week that the maintaining of consistent statements was a “significant factor going to credibility”.
The social worker said that the child was a very caring girl and had tried to “please and protect those around her”. The social worker said that the child had been aware of the mother’s difficulties and the lack of progress and change from the mother and she is “torn” as to what she wanted and she had continued to express a view of a “need for a relationship with her mother”. The social worker said that the child had been anxious that the suspension of access would not be blamed on her and said that she had been willing to see her mum if the access was supervised.
The fourth witness called on behalf of the CFA was the social worker allocated to the case, who had been allocated on 9th September 2019. This social worker said that the child’s placement had been fully assessed, and the child had spoken highly of it and had reported it to be “kind”. The child was down the road from her previous placement and was at the same school, which had given her consistency. The social worker told the court that the child had said that she did not want to return home but was not suggesting that she had not wanted to continue a relationship with her mother.
The CFA solicitor asked if she disputed the fact that the child “would like at some point if the conditions were right to live with her mother”. The social worker said that “prior to last Friday that would have been the stance” but when she had met with the child she said that she had “provided me with extensive wishes”.
An issue arose as the social worker had referred to statements the child had made a few days prior to the commencement of the hearing that had not been disclosed to the mother or her legal representatives and there was no section 23 notice before the court. The social worker’s case notes with the statements were provided to the mother’s barrister to review. The mother’s barrister initially sought an adjournment of the hearing to the following day but indicated that she would require time to obtain instructions from the mother prior to cross-examination the following day if the witness was to proceed.
The social worker said that following the revelation of text messages between the child and mother the previous week she had met with the child on the Friday prior to the commencement of the hearing to seek her wishes and views on the current application before the court. The child had told her that she had “thought about things especially over the last few days”. The social worker then read to the court statements made to her by the child from her case notes.
Social worker: “She spoke that she ‘wanted to go home to mum if things can change but realised mum will never change. I don’t want to go back to live with her. She is horrible, she is horrible when she gives out, she hits harder… Never enough food… She doesn’t deserve me she is horrible… I want a mum, I want a good mum but not her. She will never change. Months of therapy wouldn’t help her… She is lazy and hasn’t bothered to see me… I also text her first until recently… Foster placement is kind and this place is much better.”
The social worker accepted that there had been ongoing contact between the child and mother and said the that the child was “very protective of others and loyal to her mother and loyal to her father”.
In respect of the amount of therapy that had been recommended for the mother the social worker confirmed that the doctor had contracted for 22 appointments of therapeutic work that had been arranged for weekly sessions commencing in June 2019 and transport by taxi was facilitated by the CFA. The social worker said that in October 2019 the doctor had advised of a difficulty with attendance as only 12 appointments had been attended. The social worker told the court that in April 2020 she had received information that the CFA had made a decision to cease further funding due to the mother’s non engagement with therapy.
The social worker told the court about access and said that since her allocation to the case in September 2019 the mother had refused to engage with the CFA and she had made a number of attempts to contact the mother and when she had managed to make contact the mother had asked her not to contact her again in respect of access or introductory meetings and had said that she wanted to speak to her solicitor. The social worker said that she had “offered to meet to discuss with her repeatedly”.
The social worker gave evidence in respect of an issue where the child had come home from school by herself on the bus. The child had agreed it with her father “without the knowledge of social workers” and the mother had not wanted her to come home alone on the bus. The social worker said that the child had showed her an exchange of text messages from 27th August 2019 between the child and the mother about taking the bus home and a transcript of the text messages were provided to the judge and the social worker read out the text messages. The mother had stopped attending access and when asked at the end of September the reason why she had not wanted to speak to or see the child the issue of coming home on the bus without permission was provided as a reason.
The social worker said that the mother had refused to engage and she was unable to contact her until mid October 2019 when she had indicated that she had ongoing criminal proceedings and had not wanted to be contacted by the CFA. The social worker said that the mother had agreed to sign a consent form in respect of the child but when contacted in November and early December 2019 the mother had refused to engage.
The social worker said that the mother had not seen the child since 9th August 2019 but the mother had contacted her a few days prior to Christmas seeking access.
Social worker: “I advised it was not in the child’s best interests just before Christmas but could review re-engaging access after Christmas. She was very abusive on the phone and [there was] no engagement with the CFA since.”
The social worker read out text messages to the court between the child and mother dated 30th August 2019 in respect of asking the social workers and her mother for permission to get the bus home that she described as “concerning messages” where phrases had been used by the mother such as “you are as evil as a person gets and a liar” and “go away and annoy someone else, lies, pure evil”.
The social worker said that access had been scheduled every Friday and there had been no attendance by the mother since 9th August 2019 and that the mother had failed to attend despite reminders. The social worker read out a text exchange dated 12th September 2019 in which the child asked the mother why she kept cancelling access and the responses of the mother were read to the court. Text messages dated 6th November 2019 from the mother to the child were read out asking the child to see her.
The social worker said that on a routine visit to the child after Christmas in January 2020 the child had looked upset and her presentation had prompted the social worker to ask if something had happened. The social worker reported that the child had said “she doesn’t care about me and hasn’t seen me in months” and showed the social worker a number of text messages which the social worker said she was concerned about. The social worker told the court that she had made a number of attempts to contact the mother to discuss the text messages throughout January and February “to no avail” and that the CFA had been concerned with the ongoing refusal to engage and non-attendance at access and the failure to acknowledge the impact on the child. The social worker accepted that it had come to her attention during the week prior to the court hearing that the child did keep up “parallel contact with the mother” since April.
When asked about the issue raised about the failure to have a formal handover meeting the social worker said that the statutory review in July 2019 was an opportunity for all parties to engage and the mother did not attend at that review attended by the new social worker and the issue that no joint meeting had been held had not been raised prior to the hearing.
The social worker was asked about an issue raised by the mother that she did not like the way the social worker had spoken to her and had not facilitated access when asked.
Social worker: “I have never spoken to her in a manner other than polite. I have always been respectful and empathetic. She has refused to engage with me on all counts since my allocation. She had asked for access the day before Christmas and I was going to facilitate access following Christmas and the mother refused and hung up the phone.”
The social worker told the court that access between the father and child had proceeded and any concerns that had arisen had been worked through and the social worker said that she had “always had a good relationship with the father”.
In respect of the child’s ascertainable wishes the social worker said that the child spoke highly of the placement and was in very good general health with no outstanding medical appointments. The social worker described the child as “very mature and bright” and said that she had appeared to “manage emotions appropriately and was well able to articulate views and express herself”. The foster carers had reported that she was well behaved and “an absolute dream”.
The child had undergone play therapy including some joint sessions with the father but the mother had refused to commit to the programme. The social worker said that the child had concluded play therapy as the child had felt that she had got everything she needed to get out of it but that the social worker “would encourage her to reconsider and the door always remains open for her to return”.
The social worker spoke positively in respect of the child’s education and said that she had done well academically and the principal had advised that she was “well above average”. The social worker accepted that the mother had a role to play in that for parenting her for the most part of her life.
The social worker said that it was her professional opinion that the mother was not in a position to care for the child or in a position to meet the child’s needs and said that the mother “failed to have insight into the impact of her lack of engagement” with the child.
Social worker: “I honestly feel that a care order to the age of majority would be most appropriate … the child requires stability and her placement meets all her needs.”
The social worker said that the purpose of the shorter care order that had been in place for 18 months was to give the mother an opportunity to make a change for reunification. The social worker said that things had not changed and that things had “regressed in terms of progress”. The social worker said that her view was that the likelihood of change was very slim and there had been a pattern of inconsistency and a lack of engagement from the mother. The social worker agreed that if the order was granted by the court that the social work department was obliged to consider at any future statutory review the changes both in terms of access and the child generally and it was open to the mother in the future to reapply to the court if she wished to seek a removal of the order.
On the second day of the hearing the barrister for the mother that the mother had arrived that morning for a consultation and was very distressed about the content of the statements the child had made to the social worker the previous week. The barrister said that the mother was not in a position to come into court due to anxiety but was available to give instructions by phone to her solicitor.
The CFA said to the court that it had been indicated the previous day that the mother had intended to give evidence and “during much of the cross examination yesterday it was said ‘my client would say’ and now will not say.” The CFA solicitor said that he appreciated the professional challenges faced and the judge said that the mother’s barrister “has to do the best she can”.
The mother’s barrister proceeded to cross-examine the allocated social worker.
Mother’s barrister: “To be clear have you ever met the mother?”
Social worker: “No.”
The social worker said that the mother would have had the opportunity to meet her if she had attended the statutory review or any of the access sessions she had not attended since her allocation. The social worker accepted that it was standard practice when a social worker took over a case that there would be a joint meeting and such a meeting had occurred with the child and with the father “but no joint meeting with the mother as she refused to attend.”
Mother’s barrister: “There is no evidence that a meeting was set up that she refused to attend.”
Social worker: “The statutory review she did not attend.”
The mother’s barrister asked why the standard practice of a joint meeting was in place.
Social worker: “To ensure everything is followed through. Any questions to be answered. It allows parties to meet the new social worker and put points across… To ensure continuity with the relationship.”
The social worker was asked if the social work office was the venue for the meeting the mother had been requested to attend. The social worker said that the mother had not wanted a meeting at the department or at her home and the social worker had suggested to “meet on common grounds”. The social worker confirmed that “neutral grounds” was something that remained available if the mother was willing to meet with her.
The mother’s barrister asked if the child was aware that her comments would be read to the judge at a hearing and that her mother would be made aware of the comments. The social worker confirmed that the child was aware of that. The mother’s barrister questioned whether there had been changes in the child’s attitude and views about returning home to her mother and referred to the report and to evidence of the social worker previously allocated.
Social worker: “I was not present but it is normal for a child to change her mind. She is very loyal to her mother. She craves for her mother’s love and attention. It is normal for her to want to maintain a relationship with her mother but I can only go by what she has voiced to myself. That is what is in my report, her wishes to myself.”
The social worker said that in an earlier visit the child had mentioned that she had wanted contact with her mother but “wanted it to be different” and “wants to return home when she is safe”. The barrister for the mother said that the recent comments were a “marked change of position”.
Social worker: “She said she had reviewed things and said that she hoped that things could change but on reflection overnight and reviewing her past she was definite that things were not going to change. ‘Months of therapy is not going to change and is not going to fix my mother.’”
The social worker said that the child had divided loyalties and accepted that she had not disclosed to the social worker the frequent contact with her mother and texting throughout April and May.
Mother’s barrister: “She is saying one thing to the social work department and one thing to her mother.”
Mother’s barrister: “She said to the GAL that she wants to return to her mother if it is safe. In your professional opinion what does my client need to do to have a safe environment for her to return?
Social worker: “A number of things. It’s so broad. Everything would need to change. Her therapeutic sessions with the doctor are nowhere near being completed. Before we could look at the prospect of reunification she would need 8 to 10 months of weekly therapeutic support. Her living circumstances are not stable. Her refusal to engage with the social work department and refusal to attend access would need to change. She has little insight on the impact this is causing on the child’s well-being.”
No questions were asked in cross examination on behalf of the father.
The solicitor for the GAL asked a number of questions in cross examination in respect of the “barriers to reunification” that were “identified as long ago as December 2017”. The social worker confirmed that a permanent home that could accommodate the child had not been obtained three years later. Although the criminal case had concluded the sentencing aspect had not been finalised. In respect of “maintaining access at a high level” the social worker confirmed that the mother had had “no direct face-to-face contact” with the child since August 2019.
GAL solicitor: “Have the CFA tried to inhibit or frustrate contact?”
Social worker: “Absolutely not. We have tried to promote contact and the opportunities were not taken up. On 9th August she had attended 11 out of 25 access sessions.”
The GAL solicitor said that the mother had attributed her non-attendance at access to the child returning home unaccompanied and “appears to be punishing the child for this”.
Social worker: “My understanding is that the mother weaponises access between her and the child. If she is in any way disobedient then the mother refuses to see her as a form of punishment.”
The solicitor for the GAL went through the time-line of events and highlighted to the social worker that access had already stopped on 9th August 2017 and the mother had not attended access for a number of weeks prior to the exchange in respect of the child returning home on the bus.
GAL solicitor: “In the sequence of access she didn’t attend long before this came to pass. There were many she didn’t attend before … so it’s simply not consistent to say it was relating to the child asking her if she could go home from school.”
In respect of the cognitive analytical therapy the GAL solicitor asked if the doctor remained available if there was meaningful engagement.
Social worker: “There was a decision to cease funding. Every session that she doesn’t attend the CFA still has to pay. We would be open to reviewing this if consistent engagement with the department was show-cased and we would be open to reviewing funding for the doctor.”
The social worker said that funding had been sought for therapy to repair the relationship that had become fractured between the mother and child and the sessions had been scheduled to commence but the mother would not attend.
GAL solicitor: “When the mother’s barrister talks about a pathway we have had a pathway set out since December 2017 but it has not been adhered to since then.”
The GAL solicitor said that the GAL had suggested therapy for the child and the intensive work to be taken with the foster carer involving the child remained outstanding. The social worker said that a referral was due to be submitted for the work starting with the foster carer and child. The GAL had suggested that “something needs to be crystallised in terms of a care plan looking forward” and the social worker agreed that the plan could be solidified and formulated at the next child-in-care review scheduled in the coming weeks. The social worker agreed that the proposal that the GAL remain appointed for a period of time for this plan was something she would support. The social worker confirmed to the court that the foster carer had been formally matched and approved long term.
It was indicated to the court that the mother or father did not intend to give evidence to the court.
The GAL gave evidence to the court and provided her initial report and a recent addendum report “following the disclosure of text messages” between the child and mother. The GAL said she had been appointed at an initial interim care order in October 2017 and reappointed in October 2019 when the child had moved placement and again in January 2020.
The GAL said she “got to know the child well” since just after she came in to care in October 2017 and said that the child “always engaged really well even during difficult times,” she did well academically and had a “good circle of friends”.
GAL solicitor: “Despite challenges she has faced it is remarkably good how she presents as she does?”
GAL: “Yes, one striking thing is her ability to maintain a relationship with mum and dad even thought their relationship is difficult and at times they aren’t able to stay in the same room.”
The GAL said that the child did understand the reason for the appointment of a GAL and was able to articulate her position throughout meetings.
Referring to the issue of the child’s capacity to come to court, and whether it was appropriate, the GAL said: “I agree she does have capacity to do so, but because of her age and stage of development, the information to discuss and her relationship with her mother [it] could place her in possibly a very difficult position.”
The GAL was asked to outline her past engagement with the child up to the point of the order made in January 2019.
GAL: “I strongly believe she wishes none of this happened and [she] could have a relationship with her mother that is safe and good. I don’t think in many ways she would have liked this to happen, but in terms of where she is living at the moment … she has a very good relationship with her foster carer and children. She sees her father on a regular basis… She would have loved and still would love to have a relationship with her mother but feels the relationship won’t change.”
The GAL confirmed that the making of the allegations by the child in May 2018 and her account of her engagement with the child that day accords with the previous social worker’s evidence.
GAL: “The information was spontaneous. She was able to provide context and describe implements, where she was when it happened. She was upset and emotional at times … [she gave] detailed description of certain incidents. She was able to link with occasions such as first Holy Communion.”
The GAL agreed with the determination that it was a credible allegation “in terms of being there that day and discussing it with her”.
The GAL was asked about her engagement with the mother throughout her appointment.
GAL: “Generally it has been up and down. Generally I have been able to maintain contact. I met with her a number of times. In initial part she allowed me to observe access. I observed access at her current address. I met the mother separately and had telephone contact on an ongoing basis. It was not always easy. At times she wouldn’t want to speak to me or say not able to engage, but I was generally able to maintain contact”
GAL solicitor: “The father has been engaged?”
GAL: “Oh yes absolutely. The father came on board when she came into care. He facilitated her transport on a daily basis and attendance at play therapy so he became very involved in day-to-day responsibilities.”
The GAL said the child had almost daily contact with her father and said that she “may not see him every day but a text or phone call and he would call to see her on a regular basis.” The GAL said that there had been limited contact during the Covid 19 restrictions but the father had called to the house and met the child in the garden and also more recently to the home.
The GAL was asked about the child’s view in respect of the mother’s engagement.
GAL: “As the other social worker said she continues to yearn for a relationship and holds out for reconciliation with her mother. She has held the view to me that she would love to return to her care but then in recent time, not having contact at that point, and [she] expressed real sorrow that ‘she has forgotten about me and doesn’t care about me any more’.”
The GAL said that she had asked the child would she go home if nothing had changed and “she said no” and the GAL said it was not realistic if changes had not been made.
GAL solicitor: “It was suggested that [there has been] a change of view. Do you see that as a massive difference?”
GAL: “No I don’t think so. I see it more as her trying to gather her thoughts around the relationship. It is so complicated and complex. The relationship is driven by her mother’s willingness to engage rather than a stable, predictable and nurturing relationship that would have structure and give a sense of stability to the relationship…. I was very struck by the text messages. The child was reaching out asking her mother why not contacting me and no response back. Incredibly rejecting for a child trying to deal with that.”
The GAL told the court had the mother’s own history was “incredibly horrific” with her own experiences as a child and she had her own struggles and challenges with violence in past relationships and with difficult inter-relationships with her family. She was very isolated at the time. The GAL hoped that the provision of therapeutic help would allow the mother “to address and manage some of her issues and her painful childhood experiences”.
The GAL said that she thought that the pathway that had been provided by the doctor had been very clear and was clear to the mother about consistency and establishing a routine in terms of access. Efforts were made by social workers trying to have a consistent schedule around access and it was not achieved despite multiple efforts to encourage the mother.
GAL: “The child was having to make bigger compromises in terms of location and times to facilitate access with the mother… The last number of conversations with the mother I found her more consumed about how the situation was affecting her rather than how it was impacting on the child… I have not seen a shift in term of the mother wishing to acknowledge her own role in relation to this.”
The GAL said that the doctor had described the mother very well that due to her own experiences as a child she had a tendency now to fight as a default position. If she perceived threat, was confused, hurt or unsure about a situation her automatic response was fight her way out of it.
GAL solicitor: “Do you believe the child still yearns for a relationship with mother and contact and return to a home where everything is normal and regulated?”
GAL: “As she matures herself to a level of a bit more understanding about her mother’s issues… She had a certain level of understanding in relation to this. She would still like a relationship with her mother, I don’t doubt that for minute… As time goes on returning is not so clear.”
The GAL said that the child had a very good relationship with her foster carer and family and the child had said to the GAL that “she doesn’t see herself in care but being cared for by family” and she did feel that there was family around her looking out for her.
The GAL said that foster carer had outlined at times that it was not easy as she was not an experienced foster care and had not done it before but was “very much committed to caring for her as long as she needs it.”
The GAL said that the fact that the father was supportive of the placement was significant for the child to know. The GAL said that the father had been clear about his own limitations and struggles but maintained that the child needed stability and was supportive of the placement and could see the child on a regular basis.
The GAL said that the foster carer had been approved as a long-term placement match and she had done all the training and the GAL was satisfied that the placement was meeting the needs of the child and would continue to going forward.
The GAL told the court that she was supportive of extending the existing care order until the child reached her majority and expressed the view that a supervision order was not sufficient. As the mother did not anticipate an immediate return, the GAL said that if no order was made it would not work in terms of safeguarding the child’s needs and protection.
The solicitors asked the GAL if a care order of a shorter duration would be appropriate.
GAL: “No, notwithstanding the mother’s difficulties around her criminal trial there have been 18 months where we haven’t seen an establishment of consistency around access. No consistency in therapeutic intervention and I would have concern about a shorter order and the child needs security and stability of a long term care plan at this stage… She needs to know where she is going to be living where she is going to school.”
The GAL said that when the initial section 18 order was made in January 2019 there was an emphasis on support and on what the mother should do but said that “now the emphasis needs to switch to the child and the mother has had her opportunity.”
The GAL said the she recommended that a care plan be crystallised in a child-in-care review and she “felt very strongly” that it was appropriate for her to remain involved for a further period as there were “only bones of a plan and nothing concrete set at the moment” and there needed to be some intervention and support for the child to continue managing this and the complex relationship with her mother.
GAL: “It is important to put that in place and put it in place right. There is a window of a couple of years to address that. As she navigates through teenage years she may have contact and it will need to be managed. The mother at times will seek out that contact. There needs to be a plan and support around it for the child and foster carer.”
There were no questions asked in cross examination by the mother, father or CFA.
The solicitor for the CFA made submissions in respect of the duration of the care order sought. He said that in January 2019 the CFA had been open to persuasion for a shorter order of 18 months but that in the application before the court the CFA was seeking an order until the age of 18. The CFA solicitor said that the “reality is that if a long-term care order is granted the CFA will continue to asses and review the situation and it is open to the mother to come back if she makes improvement.”
The CFA said that when the court was looking at a child and the engagement of a parent and the likelihood of change if a short order was made that this was “sometimes looked at in younger children as recognition of more likelihood of change.” It was submitted that there had been no change in the 18-month period of the initial order and the CFA “don’t see any benefit of putting the burden back on the child for a short order and wish for the best that things might change” and a longer order would still permit an application for re-entry by the mother.
CFA solicitor: “If the situation evolves with mother it is not a case without hope, but not very hopeful with the lack of engagement so far. In terms of a roadmap the doctor’s assessment was very clear about the things that needed to be done. There had been no progress in regulating her emotions.”
No further submissions were made on behalf of the mother or the father.
The solicitor for the GAL said that the GAL aware that the primary consideration under section 24 of the Act is always the welfare of child. The solicitor submitted that in January 2019 the mother had been given an opportunity to remediate the situation and advance the prospect of reunification. It was submitted that the roadmap was set out clearly in December 2017 and it was not met in January 2019 but was a “lesser state of affairs today than it ever was and a time for emphasis on the child” and the mother could address her issues on her own timeline.
The judge noted that the father was in support of the application and that it was accepted that it was not in the child’s best interest to give evidence to the court.
The judge said that having heard all of the evidence and having regard to the child’s need for “consistency, predictability and a stable response” that he was satisfied that the threshold set out in section 18 of the Child Care Act 1991 remained and that the child required protection. The judge held that it was necessary and proportionate to extend the section 18 care order until the child attains the age of majority. The directions attached to the previous order were directed to continue.
The judge ordered that the GAL was to remain appointed for the outstanding child in care review “to solidify the therapeutic programme for the child” and was ordered to remain appointed until the end of September 2020 with liberty to apply to the court. A date for the aftercare review was listed on a date just after the child’s 17th birthday and the GAL was to be reappointed six weeks prior to that date.