An Interim Care Order was extended in the District Court for a very young baby (Child C) whose mother had a history of drug addiction and for whom there were mental health concerns. The mother was not legally represented and did not attend the proceedings. Extensive efforts had been made to link her up with the Legal Aid Board, said the CFA solicitor, she had also not attended the most recent Child in Care Review.
The mother had two other children already in the care of the Child and Family Agency (CFA), Child B [an infant] had been born with neonatal abstinence syndrome [foetal addiction and withdrawal as a result of a mother’s drug dependence during pregnancy], for which she had been given paediatric methadone to relieve her symptoms for the first few months after she had been born.
The social worker told the court that Child C had not been born in a hospital, that it had been “a concealed pregnancy”. They had urinalysis results and opiates had shown up throughout the pregnancy. She said however that the baby was now thriving in care and showing no signs of neonatal abstinence syndrome. She was placed in the same foster family as her older sibling, Child B.
She said that the mother had discharged herself from a psychiatric hospital [where she had stayed after Child C had gone into care] and since then had no known address. The social worker described the mother as “very fragile and vulnerable” and she had concerns about her mental health.
Up until the self-discharge the mother had had daily access with the new-born baby. However since the discharge she had not had access although they had tried to contact her. The social worker had met with her once since the discharge from the psychiatric hospital after the mother had called her.
The father had denied all knowledge of the baby prior to the birth, he did believe he was the father, he had said he had no interest in attending court and that he was starting up a business and did not have the time, said the social worker.
The psychiatric hospital had been planning on doing a six week assessment as an inpatient for the mother, they believed there was “something underlying”. However she had discharged herself and was not consenting to her information being shared so the social work department could not assess the situation.
The department knew that the mother was not homeless because she was not living in hostels but staying in different accommodation with friends and relatives. The mother had told her she wished to have an access with all three children together. However the social worker felt that as the mother had not seen Child B since she was a baby it could be very distressing for the child. The mother was very chaotic at the moment and had assaulted an access worker in the past. At one access there had also been a stand-off when she had refused to hand Child B back for 50 minutes.
The Guardian ad litem (GAL) told the court that in relation to neonatal abstinence syndrome, the mother’s liver function throughout pregnancy determined the impact of how much of the substance passed through to the baby.
“We don’t know what [Child C] suffered in the first 12 days of life, in that time [Child B] received medical treatment [because she was born in hospital] and [Child C] didn’t, she was going through what we colloquially know as cold turkey, that is, withdrawing without medical assistance. [Child B] would have received a paediatric methadone to relieve symptoms. Happily at this stage she [Child C] appears to be a far more contented, placid and easy to soothe baby than her older sister was, at first there were little twitches in her leg which have gone now, she had no light aversion or high pitched squealing that [Child B] had.”
The GAL told the court that the mother had suspicions of professionals and might need an advocate to engage with lawyers. The GAL did not know who could encourage the mother to talk about services available to her because she had paranoia and a history of losing her children.
The judge asked for a letter to be written to the mother in plain English which was to be non-threatening and written from the perspective of the recipient as opposed to the person writing it. “Extraordinary efforts are going to have to be made by the CFA in this context, the children have rights to their family of origin,” said the judge.
The judge also wanted to know the funding implication for a mental health advocate and for the participation of the parents in the proceedings to be facilitated as well as participation in access.
“The mother is post-partum, which bring with it natural ups and downs in that period all by itself, extraordinary efforts need to be made by the CFA in this case,” she concluded.
A second case
In a second case on the same day, in a hearing with another judge, the court heard about a child in care who had suffered “very seriously because of foetal alcohol syndrome”.
Senior counsel for the father told the court that a report from the child’s treating specialist in fetal alcohol syndrome found that the child was at risk of having a predisposition to alcohol sensitivity and addiction. The senior counsel said alcohol fumes could pose a risk of acting as a trigger and the father was raising the question of what the consequences could be for his daughter if there was alcohol in the foster home [it was a relative placement]. He said that she was also going to the pub with her foster mother.
The judge wanted to know if the smell of alcohol would actually have an effect on the child and asked the father’s senior counsel to request further information from the specialist. A full Care Order hearing date was set and the Interim Care Order extended.