An emergency care order was granted for an infant, whose mother was herself a minor and also in care in a mother and baby unit.
A Garda told the HSE solicitor that the previous evening (after an extremely hot day) her patrol car was passing down a lane when she noticed people hunched in a corner and near them was a baby in a buggy with a blanket on the ground in front of it. She got out of the car and as she got closer the people jumped up. The mother also jumped up, she had a white ring around her mouth. She was in the company of another woman and a male, who had three “toots” (rolled up tin foil for smoking heroin) and he admitted to smoking it at that time. The mother denied she had smoked it, but in the opinion of the Garda she looked like she had been and was unfit to care for the child at that moment. A Section 12 (taking the child to a safe place) was therefore invoked.
“The infant looked grubby, he had tears in his eyes, he looked a bit distraught, he had a rash under his chin, he was scratching on the back of his neck, there was no smell of sunscreen, he looked red from the sun on his cheeks and legs,” the Garda told the court.
“Did you check to see if he had food?” asked the HSE solicitor.
“There was nothing, there was hair straightener, hair dye, no cream, no ointment that you would usually have for a baby, no bottles, no money.” With regards to the white ring around her mouth, the Garda said that “people injecting and smoking heroin would have a ring around their mouth, it’s like a white ring stain, it’s really from the fumes.” The mother’s presentation was unkempt and her eyes were dilated.
She asked the girl to identify herself. “In between a lot of vulgarity she said she was the child’s mother, she gave me a date of birth which is different for the child to the one we have on the system.” She also gave a false address.
Colleagues had come across her in the exact same location a few weeks previously. In her opinion she was not capable of protecting the child if anything happened. “She was intoxicated and the male was intoxicated, he admitted to smoking heroin.” She felt it was absolutely necessary to invoke the Section 12.
The Garda also found a “grinder” in the mother’s possession, inside of which was ground up cannabis. She worked in the city centre and came across drug dealers and users every day, in her opinion it smelt and looked like cannabis.
The mother’s solicitor said the infant suffered from eczema and had ointment to treat it and that the maternal grandmother said she had sunscreen applied early on during the course of the day. The Garda replied that there had been no ointment in the buggy and there was no smell of sunscreen from him, also a child would need sunscreen applied a few times during the day and it had been a very hot day.
She said she gave her a warning. “I deemed her unfit to look after her child at that moment in time, I gave her a reason she was after smoking heroin, she was under the influence, I don’t believe people smoking heroin are fit to look after a child,” said the Garda. “She called me a fucking tramp.”
The baby had no food around his mouth or on his clothing, she had no wipes with her. Back at the station he had a jar of baby food and a bit of Liga.
The HSE solicitor said the policewoman had not told the mother where she was taking the child. “She was face-to-face screaming at me you’re a fucking bastard, I told her I was going to [the] Garda Station.”
The Garda told the HSE solicitor that once they got the infant indoors, it became apparent that he had been more over-exposed to the sun than she had thought. In her opinion at that time of night he should have been in bed.
The social worker told the court that the HSE had been involved with the child since he was born, as the mother herself was in care. There had been a pre-birth conference prior to his birth in late 2011. However there had been on-going concerns relating to the mother’s engagement with her placement in the mother and baby unit as well as her alcohol and drug use.
Since late 2012 there had been six child abuse notifications. These were produced in court as matters of fact. They included the mother being found intoxicated and asleep beside her child on the ground at a violent party to which the Gardaí had been called. She had also been found in town intoxicated after being reported missing from her placement, she was abusive and caused property damage. On that occasion the infant had been with the grandmother.
The social worker told the court that on another instance a 30 mg benzodiazepine tablet was found beside the infant’s buggy, the worry was that it may have been the mother’s or the child may have picked it up. She said she was concerned about the mother’s ability to provide a safe environment and protect him.
The social worker was concerned about the baby’s routine, the mother often returned to the unit after 9 or 10 at night when he should have been in bed. The social worker had visited her at the unit last month, where she suspected she was under the influence of something, urinalysis was requested but refused.
She had not engaged in the support they had tried to offer her, this would impact on her ability to keep the child safe, she spent quite a lot of time outside her unit in town and appeared to be engaging with inappropriate people.
The baby’s great-grandmother told the court that she had no concerns whatsoever about the baby’s care and presentation. The mother and baby came to visit her once a week and stayed the night. The only concern was dermatitis and her granddaughter had brought him to the doctor, he had ointment for it. She had never seen her granddaughter intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
She told the court that on the day of the incident, the child had breakfast, a drink and later a yogurt and a drink, then a walk with his aunt, before which she (his great-grandmother) had applied sunscreen. At three o’clock they had a roast dinner, after which she played with him, then he had his tea with a drink around 5.30 and biscuits throughout the day.
She told the HSE solicitor that there had been sunscreen, baby wipes, nappies and a drink in the buggy. The solicitor told her the Garda said there was none but the great-grandmother said perhaps they had been used up. She said he was not suffering from the heat of the day as he had cooled down, his mother needed to put the cream on his rash but there was no harm in bringing the child for a walk.
“You presumed she was going home. Do you know if it’s normal she was going around town at 8.40 at night?” asked the HSE solicitor.
“No it’s not.”
They had arrived at her house on Friday and left on Sunday, there had been no ointment for his eczema there. “When you’re dealing with a small child like that would it be wise to spend so long getting home to get the ointment for the child?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ve had children, if one of your children had a rash, would you go home or would you go and walk around the city centre?”
“Truth? I’d go home,” replied the great-grandmother. When asked who looked after the infant, she said: “We all do, he goes from one to the other.”
She had not put the sun cream on him as the sun had gone down when her granddaughter was taking him home. She would be concerned if they were out at nearly 9 at night with someone smoking heroin.
The judge granted the Emergency Care Order for eight days because of “on-going concerns of the placement at the mother and baby unit, suspected alcohol and drug misuse, not meeting [the child’s] needs…also referred to various child protection notifications made since [late] 2012, three still outstanding, three completed, does not show adequate insight… protection or providing for his needs.”
While opposing the application the mother declined to give evidence. The judge was satisfied on the evidence before him “that the HSE have proven that there is an immediate and serious risk for [the child] to remain in her care, the threshold has been met.” The judge appointed a guardian ad litem to the mother.
When the case came back to court six days later the HSE sought an Interim Care Order for 28 days, and it was granted on consent. A GAL had been appointed to the mother. The Team Leader also told the court that a designated aftercare worker had been appointed to the mother two weeks ago and there was a social care worker for the baby. The GAL for the mother was engaged in the central criminal court on another matter, but the hearing went ahead as the ICO was on consent.
The social work report gave an extensive history of the last six to twelve months. The Team Leader said the mother would need to attend parenting courses, access visits and meetings with the HSE and engage with support services. She had not attended an access visit and it was extremely important that she attend all of them.
The mother herself was in voluntary care, signed in by her grandmother who was her legal guardian. The mother was doing a good job as a mother, she just needed to get a handle on her drink and drug issue, if she could do that, reunification would be possible. The HSE would provide a private residential aftercare placement for the mother and child.
The Judge suggested to the Team Leader cutting and pasting what the mother needed to do with boxes to tick to give her a sense of achievement and that she was making progress. The Team Leader confirmed he would do that.