A full care order was granted for a 14-year-old who had been in care under a short-term Care Order for three years in a provincial city. The HSE had sought a Care Order until the child was 18 and, after a full day’s hearing, the judge granted it.
The child, B, was one of a large family all of whom were in care except the eldest, A. The parents, who had been married, were separated and were members of a minority church. They were both in court and legally represented, and their representatives said they were consenting to the care order, but there were issues relating to access.
An occupational therapist told the court that B had had a number of hospital admissions with a medical problem. His treatment included a toilet regime. He improved significantly and attended school without any problems. However, there was a rapid deterioration the previous March, for which there was no physical reason. The reason appeared to be emotional and social. Every time he saw his family he had problems.
The mother’s solicitor said that at the time when his condition deteriorated his foster placement had just broken down. The occupational therapist agreed that he was readmitted to hospital because of the situation with his foster family. She also agreed there had been a number of access visits with his family where he had no adverse reactions.
The mother’s solicitor said there had been a traumatic event at the March access, where B had had access with his mother and his siblings. His mother had taken the younger siblings to the ladies’ toilet and while there the foster mother had collected B and he had not had a chance to say goodbye to his mother and siblings, whom he saw only rarely, and this upset him very much. She asked if there might be less emotional stress if he saw his siblings more often. The occupational therapist said she could only comment on the physical impact of his distress.
The social worker said she had worked with the boy since 2010. He came into care the end of that year. He had severe head lice, was underweight, his clothes were so dirty they had to be incinerated and he was not attending school. A large number of agencies had previously been involved with the family.
He was now attending school every day, which he enjoyed and was doing very well academically, achieving all As in his Christmas examinations. There had been a change in his foster placement the previous summer, when the first foster family had a premature baby and were unable to cope. The foster parents found his attachment issues quite challenging; he tended to work on a cognitive rather than an emotional level. They found his lack of empathy and connection challenging.
He was now turning his toilet problem into a secret habit, hiding his dirty underwear. However, there was a lot that was normal in his life and he was well integrated socially.
He had access with is mother every two weeks. There were concerns about him attending his church because of the tensions between his separated parents, both of whom attended the church, and the stress this would cause him.
Asked about him returning home, she said she would not recommend it, it would re-traumatise him. Asked about his lack of emotional connection to his foster parents, she said he did not connect emotionally with many people. The mother’s solicitor said he connected with his mother. “I think he’s over-attached and sometimes can’t separate. It’s not a healthy attachment,” the social worker replied. She agreed he was attached to his siblings, but they didn’t talk about each other’s lives, they discussed computer games.
“Would you not expect talk about lives from a more mature person?” the judge asked. “They have only met on five occasions, all in public places, since B came into care,” the solicitor said. “Would it be any different at home?” “I don’t know,” said the social worker.
She said more contact was difficult as they were all at school during the winter and did not live close together. They were encouraged to write letters. “Is that not a bit historic?” asked the solicitor. “Who else do they see writing letters?” asked the judge. “No-one,” admitted the social worker.
The mother’s solicitor said that in the previous placement B had spent two weeks and every weekend with his mother, and no problems were reported. That foster placement broke down for reasons entirely unrelated to him.
The solicitor said the mother had taken a number of steps to improve her situation since the children were taken into care, and was now off all medication and attending a counsellor. She was now seeking more access to her children, including B, and wanted overnight access. The social worker said she did not agree this was wise as it would re-traumatise the boy. The solicitor said the mother wanted access to be in her home, with her brother there to give him religious instruction.
The social worker said she did not agree with B being in his home. She did not think he could deal with the emotional aspects of it. He was showing distress through his medical problem.
“Is that not an improvement?” asked the judge. “His response is totally normal. I have had submissions from other people that a child matures out of this. He is controlling his problem in school and building up to a rejection of it.”
“My client’s concern is that his medical condition will be used as an excuse to separate him from his family and not allow his emotional development,” the mother’s solicitor said. “The medical condition is the reason why contact with his mother and other family members is being minimised. You have made up your mind that the family is the problem.”
“We know there is a link between the family and the medical condition,” the social worker replied.
“That is your opinion. My client does not accept it. She considers it would be in his long-term interest to maintain close relationships with his family. You have always believed the worst of my client.” “I don’t agree,” the social worker said.
“You predicted the older child (A) would not go to school if he returned home. In fact he completed his Leaving Cert and engaged in rigorous physical activity, all supported by his mother who got him up for school.”
“We don’t know she got him up for school,” the social worker said. “You could give her the benefit of the doubt,” the solicitor said.
The father’s solicitor asked why the boy was not allowed to attend his church. The social worker said she was concerned he could not handle being around his father, who also attended. The father was very intense around church attendance, and insisted the younger children go though it involved a long journey on buses.
“Is not church attendance a regular feature of this community’s life?” asked the solicitor. The social worker said it would be better if the father was not so insistent.
Asked if she had discussed church attendance with B, she said he had said he wanted to be part of the church. “Is it not HSE policy to encourage children to maintain their involvement in their faith? Is participation in church activities not vital? B not being allowed to go deprives him of being a full member of his congregation.”
“It is not a safe environment for him at the moment,” the social worker replied.
“You’re focussing very much on the medical problem,” the judge said. “We’re trying to isolate the triggers,” she replied.
The mother told the court she did not think the family was the cause of B’s medical problem. She said she accepted the boy was doing well in foster care. She did not accept either that she and the boy had an unhealthy relationship and thought there should be increased access. He got on well with his other siblings. She was anxious that the whole family would be together again, and they were upset by the incident where B had not had a chance to say good-bye after an access visit.
She said he needed to be able to talk to someone and contact with him was restricted. “I’m not supposed to have any text contact. I have one phone call a week. If he texts me I can’t text him back. I’m his mother, he looks on me as his mother, I think he should be allowed that,” she said.
She said she was now much better than when B was taken into care, she was off anti-depressants and was seeing a counsellor, she had joined the parents’ council at her children’s school.
Asked if B would not be angry with her for failing to protect him from his father’s anger, she said: “I did protect him. I separated from [the father] in 2009 and he was taken into care in 2010.”
“You didn’t do anything about it because you were scared for yourself, and too busy looking after the children who kept coming,” the judge said. “Would B not be enraged? How would increased access with you help him in dealing with that rage?”
“It wouldn’t,” the mother replied.
“Correct,” replied the judge. “We have no idea what B is thinking because he won’t talk to the psychologist and won’t engage with the foster family. You are a very mild-mannered person and it’s very hard to express anger to a mild person. There is a very strong possibility he is enraged with you. Often when one person is abusive and the other person does nothing about it the child is very angry with the person who doesn’t protect him.”
The solicitor for the mother said the children have an excellent relationship with her. The HSE solicitor said B did express rage in the foster home against his foster mother.
The father told the court that he had not met his son for a long time, and when he last met him they gave each other a hug. “I was rough, I admit. That woman [the mother] is the nicest woman you could meet and the best mother. If he has anger he should take it out on me. I would like access once a month and see how it goes. I would never put pressure on him but I would like to help him get over his anger issues.”
He said he was in anger management for three and half years and was working with a therapist. “If I was a better parent at home we wouldn’t be here today.”
He said the foster parents should be able to give up five hours a week to take B to his church. He had no difficulty with his brother-in-law providing religious instruction to him.
“I didn’t deal with problems in my life and I was the one who always gave out to the children. [The mother] is a wonderful mother and if I had done it properly I’d have a wonderful family. Don’t blame her, blame me.”
The guardian ad litem told the court that B was doing very well in school and had huge potential to do very well in life. When his parents’ marriage broke up he was not attending school, he had head lice, suffered extreme physical neglect, had a medical condition and was emotionally shut down. He was a long way from that today. If he regressed his foster placement was likely to break down, his school was likely to break down. Therefore change should be approached very cautiously.
He had three wishes: to attend church every Sunday, to finish school and to go home at weekends. The foster parents were helping him to process his emotional responses, the emotional side was extremely complex.
She said both parents deserved credit for coming to the point they had and talking to the boy about staying in care until he was 18. She recommended arrangements for his religious observance and a planned increase in access with his family, including his brothers and his father. She said she would like him to see his siblings in their placements, there should be more contact with them.
The judge said he was hearing there were risks and he was reluctant to make an order that would make things worse. He made a Care Order for four years, until the boy was 18, and said he expected monthly access with the father and that access with the mother would remain. He expected increased access with the other siblings. He said he would review the situation in November to look at B’s psychological reports. He extended until the end of the year the Care Orders for the other children.