A full Care Order until the child was 18 was granted in a rural town for an 11-year-old girl whose mother suffered from alcoholism. The girl was in foster care with relatives.
Evidence was given by an addiction counsellor in the residential centre attended by the mother that she had completed a 12-week residential course but had relapsed and was missing for four days, turning up eventually in a hotel. During this time she had phoned her daughter, who was very distressed.
Referring to the woman’s treatment, the counsellor said: “She found it very difficult to make a connection between her addiction and her daughter being in care. It was very hard to get the story of her addiction from her. There was so little information we had to request the social work report and get the permission of the court for it. She thought she would have got her daughter back after the course.”
The counsellor said that after the 12-week residential course the mother had gone to a “step-down” facility, which was an open house with peer support and access to counselling. It was from here she went missing. “This was always going to be a long-term project,” she said. “We knew she could be sober for a period. She needed to keep going to support meetings and stay sober. We had an after-care plan.”
The director of the centre, which was in a city some distance away, said it offered the mother after care when she came home. There was some engagement, but she was not able to maintain all her appointments. She excused herself from some and was absent from others, only attending four sessions in three months.
Asked if a person whose child had come into care due to her alcohol abuse, and who wanted to get the child back, would be expected to engage more fully with alcohol support services, the director said: “Yes”.
The social worker said social services were looking at returning the child to the mother before her relapse. The mother blamed the relapse on her child being in care, and her daughter was very upset about that. There was a question about her parenting capacity if the child returned. There was fortnightly access and she wanted to increase it, but there were issues that needed to be addressed. The mother then cancelled access visits.
Asked by the mother’s solicitor if there had been a mix-up due to the HSE, as the mother had been ill in hospital and had sent a letter, the social worker said they did not receive any letter. “At a meeting yesterday she smelled of alcohol. She offered to go to her GP for a test and stormed out of the meeting.” The solicitor said the mother had come into the lawyer’s office extremely upset at being accused of smelling of alcohol. She said she had not been drinking.
“Generally we had a good relationship with her,” the social worker said. “She needs to take on board the effect this [the cancellation] is having on her daughter. We have a strong suspicion she’s been drinking.”
Asked for evidence of this, she said: “All we have is cancelled meetings, cancelled access and a child who’s really wanting to see her mother. She needs security and stability. It’s up to Mum to prove herself to the social work department and to her daughter. She’s a lovely kid. She does not want to return to her mum if she’s drinking or in contact with [X, a named person]. She [the mother] needs to engage with us.”
The mother told the court that the first six weeks of the course had been very difficult and she found it very hard to talk about her daughter. “I know I damaged her. I love her. A lot of the other people [in the centre] were not mums. The shame and guilt and regret were so great I could not talk about her. I wanted to focus on why I drank, why I felt down.
“I got a letter from X saying he was in recovery and I thought we were both doing well. Then I heard he was not doing well. I wanted to contact him and left the centre and had a relapse. I’ve got over the relapse and am back into recovery. I cooperate fully with the HSE. I learned a lot from the relapse and never want to go back. “
She said there had been a family welfare conference involving her, her daughter and the relative foster carers. Her daughter had been expecting sleepovers with her mother, but this had not been agreed and she was very disappointed. “She thought people would listen to her. She said, ‘people keep asking me what I want but they don’t listen to me.’”
She said the social worker had told her if she agreed to her daughter being in care until she was 18 she would have increased access. She had started a new job, even though she felt weak and her mother was very ill. “I’m trying my best. I ended up in hospital wondering why I’m trying to please the HSE when even when everything is fine I can’t see my daughter.”
She said she knew her daughter was happy with the relatives, but if she was well she wanted to come back home. “I can’t promise I’ll never drink again. No alcoholic can do that. I will do all in my power not to. [My daughter] does not want to come back with me if I am drinking and to be honest I wouldn’t take her back. I don’t want to damage her any more. I just want my daughter to see her mum. My family wanted to be together for Christmas and the HSE would not allow that.
“Who’s listening to [my daughter]? Who’s in her corner? I want a chance to make it right for her.”
The judge asked her if she was happy for a Care Order if she could get the access she wanted. She replied she would accept a Care Order for another year to give herself a chance to sort things out.
The HSE solicitor said there was no such thing as a final Care Order in a child care matter. If things do change for the better the mother could make an application to have the order discharged.
“The child has gone through trauma, she has gone through sadness, she has taken on responsibilities she should not have to,” the judge said. “She should not have to worry if you are well. In order to protect her from that I will grant a Care Order until she is 18, with [the relative]. Access will be reinstated and increased, utterly dependent on you. I wish you luck.”