A full Care Order for two children with attachment issues was granted for five months only, pending the production of an adequate care plan.
The mother’s solicitor said the mother did “not accept each and every one of the issues set out, but accepts the children were affected by domestic violence … her drug taking had an adverse effect on their parenting”. The mother was consenting but “requested the court to have a substantial review of the Care Order in two years’ time. “She is aware the onus is on her, she understands the very serious concerns of the social work department.” However, the mother had concerns about a residential placement for Child B as he was young.
The HSE solicitor said the father was not present and had not played any role in the proceedings to date. He had been served with notice of the proceedings, the social workers had spoken with him and tried to engage him. There was a considerable agreement between the parties in relation to the granting of the order.
The social worker told the HSE solicitor that the family had been known to the social work department since 2003, although there had been earlier referrals in 2001. The mother’s situation was homelessness, domestic violence and drug abuse and there had been voluntary care for a short period. Child B had been in voluntary care for four years. However he made allegations about his foster carers, there had been a HSE investigation and the allegations were unfounded, said the HSE solicitor. The social worker concurred.
The level of engagement between the mother and the services offered was poor. By early 2007 there were a number of concerns: lack of routine, drug use, domestic violence, lack of supervision and the children’s emotional needs.
The social worker said the family were being offered parenting capacity support by a family therapy centre, and speech and language therapy for Child A, but engagement was poor, even though a taxi service was provided, so services were withdrawn. B was in care but A was regularly late being dropped to school and collected, there was also a lack of supervision. A charity organisation was also offering support.
The mother had a long-standing drug addiction, there were concerns around her drug use (opiates, cocaine, cannabis) and the impact it was having on her care of the children. There was a history of a lot of domestic violence from the father towards the mother, which the children witnessed and reported in school. The relationship was on and off.
There was some improvement in late 2008. The mother was engaging with the home help worker around cooking and shopping, and there was no contact with the father (a condition of the Supervision Order then in place). She was attending her methadone programme, had regular contact with the social work department, was living with her mother and making progress. B was returned to her care in December 2008, the mother had an apartment then. However in 2009 there was once again deterioration in her progress and in her engagement.
The HSE solicitor told the court that the mother had said B was showing no fear, he was robbing bicycles. The social worker said the mother reported having difficulty managing his behaviour. There was a lot of concern at that point relating to the child from the Gardaí, the social work team and the school. He attempted to smash a window and was stealing bikes, he required constant supervision.
In autumn 2011, he allegedly tried to set a vehicle on fire and had to be taken down from the roof of a building. At the case conference, the recommendation was for him to remain in the care of a relative. A was attending the mentoring service of an afterschool project, which had significant concerns about her low self-esteem, on-going head lice, her mother not collecting her and not being at home. There was some stability when both children were living with their maternal grandmother.
A NEPS assessment began in late 2011. It recommended a cognitive assessment of B and a speech and language assessment. The social worker completed a parenting capacity assessment in early 2012, and identified needs for both children and concerns about the mother’s capacity to parent. B had a learning disability which affected all aspects of his life, he had delays in his social skills, adaptive skills, fine and gross motor skills, and significant behavioural issues. He was vulnerable to peer pressure and had difficulty in understanding what was happening in a group setting. He displayed an ability to manage his behaviour when given the correct level of stimulation.
A underwent a NEPS assessment in 2008. It was found she had a mild to moderate disability. She presented with significant emotional issues from internalising a lot of anger, low self-esteem and body issue images. She had low expectations of her mother with regard to emotional support.
There were further concerns about B’s behaviour in 2012. He stole money from the after-school project and there were concerns from the Gardaí in relation to his behaviour. An emergency case conference sought to see if relatives could care for the children, but they were unable to. Care orders were then sought for both children.
Within four months however, the foster carers handed in their notice due to B’s behaviour. They could not keep him safe, he would not follow direction and was engaging in anti-social behaviour, wandering off, staying out late at night, attempting to damage neighbours’ property, intimidation and verbal abuse towards the neighbours.
The social work department sought a longer term placement for B. In the case conference in late 2012, it was identified he would require specialised care due to his high level of complex needs. Neither the HSE services nor private foster services met his needs, said the social worker, so residential options were considered. Meanwhile the next placement broke down. He required immediate behaviour stabilisation.
A’s first placement broke down also, she physically assaulted the eldest daughter of the foster carers and made an allegation she was assaulted by her foster father, which turned out to be unfounded. She was moved to another placement where she settled. She was linked with a mentoring project, a key worker met with her three times a week. She was also being referred to a therapist. The foster mother was attending sessions around attachment issues.
A three strand support package had been developed for the foster mother and B, with direct support for the foster mother from an attachment specialist. However she handed in her notice because he assaulted her on a few occasions. He was then moved into a respite placement, from where he would move this week to a short-term foster placement while “the social work department considers the best option for his long-term care.”
The judge said: “The court would really like to know what is planned for [B] in the short and long term.” The social worker told the judge that the immediate plan was to move B to a short term placement for 4-6 weeks, supports would be put in place again and the attachment specialist would support the foster carer. “His immediate needs are for his behaviour stabilisation and then to move to long-term therapeutic support so he can manage and thrive in a foster care placement. His residential placement will transition to foster care.”
The judge said she had “a grave concern making an order in a scenario where there is no concrete plan … this young boy with complex and pressing needs has experienced three placements, he will now experience two more … is the guardian approving this?” The GAL solicitor said the GAL was hugely concerned about the onward placement for B, she wanted the full care order with a short review.
The social worker said two residential centres had availability, but the HSE solicitor said they needed to ascertain if those centres could meet his needs. The judge asked what level of engagement had taken place with the services, surely even on a brochure there would be information about what they could offer. The HSE solicitor said the social worker had to meet with the services as soon as possible. Then it would be brought before the resource panel for a decision.
The HSE solicitor said the mother would be entitled to attend child-in-care reviews, issues could be discussed with the social work department. Periodic family access could be facilitated in the residential unit.
The GAL solicitor said the guardian had recommended grief therapy and play therapy. The social worker said at this point B was not in a position to engage, but once he had completed the behaviour stabilisation he could commence.
The mother informally told the court that B was abused in foster care by both foster parents, they were smacking him and putting him in cold baths. They called him “a junkie” and shaved his head. His little brother died at three weeks old of a cot death. She wanted more access with her son. “I’m only seeing him every two weeks and there’s someone in the room with us, when it’s time to go I can see his little face dropping,” she said. She wanted to stay with him for a night, she worried he felt she is pushing him away, she only had two hours with him every two weeks.
She wanted to go to a shopping centre and walk around with him or go to the pictures. The mother said: “I don’t know what the problem is … he’s not an animal, he has feelings … he’s just getting pushed away … I just don’t feel like it’s going anywhere.”
“How important are the parents for how well the children do in care?” asked the judge. The guardian said they were very important. The mother had supported the social workers and the children and it was really important they got that message from her. The most important issue to be addressed was for B to know where he was going in the future. Ideally his unit would need to support his attachment needs as well as his behaviour. He needed to be in a rural placement. The most important thing was that his placement got agreed.
Both children would need long-term interventions for the rest of their placements, which was very difficult when funding had to be reapplied for every three months.
The judge asked what were the effects of his initial experiences in care on B. The GAL said he first went into care at the age of two, he did not have a good experience and went back to mum, then granny, back to mum, back to care, the message he has got was “nobody can contain me.” “It’s going to take someone with huge commitment and enormous resistance to teach B there is someone who he can trust,” the GAL said.
The judge asked if there was “a possibility for a significant period of access between moves? For a good part of the day, maybe go to the pictures?” The Team Leader said she would look into it with the social worker. “What I’m looking for now is some special mother and son time” said the judge.
The judge told the solicitor for the HSE that before she gave her decision the following day she wanted to know “what is concretely going to be proposed for mother and son … identity of the unit, whether in fact it is calibrated to suit B’s needs.”
The following day the judge said: “The care plans are inadequate, they do not detail sufficiently their mother in [the children’s] lives.” She made the care order made for five months until comprehensive care plans had “been filed in respect of each child, to allow the HSE to find the most child appropriate long-term placements for both children.” The HSE was to “provide adequate access with mother and son, of good quality.”
“[The mother] was vital to the process of A settling into her placement and accepting she needed to be in care for a while. The therapeutic needs of each of these children are like a snowball going down a hill, they will be bigger at the end of their period in care than at the beginning unless we can put in a care plan at the start of that process.” She could not approve the care plan in its current form, the judge said.