A full Care Order was granted for a young child until the age of majority on application to the District Court subsequent to the expiration of a 14 month short term Care Order. It was recognised by all parties involved that the young mother (who did not attend the hearing) was homeless and had chronic addiction issues, and also that she had had a very tough start in life. Her own mother who was a long term drug user had died when she was a young child.
The case had initially come to court as an Emergency Care Order (ECO) in mid-2013 when the child, then a baby, was taken into care after his mother had been seen smoking heroin down a lane by a Garda. It had been late evening after a very hot day and the baby had been in the buggy beside her, looking grubby and distraught, with no smell of sunscreen and the Garda had said that the baby looked red from the sun on his cheeks and legs. Furthermore, the Garda had found no bottles or ointment for the baby in the buggy. The mother had been intoxicated, aggressive, in possession of cannabis and had given a false name and address.
After the infant was taken into Interim Care, the mother was placed in a residential unit. She had no external family support available to her apart from her grandmother and two older siblings, one of whom was a heroin addict.
The young mother was moved out of this residential unit on her 18th birthday and had to find private independent living. The guardian ad litem (GAL) gave evidence during the first application for the full Care Order (which resulted in the 14 month short Care Order) that being moved out of the unit would have had a significant impact on the mother.
During the first application for the full Care Order, the court heard evidence from the clinical psychologist and key worker in the mother’s drug treatment programme that a history of chronic drug relapse had now established and the mother needed to attend residential treatment in order to succeed in coming off heroin. (The mother had relapsed into drug use directly prior to reunification with her son).
They both said that she had a beautiful relationship with her son and innate parenting skills. If she could successfully attend residential treatment and supports were put in place for her, it was possible she could care for her son. However it was up to the mother to make the decision to attend residential treatment and move away from her circle of friends who were using drugs.
The stakes were very high, said the psychologist, it was gone beyond hoping for the best and it would take at least a year for the mother to make the drastic changes needed to maintain an alcohol and drug free lifestyle.
During the first full Care Order hearing, the GAL noted again the relationship between the mother and child. She told the court that she had observed them in the back of the car together going to access. “[His mum] has a beautiful calm nature with [her son] which is also his nature, they have a beautiful interaction.” She reiterated that the mother now had to stand on her own two feet and address her difficulties and at that stage the department could look at reunification.
The mother had told the court during the first Care Order hearing that she just wanted to do what she could to get her child back. She said she had rushed herself coming off her methadone, which had caused the relapse at the time prior to the reunification between herself and her son, she said that in future she would know to take it slowly.
The judge granted a 14 month short Care Order which would expire when the mother turned 21, she advised the mother to take on her responsibilities during for herself and her child during the 14 months without delay.
The second full Care Order hearing
Fourteen months later, when the short Care Order had expired, the court heard evidence from the social worker that the young mother had now become fully overwhelmed by her addiction. She was sleeping in a tent in the city centre and had not had consistent homeless accommodation or begun to engage with drug services. The social worker told the court that the mother’s addiction had become more entrenched since the granting of the short Care Order, the relapse had accelerated since then.
The mother, who had been served notice of the hearing, was not in attendance, her advocate had had no contact with her and her social worker had not seen her that day.
The hearing was adjourned for three weeks in order to give the mother a further opportunity to attend and to re-engage with the Legal Aid Board.
Three weeks later the solicitor for the CFA told the court that the mother had been served notice of the proceedings but was once more not in attendance. It was obviously a very sad case, he said, but to delay the matter any further was prejudicial to the child. “The mother herself is anxious to see the end of it, she contacted the social worker [three weeks ago] to see what had happened.”
Her EPIC (Empowering Young People in Care) advocate had filled in most of her legal aid form but it had not been submitted for representation today because the mother had not signed it. She was aware of the proceedings today but not engaging in the process. The judge proceeded with the hearing.
The social worker told the court that the mother’s situation had deteriorated very rapidly immediately after the short Care Order. Prior to that application, reunification had been planned and was being proceeded with but due to her relapse into drug use the Care Order application had been made. It was the social worker’s opinion that perhaps the mother had been overwhelmed by the sense of responsibility with the impending reunification and this had caused the relapse into heroin use.
She told the court about the accommodation the mother had been evicted from after the first Care Order hearing. This was the accommodation that her son was to move back to with her. After the hearing the mother been unable to engage with rent allowance and the condition of the flat was very bad. There had been faeces in the bath, needles on the floor and furniture broken and damaged. Subsequently, she was evicted.
The mother needed to link in with a drug service, she has an aftercare worker from Focus but there was no interest, the grounds continue to exist for an extension of the Care Order. “She wants to do better but her situation is very serious at the moment, she is not engaging, she is very likeable, intelligent, warm, kind, and has insight into our roles but we are very worried about her.”
Prior to the first Care Order hearing, access had initially been weekly and unsupervised which had changed to fortnightly and was held at a health centre because she mother was often not attending the access and was experiencing difficulties in terms of drug use and accommodation.
The plan had been that she would link in with the social worker to get access back up to weekly, but this had not happened. “Her drug addiction has had a massive impact on her life, she is consciously not showing up [to access] because it is better not to attend,” the social worker said.
She told the court that the child’s foster family were very positive about his mother and towards her. “He includes his mummy in his nightly prayers, despite her very serious struggles in her life she engaged very well at access [when she attended] and it was a very positive experience for him, the reports all said. But her health has deteriorated, her energy is a bit low,” the social worker said.
She told the court that the mother had bought the tent in order to avoid the drug users in homeless services. However what she needed was to be in a drug programme. She was currently involved in a relationship with a man who had child abuse offences concerning a child with the same profile as her son. When the mother was informed of this her response had been that it made her feel sick and shocked to discover she was in a relationship with such a person but the Guards had subsequently contacted the social work department to advise them that the relationship was still on-going. “This speaks to her loneliness and vulnerability that she would continue with a relationship that was wrong.”
“Maybe the short order was not of benefit to her,” the social worker said, “because it may have set her up to believe that she could make more progress than she could in that time.”
Currently the mother was “immensely overwhelmed by her addiction, she is emaciated and not wearing clean clothes, part of the reason she is not presenting [at court] is that she would be embarrassed by being dishevelled. She is in full denial about the extent of her addiction.”
Her son was in the same foster placement since being received into care and was very settled, he had been long term matched.
The GAL told the court that if the mother had been “given half a chance when she was a very young child who knows where she would be now”. She was a resilient young lady, insightful and knew what a child needed and understood the emotional impact of her son’s removal from her. She was very aware of how the last year’s deterioration had affected her bond with her child and would not answer the phone to the GAL.
“Observing access between them was a pleasure,” she told the court, “he was so warm with her and loving like his mam, she was overwhelmed, she deserved all the supports she got from the services. She worked so hard to reunify with her son and only at the last stage perhaps, self-destructed. The reality of parenting [her son] and the fears of failing and her awareness of it impacting on him and she didn’t want to disrupt him. I’m extremely concerned about her, Judge.”
She told the court that the child was fully aware of his mother and was making a card for her 21st birthday which was the week following the hearing. His foster family had bought presents for her, one of which was a t-shirt with a picture of him on it. He was looking forward to seeing her. He was also very settled and attached and secure in his foster family whom he called his mummy and daddy. “He is so comfortable around them, he is part of the family and needs to remain there, he needs legal permanency.”
The judge granted a full Care Order until the age of majority for the young child.
She said that the evidence adduced in 2015 was extensive and she had made a fact finding decision (save for a disputed incidence). The judge had found that the child was placed in situations where his health, development and welfare were being neglected. She had gone on to determine proportionality and had been impressed by the mother’s potential to be a superb mother, who herself had gone through the care process and was vulnerable and in aftercare. The short order had been made in an effort, given the demeanour and force of the mother, that if she were to address her issues, that it would be achievable in that period and that period would not prejudice the child.
It was most unfortunate that the mother had found herself in a very difficult position, continued the judge. “Her addiction appears to continue and to exist.” Every effort had been made by the CFA and she was fully aware of her rights to oppose the order. “The very fact that she is not here, maybe she is not in a place to be here.”
She noted that the mother had purchased a tent which indicated a desire to extricate herself from the drug use but this would appear to render her very exposed to great vulnerabilities. “One doesn’t want to think as to how vulnerable she is.” The judge noted that the child was “in a good place.”
She told the parties that she was satisfied that it was not only proportionate but necessary to extend the order but “extending it until 18 does not necessarily mean he will remain in care until he is 18, she is a very good person in a very bad place. She is a very good mother but she is not in a position to be a mother at this time. This could change, if she got a toe hold she could approach the Agency to bring an application to discharge the Care Order.”
She asked the Child and Family Agency to encourage the mother to attend drug rehabilitation and return to her education should she ever come back to it.
See Archive 2013, Volume 3, No. 19 for the ECO report
Also Archive 2015, Volume 3, report No.2 for the first full Care Order hearing report