In the Dublin District Court a full care order for a young child with an attachment disorder was granted for 15 months. The mother, who was undergoing intensive psychotherapy, agreed she could not care for the child and consented to the order. In addition, following two days of discussion in court, the judge ordered that the HSE provide a special needs assistant (SNA) to help him integrate in school.
The HSE solicitor said all the parties had agreed to a care order for 15 months, with the case to come back for review after that time. She said the access still needed to be reduced in order to settle the child and create attachments. The mother had problems getting to weekly access on time, so she was being asked to ring on the day of access to say she was coming.
The child would stay with his current foster family during the 15 months. The mother would re-attend a parenting course. A re-assessment of parental capacity would be done with a doctor in 12 months, when the mother had completed her intensive psychotherapy.
The judge asked about the charges the father may be facing. The solicitor said he had been convicted of an assault charge earlier in the year and would be incarcerated.
The GAL solicitor, who was supporting the care order application, said they were seeking a Section 47 application for a Special Needs Assistant for the child until the end of term. The HSE solicitor opposed the application, saying it was premature and suggesting adjourning it until the psychologist’s assessment was complete. An earlier assessment concluded the child did not have special needs.
The GAL solicitor said the child’s teacher could not cope with him; there was “significant loss of teaching time on a daily basis” due to many problems with his behaviour.
The HSE solicitor said this was a child who had emotional and behavioural difficulties due to an attachment problem with his mother because of a multiplicity of placements. The foster family would be provided with a therapist to assist the family to manage his behaviours. She said the department of education should fund the SNA, not the HSE. However, the solicitor for the GAL disagreed, she said the child’s welfare required it.
The social worker who had dealt with the child until the end of 2011, the year he came into the care of the HSE, said that it happened consistently that the mother could not manage, and his grandmother could not handle his behaviour. The maternal grandmother had said that the same thing had happened with the older child. The father also said the mother was not in a position to look after him and he was not being cared for by her on a consistent basis, he was being cared for by different family members.
The social worker said the child had lived with his mother, father, both grandmothers and another relative. There were a lot of concerns about him being moved from one family member to another. He had been in a crèche from 8.30-6.30, and his bedtime was 7.30.
The child should not have unsupervised access with any member of his paternal family. The social worker had five separate files open with regards to child sexual assault in relation to five individuals. The social worker was very concerned that the child had been in the paternal family house unsupervised. A case conference had taken place late last year, the year he was signed into HSE care.
Three incidents of unexplained injuries had happened to the boy as a young child. There had been issues as regards neglect as well as no primary attachment to any one individual. The crèche had complained to the HSE that he was not being collected on time. They said in future they would have to drop him at the HSE offices.
The social worker said he disagreed with the mother’s opinion that the child had ADHD. He had never had a secure attachment to a primary caregiver. He “never knew when he was going to be with mammy, or where he was going to be, and whether he was going to be collected from the crèche or not.”
He had settled in quite well with the foster family, which was an indication that he was used to being moved around, he “settled almost too well.” The social worker said he needed “a prolonged period of stability, a period of time to make primary attachments to care givers, be they foster carers, there has to be an acknowledgment that there has been significant trauma to [the child] at this point, unless we do what we can to assist him now, he will present with significant challenges.”
The second social worker, who had taken over the case a year ago, said the mother had recently engaged in a parenting capacity assessment and the HSE was awaiting the outcome. The mother had withdrawn her consent for voluntary care nearly a year ago, when she had suddenly told the child he would be going home after access. She had been urged not to do this as the guards would have to be called and a Section 12 applied for, she then changed her mind and the HSE initiated proceedings the next day.
After this a parental assessment had taken place, which recommended the mother should undergo intensive psychotherapy. The assessment found that her need to be in a relationship overwhelmed her judgments regarding her children, and any child in her care would be at risk of neglect and possible abuse. She needed to learn child-centred empathy and to increase her skills to cope with the child. The social worker said she was in the very early stages of therapy, there was very slow progress and she would need therapy for some time.
His behaviour in school was worse the day before access and the foster carers had noticed a deterioration in his behaviour around access. The social worker said they were very unclear as to where the mother lived, where she worked, and what hours she worked. The mother had asked for access to be in her accommodation.
She said the child was settled into a family where the parents are very used to dealing with difficult children. He was doing outdoor activities and was more willing to go outside.
Life story work was being done with him now, which included the reasons why he came to stay with his foster care family, and that it was not a holiday. It was being explained to the child that the plan was for him to remain there and he did not have to focus on moving again and could be a little boy. It was a huge transition for him.
The Stay Safe programme had been commenced with him (due to his father’s past) and his recent behaviour, where there had been an incident of sexualised behaviour. He might need a referral to a therapeutic unit depending on outcomes.
He had had a needs assessment, and speech and language therapy, there had been a lot of intervention in his life. There was a therapist available who had met with the family. The child had been referred to CAMHS, but they felt his needs would be best met within the community with a psychologist.
The solicitor asked her if an special needs assistant (SNA) was needed for the school, the social worker said the HSE would not be able to provide one, the Department of Education would have to do it. The social worker said she did not want the child to be given a SNA unless he needed one, so he would not be pointed out as different. She proposed working with the teacher so that his challenging behaviours would be reduced.
The GAL solicitor then asked if she accepted the school was seeking support in the form of a SNA and a clinical psychologist would need some time to assess the child. The social worker replied that although the HSE met with the school which outlined their concerns a month ago, she hoped the school would apply for an SNA from the Department of Education.
The solicitor asked what options the school had to cope with the child if his behaviour deteriorated further. The social worker replied that she said did not “want the child to be labelled as a special needs child, where he would stick out as a sore thumb, he was already out on a limb as a child in care.” She wanted to look at alternatives, but if an SNA was recommended by the clinical psychologist she would accept it.
The GAL told his solicitor that the boy was not good at group games, he got angry with other children in the yard, he liked to be in control. He had been referred to a psychologist in primary care after sexualised play with a girl, he had taken his trousers down and asked her to turn away.
The GAL said the school had asked the HSE for an SNA and were asked to put it in writing. He recommended an SNA be provided. It would take a minimum of 12 weeks for a psychologist to make recommendations. The problem was the school had said he was a risk and already identified as standing out. “Early intervention is the best outcome, a SNA is proportional to his needs at this time,” he said. He had asked the school to cost the SNA, they said it was €400 for 20 hours a week.
The 15 month full care order was granted. A report of the mother’s progress in intensive psychotherapy would be required in time for the review.
Turning to the application for an SNA, the principal for the child’s school told the GAL’s solicitor that this was a child with great potential but he had “particular needs”. He needed “constant reassurance, found it difficult to work in pairs, wanted to be first at everything, was quite impulsive in terms of behaviour, he ran off and hid in the yard.” He sometimes upset other children by pushing them when he became frustrated but there was no malice involved.
The principal told the court he was worried the child might become ostracised. He was under the impression that the HSE could perhaps through assessment recommend an SNA or provide one. He said they have a few children waiting for assessment, it would be an educational assessment, and this child’s needs were not so much educational as behavioural. He believed the child needed a full time SNA, this could be reviewed in a year.
He said that normally the Department of Education funded an SNA, application deadlines for September were imminent. Firstly you would get a psychological report, it would then go to the special needs organiser, then you would have a decision in June for September. He felt however that the child needed an SNA now for three reasons: the trends that were developing; some parents had become involved; and for health and safety reasons.
He would be able to source an SNA in about a month, it would be worth getting it for the two and a half months left in the year. Otherwise if the teacher was unable to manage after that he did not know what would happen.
The judge asked if his observations prompted the need for an SNA, the principal said they did. Judge: “Have you had a child with similar behaviour, was an SNA provided and what was the impact?” Principal: “Yes, and the impact was very positive and helpful in all cases.”
The judge adjourned his decision for two weeks to allow the parties to find a solution.
He said: “What we’re looking at is an SNA for 10 weeks, an investment of €4,000. I’m just going to put that out there as a way of shading the discussions.”
When the case returned two weeks later, the judge said: “I accept that a SNA would help the child in school. Under section 47 I do accept that this court has a wide jurisdiction to make a direction on [the child’s] welfare … [I] must also consider section 24, the court must have paramount consideration for [the child’s] welfare …[and] the risk to his placement and his education and to his peers at present.
“Having considered the relatively low cost to the HSE and what a prudent parent might do, I will direct under section 47 that the HSE provide an SNA assistant or funding for the school to provide one, for the duration of this academic year and thereafter for the application to be put through the Department of Education.”