A judge in a rural town granted a full care order for a young boy who had been forced to change care placement following allegations made against a child of the foster parents. The allegations did not concern him, but the CFA was obliged to remove him in the light of the allegations. The judge questioned if the correct decision had been made when told by the social worker and the GAL “a light had gone out in this boy”.
The matter concerned a young primary school aged boy, A, who had been in the care of the CFA for the previous six years. In 2017 an interim care order had been made, in 2018 voluntary care had been agreed and then another interim care order had been made. Interim care orders had continued since that time.
During all these orders the boy had been placed with the same foster family. However, allegations had been made against the natural son of the foster parents and the CFA had been obliged to change A’s placement. The CFA was seeking a full care order until A was 18 years of age. The hearing of this application was dominated by the effect the change in placement had had on the child.
Present in court were the legal representatives of the CFA, the social workers and the guardian ad litem (GAL). The mother was not in court and there was no representation on her behalf. There had never been any involvement from the father of A.
Evidence of the social worker
The social worker told the court that the mother had had a traumatic childhood and had been exposed to neglect and domestic violence. She had been in the care of the CFA for some periods. She had given birth to a child who had died in infancy from a congenital illness. She had issues of addictions and homelessness.
The social worker said that the mother was unaware of the application today because she had been unable to contact her. She had called to the mother’s last known address but there had been no answer. She had left messages at the house and on all contact numbers she had.
The social worker said she had contacted the maternal grandmother, but she had not heard from her daughter for some time and the last contact she had was the previous Christmas. The social worker said that the last contact she had had with the mother was almost one year ago. She did not know where the mother was.
She said that while the mother had the very best of intentions, she had her own demons. The mother had been unable to engage with social workers for more than a few weeks at a time. She said she did not believe that the mother had the capacity to parent A. The last contact that the mother had had with A was in the summer of 2021. She said she believed the threshold for a care order until A reached the age of 18 had been reached and it was in his best interests that the care order was made.
She said that A had moved to his current placement following the allegations that had been made, but she could not say he was doing well. She said: “He has settled but has changed, a light has gone out, he is frustrated, angry and upset. He is a different child to a few months ago through no fault of his own.” He had access with his original foster mother, but it was difficult as he could not understand why he had had to leave. He was a sad little boy. She hoped the investigation would be completed soon but did not have a timeframe for this. She was unsure as to the credibility of the allegations but until the investigation by An Gardai Siochana had been completed she said her hands were tied.
Evidence of the GAL
The GAL said she was supporting the application for a full care order. She said that at the meetings she had had with the mother, the mother had told her she had a difficult relationship with A and had no bond with him. She did not believe any therapy could be offered to the mother at this time that would improve this. She said that it was in A’s welfare and interests that a full care order be made. She was aware of the allegations that had been made, they had been serious and the investigation by An Gardai Siochana was ongoing and because of those allegations an alternative placement had to be found for A. The GAL said: “I know the decision to move A had to be made, but was it the correct decision? I am seriously, seriously, seriously concerned.”
She recommended that if there was no prosecution forthcoming A should be returned to his original foster carers “in a heartbeat”. She said there was no evidence to suggest that A had come to any harm at this placement. Through all her visits he had never shown any signs of fear, distress, anxiety or unhappiness. She said there was nothing in his behaviour that had ever given her any cause for alarm. She said he had good relationships with everyone in the family, fitted in and was a member of the family.
Now, she said, he showed textbook trauma of separation and the only way to describe it was as a light having gone out. Everyone had been traumatised, but it was A who had to move. She said in a previous hearing the judge had lifted the in camera rule to permit the GAL to write to the investigating Garda to ascertain the progress of the investigation, but she was still awaiting a response.
The judge asked the GAL: “I made the order to move this boy. Was it the right decision?”
The GAL: “I can’t answer that. All I can say is that a light has gone out.”
The judge asked her, and also directed the question to the social worker, whether it was possible to return A to the original foster carers with a safety plan in place. While both said they would support it, given the nature of the allegations they were not sure. However, the social worker said she would investigate it as a possibility. The judge asked what she could do to expedite the investigation by An Garda Siochana and directed the solicitor of the GAL to write again to ascertain the progress to date.
The judge said that she would grant a full care order until A was 18, she was satisfied all reasonable efforts had been made to inform the mother of this application. She was satisfied the threshold had been reached and it was proportionate. She said that she would review A’s placement in three months and hoped there would be good news on the progress of the investigation.
When the case came back before the court the social worker said the boy remained deeply unhappy, sad and repeatedly asked when he was going home. He [the boy] did not understand why he had been moved and lately had started to question whether his foster mother loved him. He said the boy had started to lose hope that he would ever be returned to what he considered to be home and his parents. He said the relationship he had with the original foster mother was fragile, she was exceptionally angry with the CFA over how the allegations had been managed.
The GAL gave evidence that every time she visited the boy, he had his bags packed to return home. He had cried and pleaded with her to take him home. She said she had met with the foster mother, but her anger remained palpable. She had been traumatised by the whole experience.
The GAL told the court the foster mother had said she did not know if she could take the boy back after everything she had been through. The boy, whom she had cared for since birth, being removed, the now unfounded allegations against her own child, and the way the whole episode had been managed. The foster mother was fearful of the boy being removed again.
The judge asked: “Would it be helpful if I speak with her [the foster mother]? I will be able to explain why I had to make the decision I did.”
Both the social worker and the GAL said they were not sure. The judge asked the social worker and GAL to inform the foster mother that she [the judge] would make herself available if the foster mother ever wanted to speak to her.
The judge adjourned the matter for three months but hoped the boy would be returned to the foster mother before then.