A full care order was granted until the age of 18 in the Dublin District Court following a three day hearing. The mother, who conceded that she was not currently in a position to care for her child, sought a shorter care order of 12 months’ duration to give her enough time to comply with the social work department’s progress plan for her.
However the solicitor for the CFA contended that an order until the age of majority was needed as this was in the child’s best interests. This was due, she said, to the mother’s non-compliance with her drug treatment plan as well as the lack of progress in her tenuous homeless accommodation, which could not provide for overnights for her daughter. Furthermore, the mother had not taken part in a parenting capacity assessment and did not wish to attend counselling for her substance abuse and alcohol misuse. It was the mother’s position that she was not addicted to drugs or misuse alcohol and that she did not need counselling.
In relation to school attendance, the child [A] had missed 30 days of school within six months while in her mother’s care, but since she had gone into the care of a relative two years ago she now had 100 per cent attendance and no longer needed resource learning hours.
The CFA contended that the mother would undermine her daughter’s placement if a shorter order was made. Her daughter was under an Interim Care Order with a close relative and there were issues of aggression towards the relative from the child’s mother during access.
On granting the Care Order until the age of 18, the judge remarked that “the big detail is that she hasn’t put herself in a situation to care for her child and has put herself in a situation that impacted negatively on her child. She is reluctant to be told what to do… she seems to be thinking primarily about herself.”
The mother was not in attendance on the first morning of the hearing and her solicitor had no instructions. It was a recent development that she had dropped out of the system, said her solicitor, and she had not stayed in her homeless accommodation for the last 25 nights. She had failed to turn up for access on the day prior to the hearing.
The default position was that the mother was objecting, remarked the judge and the CFA had to prove their case, there was nothing on consent.
There was a declaration of service for the father, however he had never attended court and had no legal representation. He had indicated his support to the guardian ad litem (GAL) and the social worker for the child [A] to remain in the care of her relative. He was not looking to parent his child, the mother’s solicitor told the court.
“He might not be but surely it’s not the point, surely it’s his capacity to parent that’s the question,” remarked the judge. “If there’s one parent that has capacity then the Care Order can’t be made, that’s the law.
“There is a recurring theme of skating over the father’s capacity if the mother can’t do it, there is no reason that the father shouldn’t be drilled a little bit to say why can’t you look after your child? The father says: ‘Oh yeah I’ll go along with that’ which is nice and handy for him and the State takes over the obligation. We concede too easily, what do Dads know anyway? I think Dads know plenty and should be made to come up to the mark.”
“From a personal standpoint I agree,” replied the mother’s solicitor. The father had met with the social work department on one occasion since January of this year.
“It always occurs to me that we don’t go into that enough,” continued the judge. “The mother gets totally grilled about her ability or non-ability with very severe consequences, serious consequences for her if the child is taken away. Yet we have a Dad in the background there, maybe he had capacity, don’t forget that we can’t make an order if he has capacity.”
“We can’t assess his capacity,” replied the solicitor.
“I know, I’m not blaming you, I’m just thinking out loud. Why don’t we have better information about fathers? If it is known the father doesn’t have capacity then the Care Order can be made,” concluded the judge.
The solicitor for the mother informed the court that although he had no positive instructions to consent or object that the mother had intended to contest the application. However more recently she was thinking of consenting to a shorter order.
The mother then arrived during the evidence of the first witness and later confirmed to her solicitor that she would consent to a shorter order of 12 months. The CFA’s application for a Care Order until the age of 18 remained unchanged.
The CFA witnesses were taken out of sequence.
Methadone treatment doctor
The mother’s treating doctor in her methadone clinic told the court that he had known A’s mother since 2007 when she had an opiate dependence due to heroin. She had therefore started on a low dose of methadone maintenance treatment to reduce illicit heroin use, reduce craving and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
The doctor informed the court that he had been unaware of the social work department’s concerns regarding alcohol and drug misuse in summer 2014, when a child protection case conference had been convened. The mother had been presenting very well at that particular time and had just done a detox, he had seen her every two weeks, she had not been attending for urinalysis as in his opinion it did not give information on the context of drug use. Urinalysis was a broad opiate test which could test positive for painkillers.
In early 2015, the doctor had agreed to a support plan for the mother that involved her coming to the clinic for weekly urinalysis, the mother was also to liaise with him and obtain a place in a stabilisation programme, and source counselling for addiction.
The doctor told the court that the mother did not attend the clinic for urinalysis and attended for assessment on occasion. Her attendance was “hit and miss”. She had not attended counselling. The CFA solicitor informed the court that due a lack of progress proceedings were issued in mid-2015.
The doctor remarked that recently her attendance had been quite good. He had not picked up that she was misusing alcohol, her own view was that she was not and he had not smelt it off her. “We don’t have coercive treatment but if the starting point is that she thought she didn’t have a problem we had nowhere to go with it.”
He told the court that he had assured the mother he would never use her information in a negative way. He wanted her to stay on methadone for the foreseeable future and reduce her contact with illicit drugs but he had no information regarding that. She was also on benzodiazepines for a number of years.
Regarding the support plan that the mother agreed to in early 2015, the doctor said that it had not been met. “She doesn’t feel she can meet the requirements. I will continue to treat her, I think she can do very well, she had a lot of potential to do very well, it’s realising the potential, I suppose.”
He said the move away from urinalysis in addiction was for two reasons, the efficacy and the cost. A positive test in urinalysis did not give an indication of frequency of usage, it tested broadly for opiates, and other drugs would also test positive such as a codeine-based analgesic.
The tensions between the mother and her relative had taken up a large volume of what they talked about, said the doctor.
He had never got a handle on the extent of her drug use because he had never seen her under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “She tells me she has the odd slip from time to time, that she doesn’t take a huge amount of heroin and her clinical presentation would fit in with that. Patients who are on methadone would very rarely be physically dependent on heroin anymore anyway, she is on a very standard middle of the road dose, 80mls.”
In respect of engaging with a drug addiction counselling service, in his own experience he told the court that a person really needed to be motivated in order to engage in therapeutic work and to go in a non-coercive way would have a better outcome.
She had attended a community response service in relation to alcohol misuse but had never presented there under the influence. “There was information coming in that she was abusing alcohol, she said she did drink and sometimes overdrink but that it did not merit any treatment, she felt it was being blown out of proportion and consequently did not need to go, but I did say it was a very good service.”
He told the court that he had not got the impression that the mother was not providing urines because it was addiction related.
When the case resumed after lunch, the mother’s solicitor had taken instructions. He told the court that she was consenting to the Care Order for a period of 12 months under 18.1.c and still had to resolve her housing issue. She had informed him that her initial motivation to placing [A] in a private family arrangement was because she had not wanted her child in homeless services for an extended period of time.
The judge said that he would still have to hear evidence and test the evidence against the mother’s proposition.
It was the position of the CFA that they wished to continue for a Care Order until A was 18 because there had been no demonstrable change in the mother’s situation.
Following a discussion on hearsay, the Section 23 application [on hearsay] was admitted with the proviso of considering the weight to be attached to it.
Barnardos Project Worker
The project worker had 13 years’ experience working in Barnardos with families that had drug misuse. This family had been self-referred by the child’s relative [Y], for support for separation from her mum and to build her resilience around the situation. The relative had also raised a concern of domestic violence with the mother’s then partner. The project worker had asked the mother to become involved in A’s assessment but she had declined. She had however attended one session a few months later but following it had told the project worker that she “was not yet ready to face up to the past” and did not attend further sessions.
A had begun living with her relative as a private family arrangement in 2014.
She had seemed sad talking about her Mum drinking and fighting and had given a credible account. She had spoken about incidents that had occurred, for example: “One time when my Mam was fighting there was all broken glass and I stepped around it.” The child had also told her in May 2015 that she did not like pubs “because everyone gets drunk and they start fighting. My Mam drinks that drink with a picture of a man on it with one eye covered and then she starts fighting.”
The child had talked about those instances as being in the past but did not indicate when they had happened. Alcohol issues had not been discussed with A. They had come from the child herself and were then discussed further.
The mother’s solicitor addressed the judge on the weight to be attached to the evidence, he said the nature of the recording of the hearsay was fundamental, in this regard there were no contemporaneous notes as to how the questions were phrased or answered. Furthermore there was no indication as to whether the incidents were contemporaneous and no exploration of that.
In assessing the weight one needed to know when these things happened, if they happened years ago they may not be so relevant as if they happened last week. If they went back further they had slightly less relevance, he contended that the court should err on the side of caution.
The project worker had informed the court that notes were taken on the same day after the sessions.
The judge responded: “The court made the point you can’t test hearsay evidence but from the applicant’s points of view they feel they have to bring all evidence to the attention of the court. The evidence has been admitted as far as it goes and it has been tested as far as it can be tested. We can leave it at that and move on.”
Homeless accommodation services family support worker
The family support worker had worked in homeless services for 10-12 years. It was supported temporary accommodation within a housing partnership, providing short term housing for homeless people motivated towards independent living.
The support worker told the court that although residents normally stay six months before finding appropriate accommodation, A’s mother was with the service for 18 months. The main goal in the mother’s support plan was re-settlement, however she had arrears with Dublin County Council of €3,000 euro of which she had to repay €1,500 euros to be eligible for a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). The support worker explained that HAP came from a local authority that sourced and paid for private rented accommodation with the assistance of the county council. So far €680 had been repaid.
The mother’s rent payment for the homeless service was €35 per week but she was in arrears of five weeks. Her keyworker had devised a plan for her to pay back the arrears and she had made two repayments.
She told the court that A’s mother had spent 25 days off-site within the last month therefore her bed was at risk and could be closed at any time. Residents could only stay off-site one night a week, however she had not been served with conditional notice recently.
There had been no concerns regarding the mother’s presentation.
Previous Social Worker
The social worker that had become allocated in August 2014 told the court that their concerns had been around emotional abuse and neglect as well as a lack of engagement of the mother. An incident had occurred in June 2014 in the mother’s homeless accommodation where she had been residing with her child, when an altercation took place underpinned by possible substance and alcohol misuse. The Gardai were called and decided that the mother was not able to care for the child and the private family arrangement was organised. Due to a lack of progression between June and August the relative’s role as carer was formalised under a voluntary care agreement after a child protection conference.
The mother had had a number of homeless difficulties, surrendering her council home in 2011. She then spent two years living at her mother’s. There were two other children in the family and her eldest daughter had gone to live with a relative while her son went to live with another relative.
From that time onwards the social work department had difficulty contacting the mother who had moved in with a friend who was a recovering heroin addict. She would not provide them with an address at which she could be contacted. Then in late 2014 a homeless accommodation service assisted her to move to her present service.
In March 2015 a more formalised support plan was put in place for the mother, prior to ICO proceedings, in order for her to address her circumstances. At this time it was recognised the mother did not agree with the child protection concerns and lacked insight in relation to them.
The support plan addressed her homeless difficulties, substance and alcohol misuse, and included a commitment to provide urines at her drug treatment centre, to engage with key workers and supports and reside and contact her homeless accommodation service and attend counselling. She was also asked to address her past relationship difficulties which involved domestic violence. The mother struggled to agree with the child protection concerns and regularly refuted them and how her circumstances had impacted upon her child.
The support plan which was considered to be short term in nature, progressed very slowly. The mother did not re-engage with the social work department and refused to sign the voluntary care order to ensure the aunt could get the full package of supports which she needed for financial reasons.
She refuted the concerns regarding her drug addiction and refused to attend for urines and disagreed with the necessity for therapeutic support or counselling.
The property damage she had caused to her previous council house which she had surrendered in 2011 cost €25,000. This had been reduced down to €5,000 with a plan to pay it back in weekly instalments. However this had not occurred. Due to this lack of engagement she was not being considered for placement on the housing list.
There were concerns of neglect in relation to her children. There had been difficulties on a day-to-day basis with a refusal to avail of any parenting programmes which she believed she did not need. She had had a very difficult childhood herself epitomised by domestic violence and had spoken of the violence of her parents. She had experience domestic violence herself in her relationship with the father of her three children.
Her homeless accommodation service had identified on-going domestic abuse with her then partner, whom she had presented to the social work in the company of as well as to court.
She had made false promises to A about the longevity of her care and had been physically and verbally aggressive to the relative at access. The situation needed to be formalised because the child needed security of care and longevity. Her school had said she was making significant progress since being in care of her relative and no longer needed learning support. It was decided that a threshold had been met for an ICO and the proceedings were instituted in June 2015.
The social worker went through all the elements of the support plan, informing the court of the mother’s lack of engagement after the ICO was in place. The information provided was consistent with the information regarding the lack of engagement prior to the ICO application. The mother’s attendance at access was inconsistent and there were times where A would be left waiting for her mother at the health centre but she did not show up.
“Sometimes access was good, you could see there was a clear bond, but the mother would deviate away from [her child] and try and engage the social worker regarding dissatisfaction about [A’s] care, she was quite verbal in undermining [the relative] in front of [A].”
During these altercations the child would hide in the room behind a filing cabinet. She did not attend access on A’s birthday and this inconsistency impacted on their relationship. She also kept telling her daughter that she would be back in her care very soon which left A in a very vulnerable state emotionally and destabilised her placement. She then began to seek assurances that she would not leave her relative’s care.
“What is your professional assessment as to how [the mother] has engaged with the support plan since 2015?” asked the CFA solicitor.
“She has not addressed the components of the plan,” responded the social worker. “She denies the child protection concerns, she has refused to access support services to rectify the situation. Her world remains chaotic and this is influenced by drug and alcohol misuse, by homelessness, by inappropriate relationships and failing to prioritise A’s needs over her own.”
His main concerns in respect of the child were her exposure to a variety of issues beyond her years and that she was becoming developmentally delayed prior to going in to care. She had also been presenting as unconfident. However after a period of time in her relative’s care there were significant improvements.
In his opinion, therapeutic supports were put in place for her which included a play therapist at the school, a primary care psychologist to access counselling regarding the circumstances of going into care as she had disclosed a clear understanding of incidents of significant violence witnessed between her mother and her then partner.
The threshold criteria for Section 18 1.a.b and c. of the 1991 Child Care Act had been met.
It had been met under Section 18.1.a due to the composite of the experience of being parented by her mother through a period of difficulties where she was clearly neglected and had reached the threshold for emotional abuse.
It had been met under Section 18.1.b. due to the concerns of the mother’s ability to provide safe care to A, and her lack of ability in her current circumstances to provide a basic level of care.
It had been met under Section 18.1.c. due to no tangible improvement of the mother’s circumstances and a continual denial of the child protection concerns as well a lack of progression to stabilise her ability to meet A’s needs in a safe and stable fashion.
The mother continued to destabilise the current placement, and the child needed consistency, stability and security. An order for 12 months could become destabilising for her, said the social worker, because she would become focused on getting past one more birthday with the hope the situation could be resolved, but the mother had significant endeavours and improvements to make.
Under cross examination by the mother’s solicitor, the social worker gave more evidence regarding alcohol and substance misuse involving the mother, including her arrival at A’s Communion under the influence of substances. He also gave evidence of the child witnessing her mother being assaulted by her then partner when he dragged her down the stairs by the hair. In his professional experience the child had been exposed to traumatic situations.
When the social worker gave evidence of the mother’s lack of engagement with the social work department, the solicitor for the mother asked him had she been inadvertently set up to fail and if some other plan should be put in place.
The social worker explained that the plan had been a foundation plan upon which to build but she had not engaged in any components of it and remained primarily focussed on her homeless situation. The mother had “point blank refused to engage” and it “was difficult to present her with the other jigsaw pieces, her belief that she proactively placed [A] in family care is not accurate, the Gardai place her in care,” explained the social worker.
With regards to the parenting course the mother had recently attended, the social worker contended that attending six out of 12 sessions did not constitute completing an appropriate parenting programme.
In relation to access, A had seen her mother attacking her relative both physically and verbally, during which she had hid behind a wardrobe and on another occasion under a table.
When the case resumed the following morning the mother did not attend court.
The Deputy Principal at A’s school told the court that she had known the child since Junior Infants. “In Junior Infants [A] was a very slight, awkward child. She didn’t have the proper clothes, she was late every day and missed 19 days in the first year and 31 days in the second year.” She had missed play time at the start of the school day because she was late and that play time had been essential for her developmental age. This had led to her becoming introverted and being unable to socialise with other children in her class.
This was in 2013 when the child was six and at the time she was living in homeless accommodation with her mother and without her siblings. A had fallen behind academically because her attendance was inconsistent and her teacher at the time was sending home books and toys with the child because she had none at home.
Most absences were unexplained and she was collected late from school every day, not knowing who was collecting her, or when. This had a big psychological impact on the little girl. Her mother generally told the school that A was coming in late because they were homeless and it took them a long time to get to school by bus. “But the time of school is fixed and other kids are able to get to school on time. When we spoke to [the mother] nothing changed.”
A was given learning support from 2014-2015 because she was behind in language and maths. She was also given behaviour support, and art therapy due to her circumstances.
However when A was in first class and under her relative’s care she “got to be the child she could be. She was in every day and on time.” She may be a slight child but now she was a healthy girl with 100 per cent attendance in the present school year. “She had a home. She had clothes. She had food. She has friends now. Most school support has stopped because she no longer needs it.”
In the current year’s standardised test scores she scored above average and was doing really well. In the Deputy Principal’s opinion, extra work had been done with A at home by her relative whom she described as “incredible and a hands-on carer.”
In cross examination, the mother’s solicitor put it to the Deputy Principal that in direct evidence she had described the child as being unkempt and untidy in school. He asked her would she accept that as the mother had been residing in homeless accommodation she would not have had access to a washing machine and therefore been unable to wash clothes. While the Deputy Principal accepted that aspect she remarked that “they did have access to water, she would have been able to have her hands and face washed and her hair brushed.” [But they were not]
With regards to A being late for school, the Deputy Principal told the court that the family lived about a kilometre away from the school and could have walked. A had been referred to the National Education Welfare Board because she had missed more than 20 school days, her lateness into school was also factored into the total days missed. In Senior Infants the mother had consented to supports for A however there were problems getting the mother “on board”.
She had directly observed the mother under the influence at the Christmas concert and the mother and her then partner were acting erratically and going into places they should not have been in the school. This led to a concern also for the other children at the school that night and the staff were “just trying to get her out of the school for the safety of the children”.
In relation to the change in A since going into her relative’s care, the mother’s solicitor asked the Deputy Principal if she would accept the proposition that children, generally as they get older, tend to blossom and grow into their own naturally?
“No,” she replied. “Because that is not the child [A] is today. I’ve seen kids in worse circumstances, actually crippled by them and not recover as well as [she] has.”
Current allocated Social Worker
The current allocated social worker told the court that she had inherited the core social work plan from the previous social worker and there had been no significant changes to the plan since then. She completed a core parenting assessment on the mother although none of the seven appointments were attended by her. The mother was phoned on the day of each appointment and sent a written copy of each.
The support plan had not progressed since her allocation, the social worker informed the court. One element of the plan that progressed was that she attended six out of 14 sessions with the social work department. “There have been times when she makes progress, but then she reverts back.”
During access, of which six visits out of 22 were missed, the child found the mother to be preoccupied with her phone. “This stupid phone has taken over all of our visits,” she had said once at the end of access.
The social worker recounted how A had been very upset on Mother’s Day when her mother had not turned up for access and she had brought presents for her. Waiting for her mother to arrive would cause the child to become insecure and anxious.
In relation to the father being absent in court and not participating in the proceedings, the judge remarked that the question was whether the man was capable of caring for his children. “It has to be proven that he’s not up to scratch.” An absence in court alone could not infer he was incapable.
The social worker told the court that when she had spoken to A’s father earlier in the month he had said he was happy for her to continue living with her relative. He had never parented A, she told the court and had “no interest. He plays an ad hoc role. He goes missing, had problems at home, was in prison and has problems with addiction.” Therefore it was best for the child to remain in her current placement where she was flourishing.
With regard to domestic violence in the home, the mother’s solicitor told the court that the mother disputed this, including A’s statement that she had seen her mother being thrown down the stairs by [her then partner].
“All the other parties have been very clear that there was domestic violence in the home,” replied the social worker.
In relation to missed access visits, the mother’s solicitor put it to the social worker that those visits had been missed because the mother did not feel she was being listened to or considered. The social worker did not accept this, citing that the mother had chosen not to attend.
The judge asked the social worker about the relationship between the mother and her relative. “There have been tug of love incidences, trying to get the child back?” he enquired.
The social worker confirmed this, explaining that the mother had threatened to remove A from her care. “On one occasion Mum arrived at [her relative’s] under the influence and the Gardai had to be called. But she left before they arrived.”
Guardian ad litem (GAL)
The GAL told the court that A was in a good, close relationship with her relative and considered the placement her home. She gave the same evidence as the social workers and the Deputy Principal regarding days missed at school and her academic and social improvement since going into her aunt’s care.
As A had become more settled in care she had begun to disclose accounts of domestic violence she had witnessed and had been exposed to instability and unsafe situations. Her mother had engaged with violence in the community and alcohol and substance misuse.
Barnardos were continuing to work with the child in terms of the loss of her Mum and were doing work to support her about what was happening.
The GAL had explained to A that they wanted her mother’s addiction to get better so the judge would be asked for her to continue to stay with her relative, no specific timeframe was given. The primary challenge for the mother was substance abuse and addiction, homelessness and engaging in services. The identified areas of concern remained the same prior to the GAL’s appointment a year ago. The mother continued to be adamant that she had no issues with alcohol or drinking and was not receptive to attending counselling with regard to domestic violence. She had minimised concerns of domestic violence in front of the child.
The mother could not show sustained progress although she had agreed upon a support plan and her accommodation was at risk on an on-going basis with three conditional notices of stay given.
There was a closeness between the mother and her daughter but in summary A had experienced instability and unsafe situations in her mother’s care. She had been exposed to neglect, domestic violence, alcohol misuse and physical aggression. The mother had not acknowledged her daughter’s need for safe care and stability and felt her only difficulty was homelessness. The mother had engaged as far as she was capable but could not provide a secure base.
“Children who suffer neglect are at risk of developmental difficulties and children who suffer repeated episodes of neglect never recover fully before the next episode takes place,” said the GAL.
“This child needs a decision for long term care,” said the GAL. Inappropriate information was being given to her at access about the court process as well as negative comments about her placement. Long term planning was needed with regard to secondary school as a place would have to be applied for long in advance.
“They’re just looking for excuses after excuses,” commented the mother. “What can’t they speak properly instead of all this bullshit.”
The mother who had been absent for the beginning of the GAL’s evidence, arrived halfway through it and was clearly upset hearing parts of it, for example when the GAL had told the court that she had struggled to engage with supports and did not acknowledge her child’s views and fears.
The hearing finished for the day when the GAL completed her evidence.
The following day the mother was not in attendance when court resumed hearing but her solicitor informed the court that she was en route after attending at her methadone clinic. The judge remarked that he could have tried to hear her evidence the day before but he felt that she was going to be pushed into a corner.
“She’s probably the most important person here, she has to give her evidence but she needs to cooperate with the system as well and be on time. It’s very difficult to do other work if she turns up when she feels like turning up.”
However he was prepared to give her time as it was “terribly important to make sure she gets her evidence out, to be heard is terribly important, regardless of the outcome.”
He noted that she had not arrived into court till 3.35 pm the previous day and there would be a limit as to how much it could be dragged out that day.
The mother did present to court within the hour and the hearing resumed. In direct evidence she told the court that her homeless situation had brought about A’s low school attendance in Junior and Senior Infants while in her care. It had impacted on her ability to bring A to school because there were no bus stops near her and it took an hour to get to school. She disagreed with the Deputy Principal’s evidence that her daughter had not made friends due to her lateness.
She told the court that she was not in regular attendance at her drug treatment centre mainly due to a problem with her leg, she had to take painkillers which “showed up dirty anyway, the urines are no use.” It was her position that she had to have the operation on her leg before she could commit to the drug treatment part of the support plan.
In relation to her absence from her homeless accommodation she stated that this was due to the stress of the Care Order proceedings. She had had to stay with friends and family. The mother confirmed with her solicitor that she would continue to pay off her damages arrears to Dublin City Council as well as the homeless accommodation arrears in order to be eligible for HAP.
She denied that she was still in a relationship with her former partner and stated that there had been no domestic violence between them, “there were verbal fights alright” she admitted.
The mother could not remember why she had missed six out of the 22 access appointments however she stated that the social work department did not listen to her, which was why she had not taken up any of their appointments or access review meetings.
“Do you accept the reports from [A’s] school that she’s doing very well?” asked her solicitor.
“I don’t accept that one that she used to go to school dirty, she never went to school dirty, that’s lies,” answered the mother.
She said that she had always been supportive of A in her placement and that she had never argued with her relative in front of the child.
“I don’t have any difficulties with [the relative], she has the problem with me and I don’t know why.”
Her solicitor asked her to outline why she had not taken part in the parenting capacity assessment after she had initially agreed to.
“I didn’t want to,” replied the mother.
In cross examination she told the CFA solicitor that she was taking painkillers for the pain in her leg.
“Has it impacted the support plan?” asked the CFA solicitor.
“Did you ever come to the social department and suggest different ways of addressing each of the issues they had raised?”
Her plan now was to follow through with it which was why she was asking for “extra time”.
Judge: “You sound like quite an intelligent woman, you sound well able generally, you have your own difficulties. Essentially it’s kind of your own business how you do your own life. It’s not for me to be telling you or blaming you, you’re an adult and you’re responsible for yourself and I can’t be telling adults what to do. All I’m concerned about is your child, not about you. I have no issue with you at all, you’re an adult, you have your own rights and I can’t take them away from you.
“The thing is we’re concentrating enormously on you when really we should be concentrating on the child. You’re not doing the things you should do, that’s your business and that has a serious impact on your child.
“The details of your life are kind of none of my business but it’s up to you to do your stuff and bring about a situation where you can effectively and safely look after your child. You have an addiction and you’re homeless so you have a lot of things against you. I’m not surprised the child would be late for school or late for appointments if you have an addiction problem.”
“I don’t have an addiction problem, I’m on methadone,” interjected the mother.
“Nevertheless that’s an on-going event and it’s been going on for quite some time. Various supports have been offered to you and they’re saying you ‘failed’ to take them up. I would use the word you weren’t ‘able to do’, which is a statement of fact, this was for whatever reason, addiction, homelessness, a physical problem, in a way it doesn’t really matter. I’m only here to find out can you look after your child or not.
“I’m not in the blame game at all. All I want to know, is the lady able to look after her child or isn’t she.”
“That’s why I’m asking you for another 12 months,” replied the mother.
“I can understand that, you’re certainly not able to do it at the moment.”
The judge remarked that A was just eight years old.
“When you’re eight it’s very important you get all the help you can get. I have listened to the evidence and you’ve got to understand it’s not about you it’s about [A].”
“I don’t think it’s fair that their child gets took away till they’re 18, I think that is wrong,” said the mother.
“You appear to be a capable person, you have your difficulties. If you get over them I would hope you would take full charge of [A] and give her a decent life that she deserves, but that’s entirely up to you, I can’t force you to do it, it’s something you’ve got to achieve if you can.”
“The law is very clear, no matter what happens, we should still try and reunite children with their parents. It’s open to you at any stage to apply to the court to have your child come back if you’re able to show that you’re able to do it. It’s very simple really. If you can do it and you can prove it then the child goes back to you. It’s very simple really, do you understand that?”
“Yes,” confirmed the mother.
“It’s up to you,” remarked the judge.
“I just want to apologise for my outburst yesterday in court.”
The mother then left the witness box.
In submissions, the mother’s solicitor told the court that in deciding whether to grant a Care Order and of what duration, that the court must have regard to the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration while careful balancing the Constitutional and basic human rights of the child and family unit. If warranted, the Care Order should be made for the shortest period possible.
Later that afternoon, the judge delivered his decision and granted a Care Order until the age of 18.
The judge’s decision:
“The case revolved around the apparent inability of the mother to care for the child due to homelessness and addiction issues. The child is well, happy, healthy and doing very well in school. The GAL supports the case until 18. Mother is a heroin addict for many years with occasional alcohol related incidents, and is currently on methadone maintenance of 80mls three times a week.
“She is in danger of losing her room, owes money to Dublin City Council and won’t be eligible for HAP till arrears are repaid. Father had not attended the court for this hearing, he has not engaged in the child’s life, has had addiction issues and has been in prison.
“The court is satisfied the mother loves her child and the child loves her. A plan was devised that she agreed to, evidence was she allegedly did not comply, she did not engage or do what was required and was all round uncooperative. The father could not be contacted and was not available to be assessed for a parenting capacity assessment. He has not shown any interest in caring for the child.
“The mother was unable to comply, disagreeing with allegations made or putting forward reasons why she couldn’t do it. The Court does not feel the necessity to adjudicate on detail of non-compliance. The big detail is that she hasn’t put herself in a situation to care for her child, and put herself in a satiation that impacted negatively on her child and is reluctant to be told what do to.
“[The drug treatment doctor] was quite positive, and recommends she engage with therapy. This is not about her but about the effect it has on her child day to day. The mother is somewhat oppositional and sees the facts reflecting on her, she seems to be thinking primarily about herself. I’m not blaming the mother, it’s not surprising she gets herself into inappropriate situations, it’s not surprising that the child is late for school, or late to be collected, or will miss appointments, that’s not at all surprising considering her situation.
“It’s entirely up to her to put herself in a situation to avail of the supports to her. When a period of time has elapsed showing a clear track record she can go about how she will care for [A] and her other two children. She is not in a position to care for [A] and is not able to do it. I am fully aware of mother’s addiction and homelessness issue, it is a safety issue also, it is clearly risky for the child to be in the mother’s full time care.
“The most striking part of the evidence was from [the Deputy Principal], demonstrating to the court the child then and now. Extra progress has now been made by the child, and her reading ability is six months ahead of her chronological age, the conclusion is one of neglect.
“The child is very lucky to have a placement with [her relative] which has enabled important work to be done with her. This has resulted in a really good outcome for her as good as could be hoped for and she has access to wider family. It is a good news story and her mother should be pleased and happy for her. If the child’s welfare is first and paramount then there is no conclusion that the child should [not] leave there till age 18.
“Proportionality should be considered. There are the mother’s issues and if and how she is addressing them. It is clearly not a work in progress, nothing is happening. She has very little insight into her own condition, she doesn’t really see the problem. She will only admit to homelessness. She promises in the face of an impending Care Order to address her problems in the future, but has made no real step on that road and no real timeframe has been put forward to the court on her behalf to give the court the opportunity to consider the proportionality aspect with any confidence. The court needs some progress.”
At this point the mother leaves the courtroom.
“Will you ring me? I’m not listening to any of this,” she said to her solicitor.
“As it stands I see no evidence that the mother can change her lifestyle or do what is necessary to change her circumstances,” continued the judge. “I have sympathy for the mum in her difficulties but we must look at it from the child’s perspective. How long must we wait for the mother to do her stuff? I am satisfied to make the order till 18 in respect of the child [A].”
The judge made the Care Order under Section 18 1.a.b. and c.