Full Care Orders were granted in the District Court for two Roma children, a young child and an infant, who were residing in the same foster family. The children’s mother, who had been notified of the proceedings, did not attend the hearing and had left the jurisdiction. She had not been in contact with the social work department for four months. The father of the eldest child (A) was unknown, while the father of the youngest child (B) consented to the Care Order.
Child A had already been in the care of the CFA when child B had been born. Due to the children having separate fathers, the cases were heard separately over two days. The father of child B, who was homeless and had no Legal Aid certificate, was privately represented by a barrister and solicitor. After the Care Order for child B was granted, the court heard that a costs hearing had been set down for the following month.
An Article 17 enquiry regarding the habitual residence of child B had taken place the week previous to the Care Order hearing. The judge made a ruling that she was satisfied that the habitual residence of child B was Ireland, therefore the Care Order application could proceed.
Care Order hearing child A
The social worker told the court that originally child A had been signed into voluntary care for three days because her mother was in hospital. Following this the mother and child had returned to their reception centre, then the following month the mother had attended a city centre Garda Station looking for accommodation. Child A was again signed into voluntary care during which time she was brought to a children’s hospital as the social work department were concerned about her.
A remained in voluntary care until an Interim Care Order was made. After the order the mother had disengaged and a lot of concerns were raised about her parenting capacity.
The parenting capacity assessment had found that the mother had moderate learning difficulties and was unable to meet basic care needs. She had no appropriate accommodation and was sleeping rough in the Phoenix Park. The child’s diet had been poor and she was giving her pre-chewed food. The assessment found the mother had little capacity to understand an appropriate diet for a child under one and had been feeding her a lot of biscuits and chocolate bars.
She struggled with appropriate stimulation for the child whose gross motor functions were poor.
The mother reported that her partner at the time had been physically abusive towards the child and she had not subsequently sought medical attention, furthermore the incident had been reported much later. The mother had remained in the relationship although her partner was violent towards her and her child.
She had brought the child to stay in the house of a man she had no information about and had slept rough with the baby rather than accepting the emergency accommodation that had been offered. The mother had told the department that she had spent some nights with her partner’s brother and his wife but she would not give them the address.
She had brought the baby to A&E at one point, where the child was found to have severe nappy rash and oral thrush that should have been attended to earlier and she had no vaccinations.
The child was quite dirty when she had come into care, said the social worker. Her mother had told the department that she could only change the nappy once a day because she could not afford nappies.
There was a limited support network available to the mother as she had no support from family or friends. The social work department had met with her sister but she had told them that she was not in a position to help. The mother had not provided details of her parents in the other jurisdiction so they could not be assessed.
A had been exposed to begging on the street where she was at risk of being harmed and exposed to the elements. The child had a lack of food, clothing and sanitation. There were serious concerns about the mother’s ability to care for her.
Social worker for the next period of A being in care
The social worker told the court that during an access visit A’s mother had put her on a table and walked away although she was able to roll and walk. She did not talk very much during access visits to her child and this had been an on-going issue.
The food she brought during access was too big and had been a choking hazard. A had been gagging but her mother had not noticed.
The department then decided to use the Marty Mayo programme during access visits which was a video-based way for the mother to learn skills. This would include learning about bathing and feeding. Initially she made some improvements but had not sustained them, she had walked away from the table again and feeding continued to be an issue.
In spring 2014 the mother stopped attended visits suddenly for 17 weeks, this had been a critical time for the child’s language development and the relationship was affected by the large gap. When the mother returned back from the other jurisdiction the social worker said that A did not recognise her and they had to do a lot of work to re-establish the relationship.
A Roma interpreter attended the access visits, doing a lot of translation from Roma into English to encourage the mother to participate in conversation with her daughter.
Shortly afterwards they discovered she was pregnant and Care Order dates were vacated.
It was following this that the parenting capacity assessment took place, during which time the mother left the jurisdiction again for six weeks. When she returned she told the social work department that herself and child B’s father were now a couple and they wished to be assessed together.
The department proceeded with their parenting capacity assessment which would occur over ten hours in total. This took place during access visits and the kitchen there was set up with bottles, formula and sterilisers to give the mother the best possible chance. There were also toys and she could bath the baby.
In the parenting capacity assessment the psychologist noted issues around the mother struggling with playing. There were cognitive deficits in terms of her cognition, and nonverbal testing identified learning issues.
The CFA solicitor asked the social worker about the help had been provided to the mother.
A cultural mediator was sourced for the mother, said the social worker. She had been provided with a payment from the immigration department. The social work department liaised with her and a refugee service so she could transfer to social welfare payments and they assisted her with habitual residence as she had received payments for over a year.
She was linked in with support groups and put into English language classes to help her with communicating with A, but she did not attend the classes.
“How did the mother’s limited ability translate into making bottles for a child and knowing when to feed a child?” the CFA solicitor asked.
The social worker said the mother really struggled with making up bottles. Even though the social worker was counting the scoops with her in Roma the mother would lose count, she could not count and had not been putting enough scoops in. [The bottles were for child B who was now a young infant in care with his sister.]
The social worker found that the mother tended to be a lot more focussed on child B, at this point A was a toddler. “I’m not so bothered or worried about [A], I want to see [B]”, she had said to a social care worker, so access was split up so that A would get some of her attention.
For a ten week period the mother attended access but then left the country and had not returned since then or been in contact with the department. It was believed she was in the other jurisdiction with her mother. The social worker told the court that she had telephoned the father during an access visit last week.
Child A was no longer talking about her mother, said the social worker. Initially there had been a close bond with her mother but now the child had developed a very close attachment to her foster mother who was her primary care giver. “At this point the relationship has been so disconnected there wouldn’t be that special bond,” the social worker said.
The Roma culture was being integrated into the foster family and A was aware of her identity and her background. A cultural mediator was going through pieces with her, including story-telling and appropriate food and dress.
The criteria were met for the Care Order until the age of 18, the social worker said. The child’s mother was not available to parent her apart from which she would need constant supervision for the safe care of her children.
Guardian ad litem (GAL)
The GAL supported the application by the CFA for a full Care Order. He told the court that his only concern was that A was a Roma child being reared in an Irish family.
“She may be isolated in a white Irish community in her own culture,” said the GAL. He welcomed the steps of cultural mediation in the last few weeks. There was a long term commitment from the CFA to have that support service, it addressed the issues and needs for A.
He had met A’s mother and felt that there were significant challenges for her achieving reunification, and there was the language barrier, the intellectual difficulty and cultural issues.
The assessment had been an observational assessment but within the national framework for assessing families subject to child protection, said the GAL. It was done at the mother’s pace and at her level and understanding. The conclusion was based on a comprehensive understanding of the mother as an adult faced with these difficulties. “The mother cannot at this stage safely parent A,” said the GAL. He concurred with the CFA’s conclusions in respect of assessments.
The judge granted the Care Order until the age of 18. “The mother was aware of the proceedings today and had the benefit of a solicitor and barrister and knew the seriousness of the matters for hearing … she has chosen not to be here, that in itself indicates a certain attitude to the matter.
“I believe the absences by the mother were during essential periods in the child’s life, I am satisfied that the Agency have engaged appropriately and used the professional skills of a mediator to conduct a comprehensive assessment, I have no other option than to make the care order till the child is 18.”
She noted statutory Child in Care reviews by the Agency would include family reunification.
Care Order hearing for child B
The following day the Care Order hearing for child B took place. After consultations outside of court between the parties the court heard that the father, who was homeless, was consenting to the Care Order.
The barrister for the father told the court that matters had progressed. A plan of action had been agreed broadly in order to allow the father to address the CFA’s concerns. He was therefore prepared to consent to the Care Order with a review before the court every six months. As a result the CFA would assist the father in obtaining accommodation and obtaining a social welfare payment. The CFA would also provide the contact details of English lessons and perhaps a parenting skills course in the future.
“With this in mind and over the course of time, within two years he could address the concerns raised by the CFA with a view to taking [his son] back into his care,” said his barrister.
The CFA solicitor told the court that they would try to help the father access a social welfare payment. She said that he had already been turned down and that an appeal was underway.
A social worker had also written a letter of support to appeal a habitual residence application.
“The social work department does believe it is in [B’s] interest to have access with his father. He should attend access and learn from the supervision there to learn the basics. If down the line he does improve his English he should then look at a parenting course,” the solicitor said.
She said access was receiving the benefit of a cultural mediator of Roma origin.
“What is your plan for (B),” asked the judge.
Through a Roma interpreter the father told the court that he was trying to do his best. “I need a little support, I want to see (B) more often, I saw my child only once a week, I am not happy with that, the last two weeks my child cried because he forgot me, so I need to see him more often,” said the father.
The CFA solicitor said that it was a matter that could be kept under review, as he had been missing for periods of time so they needed to re-establish their relationship.
The judge told the father that he needed to go to all the access appointment in order to reestablish the relationship with his son and that access would be kept under review.
The GAL supported the access arrangement. He told the court that B needed a predictable and consistent routine. If the father attended access reliably for eight weeks and it was a positive experience for the infant, then it could be reviewed at that stage. Up until now the quality of access had been impacted by the father’s circumstances, for example if he had slept rough the night before. The GAL felt that when the father’s circumstances improved the quality of the access should as well.
The judge granted the Care Order under 18 1 b. and c. of the Act, noting the agreement of the father that he was not currently in a position to care for his son. She also noted that he had agreed to the Care Order with certain conditions.
There would be a court review of the order every six months and the judge directed the CFA to provide the services of a cultural mediator to help the foster carer, the child and the father.