The Dublin District Court renewed an Interim Court Order for a 15-year-old girl who did not want it and wanted to return to her mother. She had had a discussion with the judge in his chambers where she expressed her views.
The girl (A) was the eldest of four children (B, C and D). The mother had suffered from alcohol addiction, but had been in treatment and was in the process of reuniting with her family. The two younger children were now living with her and B was about to return home.
The HSE social worker told the court that the children were vulnerable with high medical needs. She was concerned that A would go home, the relationship with her mother would break down and this would cause further damage. Her return had to be planned and phased, and work needed to be done on the relationship between A and her mother. She had conflicted feelings for her mother. “She has a lot of questions for her mother. We need to give this time to work. I understand she wants to come back home.”
The judge said A had expressed to him the view she did not want to go back to her foster family that night.
Counsel for the mother told the court that A was not happy in her placement. She had self-harmed twice. “She feels alienated from the [foster] family. She has said she is prepared to walk away from her foster family.”
“She does not have enough coping skills and has not had enough counselling sessions with her mother to move back home. She will go back home, that is definite, but it can’t be rushed,” the social worker said. “We are talking about the level of risk here. If she goes back home now the level of risk would be very high.”
“With support she could work to limit the risk,” the counsel said. “She believes she is not being listened to.” The social worker said she was sorry about that, but sometimes decisions had to be made in the interests of the child.
The guardian ad litem (GAL) said she supported the HSE position. She asked the social worker what was the time-scale for A’s return, and the social worker said there were plans for weekly discussions between A and her counsellor, along with further therapeutic input.
In response to a question concerning the return of B to the mother, the social worker said he needed to build a solid relationship with his younger siblings before A was introduced into the family. The mother had gone to parenting classes and this had been to the benefit of the younger children. She had full confidence in her, but time was needed to heal the rifts in the family.
The judge said that A had told him directly she did not wish to return to her placement that night. He asked the social worker if the fact that at the least A was very unhappy tilted the balance at all.
The social worker said A had been as passionate about her home before as she now was about her placement. The balance of risk without planning her return was that she wanted her to be in a good place when she returned. “I’ve spoken to her. She knows that self-harming is not the right way.”
The GAL told the court that the issue with the foster family had only arisen in the past week. The foster carer had acknowledged that she did not respond to A with a nurturing response. Since then there had been an opportunity to explore her response.
She said that A needed a number of months to explore some of the experiences she had had and how she manages the situation she found herself in. She was quite a placating person and was just beginning to express herself, which she found quite threatening. She fears rejection and has withdrawn before when she found expressing her emotions difficult.
Asked by the judge about the balance of risk between staying in the placement and going home, she said that the balance lay in her staying in the placement and seeking to resolve her difficulties. The stress for the other children if she were to go home now would be a less preferable alternative for them.
The guardian said that if the placement broke down and there was no other option available, she would be better off with her mother.
The mother told the court she was not consenting to the renewal of the Interim Care Order because her daughter was terrified of the foster carer. “She’s been outside this court since 9 this morning. She’s terrified. She told me she’s not going back to the foster family.
“I’ve put everything into this since last April. I’ve missed nothing in relation to appointments. I have a place in a school for A. I have a place in an adolescent parenting centre.
“Ms X [the guardian] said I’m all right to look after her if she ends up on the street, but not now. I’ve offered for the social worker to come into my house once a week and offer any advice.”
She said the return of B was meant to take three months, but it had to be rushed and it was done in five weeks. “It’s the same with the other children – I was OK when there was a problem. The risk was taken and it paid off. I learned a lot from the parenting courses.”
Asked if she would cooperate if the court decided to return A to the placement, she said: “Of course I’d cooperate. I wouldn’t be happy about it. I’d have to say it was a decision of the court.”
“Essentially this is a positive, good story,” the judge said. “The issue that arises now is that there is the potential to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A was of the view that she saw a very considerable change in her mother in recent contacts. She expressed the view that her mother should be given a chance. I expressed the view that the person who should be given a chance was her. She clearly does feel let down in her current placement.
“It seems to me that the issues going on here are fairly common for girls her age in relation to figures of authority. Trying to untangle those issues from her own issues is one difficulty.
“The last thing she needs is to end up in an out-of-hours service. A week is a long time in the context of this case. Every decision the court makes is fraught with risk. It seems to me that the risk of not making an Interim Care Order at this stage is greater than the risk of the placement breaking down.
“It is essential that it is made clear to A that there is a reunification plan that is short-term. Three months is not short-term, it’s medium-term. This is a very difficult situation for everyone. But it is a very good argument to be having. The usual argument is not when is the child going home, but when is the child going into care?”
He renewed the order for eight days, as there was no consent, “on the basis there is work to be done.”
When the case returned to court a week later it was reported that, despite the order, the girl had refused to return to her foster placement and had gone to her mother.
The HSE then applied for a Supervision Order for B, to which the mother consented. The solicitor for the HSE said that his Interim Care Order was due to expire shortly, Supervision Orders were in place for the two younger children until July, who had already returned to their mother’s care.
“[The mother] has been following all the guidelines, engaging with all the services,” the social worker said. “She has dealt with her alcohol use. There is a positive attachment between the younger children and their mother, and B has been spending weekends with her. He has spent five so far.
“She’s going to do very well and I’m going to support her all the way. She is bringing the boy to the medical centre for counselling. The youngest child has a lot of medical needs. We want to discharge the Interim Care Order and substitute a Supervision Order.”