A District court in a rural town granted an extension of an interim care order for an infant taken into care shortly after birth.
When the District Court proceedings began the lawyers for the mother told the court that they had come off record due to the behaviour of the mother’s partner (not the father of the baby) during consultations. The mother was now not represented. She told the court she wanted her partner present at the proceedings to give her support.
“What’s the harm in talking to your barrister?” the judge asked. “The barrister had a difficulty with your partner’s behaviour. If she continues to deal with you he will have to not interrupt and be civil. I suggest I speak to him. If at the end he has anything to ask he can do so.”
The partner was invited into the court-room and the judge addressed him. “[The mother] would like you present when she talks to the solicitor. You will allow her to say what she wants without interruption. If you then have something to say you’ll do it in a respectful manner.”
The partner said: “They said to her, it’s [me] or the baby’. She wants alternative legal representation. She wants the baby home now. No-one has the right to keep the baby from her.”
Judge: “You are doing her a disservice in not allowing her to engage in the process to the best of her ability.” She asked the mother: “Are you happy with your barrister and solicitor?” “Yes,” replied the mother.
The judge then said to the partner: “Be a support to her. The best way you can is by letting her take advice from experts. They are happy for you to be present in a supportive role if you behave in a respectful way. Have you any difficulty in saying on oath you will be respectful and courteous?”
Partner: “I refuse to take the stand and agree these people can ask questions. You’re denying her representation. This is actually a criminal matter.”
The judge asked the mother if she wanted to speak to her solicitor and barrister alone, and she said she did not.
“The lawyers can explain all options open to you. There are certain matters from a support perspective you should have, going forward. You would be better to have someone discussing how to structure that, what is the best path to you being reunited with your child.
“From reading the reports it seems you are nervous about seeing professionals in case they report things negatively. But the court can put in place supports to help fix things that are wrong. We can see how we can make it better. Capacity assessment – you won’t know till you give it a go. We need reports, not to say this is a terrible Mum, but to see what we need to work on. I know you have a good heart and I will try to help you on the journey. But I have to apply the law. [Your partner] indicated there is a history, but there does not have to be a history in this case if we start now.
“There is a huge difficulty with [your partner not] allowing you to discuss your case with the solicitor. There is a lot of evidence from the social workers about the difficulty they had when he attended meetings and the abusive nature of his behaviour. A judge would not want to expose a solicitor or barrister to that behaviour. I’ll give you ten minutes to talk to him.”
The hearing was adjourned for the mother to discuss how to proceed with her partner. When it resumed she was present without her lawyers but with the partner, and a social worker gave evidence, stating that the infant had been taken into care under an emergency care order followed by an interim care order. The mother had two other children, one in care, one living with his father.
Since the interim care order supervised access was taking place three times weekly. A parenting capacity assessment was planned. The CFA was in contact with a psychologist who was independent. There had been a pre-birth assessment, and the mother’s own mother was expected to be a support to the mother, but there was no contact with her at present.
The social worker said she had been contacted by two male individuals in relation to the paternity of the child, seeking paternity tests. The mother was not consenting to this. If the child was returned the behaviour of the partner was an issue, as he had been threatening at meetings.
Asked what she would like the mother to do, the social worker said undergo a parenting capacity assessment. Until she did the child would remain in the care of the CFA.
The solicitor told the social worker to answer any questions from the mother (who was without her lawyers). The mother stood up, but was unable to talk. Her partner intervened: “She wants her child back today.”
The judge said to the mother: “You can have a chat and consult with your support person. You ask the questions.”
The partner interjected: “Her mother is an alcoholic and a homeless person. In no way can she look after a baby.”
The social worker said that the mother needed an advocate, and the judge asked her to get the name of an advocate.
Partner: “She doesn’t want any meetings or assessments. She doesn’t see why she has to.”
The social worker said the psychological assessment was needed to see if she had the skill set to perform the parenting capacity assessment, which would assess whether she could care for her child.
Asked if she had anything else to ask the mother said: “At this moment I know there was an assessment and they took my baby away from me, with the guards. When I went to the Garda station they said they had no information, to come back the next day. I had to wait for four days to see my son. From there access was arranged. The social worker has not helped me with access.”
The social worker said they had apologised to the mother for the manner in which the child was taken into care. They were hoping for a mother and baby placement for both of them.
The mother said she had told the social worker she had received no support when she needed it with her previous children.
“Where we are now is trying to establish the supports you do need to parent this child. I’m asking you to do the assessments to see the supports you need. I need to know what they are. You have constitutional rights. In order to ensure that yours and the child’s [rights] are balanced, I need the assessment.”
The judge asked the mother would a mother and baby placement be of interest to her, and the partner tried to answer. The judge told him he had to leave the court, and she asked the mother again. The mother said she would be interested in such a placement.
A second social worker told the court that she met the mother outside her home, as the partner would not allow her to meet her at home. The mother had been excellent at paying her rent, which she gave to the social worker to give to the landlady, but the partner had been trying to prevent her giving it to the social worker. She was now in arrears and in danger of losing her accommodation. Her mother was in another town but did not want her address known as she was afraid that the partner would turn up.
She said the mother was afraid of an assessment because she was afraid of a mental health diagnosis. “She’s paralysed with fear she will get a diagnosis that will prevent her being reunited with her baby.”
Referring to the mother’s relationship with her partner, she said: “She says she finds him a huge support. But she identifies aspects of his behaviour – emotional abuse, making her think she’s crazy, making her feel bad about herself, making her feel guilty about her children, very controlling, seeking to control who she sees – we’re in contact with organisations that help women in this situation.
“We feel the baby will be safer in the care of the Child and Family Agency until we know what her abilities are. We have talked to her about counselling. We can support her in accessing counselling.”
The judge asked the mother if there was anything else she wanted to say, and she replied No. The judge then said: “What I want to say to you now is do engage in the parenting capacity assessment. Number two: seek legal representation. The social workers can’t consider a mother and baby placement until you get the assessment. A lawyer could challenge that and say it was not necessary, or get another assessment. I think a mother and baby placement should be explored, but in this case the CFA felt a placement with the [mother’s] mother would be sufficient, so that was not put in place. Number three: it is very sad that there is a Dad who does not know he has a child in the world. Consider saying who the Dad is.”
“I don’t want him involved,” the mother said.
Judge: “There is an application before the court to direct a DNA test. I am not inclined to do that today. A few things need to be done urgently. Write down the three things. [Your partner] may not be happy you are getting legal representation, you getting an assessment, but this about you, not him.”
The judge extended the interim care order for a month and set a date for the care order application.