An interim care was granted where there were substantial concerns regarding domestic violence and drug addiction issues.
This application concerned a child who had been in voluntary care for nearly two years. Evidence was heard from the social worker and the father, who was represented and was not consenting to the application. The father attended remotely, as he was incarcerated but was due to be released shortly. The mother did not attend but her solicitor was in court.
The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) informed the court that the mother, who had another child in care, was consenting to a care order for two years, which would give her the opportunity to address her drug addiction issues. The solicitor told the court an interim care order had been sought when the child was born but this had been withdrawn as a place at a residential unit had been offered to the mother and child. At the unit the mother had shown improvement and engaged with the services provided, but these initial improvements had not been maintained and the child was placed in voluntary care.
The mother’s solicitor told the court the mother had significant drug addiction issues and was considerably self-aware. She said the mother had recognised and acknowledged her issues and wanted to address them. She wanted to consent to a care order for two years to allow her to address these issues.
The father’s solicitor told the court that the father would like access with the child and would do whatever was necessary to facilitate that access. His solicitor said the father recognised there was much work to be done and he was willing to do it. He knew that he must deal with social workers and other professionals in a courteous, calm, and respectful manner.
During these opening statements the father interrupted several times wanting to speak but the judge told him this was a child care court and it was different from other courts. The judge explained the paramount consideration of this court was to do what was in the child’s best interests. The judge said that everyone would be heard but they must wait their turn.
The social worker told the court that she had been allocated to the family since 2016. She said that the child’s brother was the subject of a full care order and an older half sibling was in voluntary care. She said a pre-birth conference for the child had been held because of serious concerns about domestic violence, which was a significant feature of the parents’ relationship, and because of the mother’s drug addiction. From this conference it was recommended that the child’s name be placed on the child protection register. It had also been recommended that the child and her mother attend a residential care unit on the child’s discharge from hospital after birth.
The social worker told the court the child was born prematurely and spent several weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. She said the child had medical problems associated with withdrawal from drugs and feeding issues and had needed specialist follow up care for the first year of her life.
She said these feeding issues had now resolved and the child had been discharged from the care of a dietician. She said the child’s current needs included severe sleeping difficulties, the child was awaiting a brain wave scan along with a multidisciplinary physical and psychological assessment. The child had been under the care of a specialist optician and was having occupational therapy.
She said that once the assessments had been done, should the Health Service Executive (HSE) not be able to provide the services the child needed in a timely manner, the social work department would examine the possibility of providing these services from private practitioners. Despite her problems the child was thriving in her foster placement and had a warm and supportive relationship with her foster family.
The initial voluntary foster placement had been with a relative but this was not a long-term option and so she had been placed with a foster family. The child had difficulties with attachments. She was attached to her foster carers and had struggled when she was away from them. The foster carers had been very good at promoting access with the child’s maternal family and her siblings and there was a natural transition between foster carers and the maternal family. The foster carers would have liked to promote the father’s side of the family with the child, but the father had not been forthcoming with pictures and stories of his family to them.
The social worker said that when the child was fit for discharge from the neonatal unit a residential unit placement had been sourced for the child and her mother, albeit some distance from their home city. Initially the child’s father was to accompany them but the residential unit had undertaken a risk assessment. The residential unit concluded that because of the father’s aggression and violence the risk was too great, therefore the placement had been for the child and her mother only.
From the outset the residential unit had concerns about the mother’s ability to meet the child’s needs and at one stage the residential unit had removed the child from her mother’s care because her mother was not meeting the child’s needs. The social worker said that when the child and her mother had been discharged from the residential unit they were moved to a stepdown unit. Initially the child’s mother did very well and had engaged with the supports and services. However, this did not last and she had started to disengage and go backwards. She had started using drugs again and would not engage with a methadone programme.
The social worker said at that point the child had been moved into voluntary care with a relative. Throughout 2019 the mother had access including overnight access and there were plans to reunify the child with her mother. The child was reunited with her mother but it was not successful, the child’s mother had not been ready because of the overriding drug addiction issues.
She said the mother had wanted to address her drug addiction issues and the social worker believed with the appropriate help the mother would be able to do with this. She said she had felt she had an excellent relationship with the mother and the mother had been very honest. “[The mother] knows she is not able to care for the child properly, she said she [the mother] was not in the right frame of mind.”
The mother had struggled with access. The last access was February 2020 and the last phone access was May 2020. The social worker said direct access had been difficult because of the Covid restrictions but also that the mother had not been able for direct access at that time, currently she was homeless, actively drug using and also engaged with a methadone programme. She said the mother needed to be credited for putting the child’s needs first. She said: “That as much as she would like to have [the child] with her, she knows that she cannot meet her [the child’s] needs at the moment.”
The social worker said she had known the father since 2016. She said that he can be calm, but he can also be unpredictable. He had been violent to her and had been verbally and physically aggressive. She said that she could not recommend access with the father given his unpredictable nature. He had been referred to two domestic violence support groups, from which she received reports. He had attended only one and a half sessions of the individual therapy and it had been reported the father had shown no insight into his behaviour. The feedback from the group sessions had been that he was not suitable for group sessions because he had lacked insight. Throughout all the social worker’s evidence the father constantly interrupted saying this evidence was lies. The judge repeated to him that he would have his chance to speak.
The social worker said: “These domestic violence services were still available to the father and before any movement on access can be made he must address his anger.” She said as far as she was aware the parents were not currently in a relationship. She said that the mother and father had always denied any domestic violence. She was concerned about the father’s release from prison and the effect this would have on the mother. The relationship had been one of volatility. She said that there was a road map plan for access, but the recommendations remained that he must be willing to engage with services to address his anger.
The social worker said that the father had not had access since 2018. She said direct access had been suspended because at an access visit the Gardai had had to be called. She said following this a risk assessment had been undertaken and as a consequence direct access had not been viable. She said the father had demonstrated no insight into how his behaviour might affect the child.
She said her concerns for the safety of the child and mother remained. When the child had moved to the residential unit the father had made no attempt to have access with her. She said it was only in the last few months he had sought access. She had arranged video calls but there had been technical issues so they did not happen, but she said she would try to establish these again. She said the foster carers had not met with the child’s father but that she had worked with the foster carers on a life story for the child to solidify her sense of her identity. This required material from the father that he had not provided.
The child had been in voluntary care for two years and it was not in her interests for this loose agreement to continue. Over the coming months the child would be having many different assessments and it would be appropriate for her foster carer to be able to discuss these freely with members of the multidisciplinary team and to be able to give consent.
She said the child had started to thrive and the stability the care order would bring would promote her attachments, it would also provide certainty and security. The child’s mother had wanted to consent to a care order for two years and this would allow her to concentrate on really trying to address her drug addiction issues and secure the treatment she needed. She said: “It would allow [the mother] to get back on track and focus on her recovery, so that she could care for her child. Reunification is very much on the cards.”
She said she was also asking the court to appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) and asked for a specific GAL who had worked with the family previously. The father made another forceful interruption, he stated he did not want that GAL, he said he [the GAL] was a liar. The judge again reminded him this was a different court, he could not interrupt and he could have his say but he would have to wait his turn.
The mother’s solicitor told the court that the mother would also like a new GAL, to try to start afresh with someone new and with a clean slate.
The father’s solicitor asked the social worker if the father had tried to communicate with her and the social worker said there had been some letters. He said that the father had written to the social work department 15 times to obtain a report on the child. The social worker said she had not received 15 letters. He asked the social worker if she had received the comprehensive folder of cards and pictures that the father had complied which included pictures of him and his family, and could she give assurances this would be forwarded to his children. The social worker said as soon as she received this folder she would ensure it was passed on.
The solicitor asked the social worker to confirm that the father had said that he was willing to work with the social workers and any other professionals to develop positive relationships with them and his children. The social worker accepted this. The solicitor also asked the social worker to confirm that the father had said he was willing to engage with counselling, family therapy and he would work with professionals in a calm, respectful manner, and this was confirmed.
The father gave evidence and was invited by his solicitor to speak to the court. He said that this social worker and all social workers and professionals were against him. He said he wanted access and his relationship with the child to resume. He said he knew he needed to work to foster and revive his relationship with the child. He wanted to work with the social worker in a positive manner and he had tried to be calm, but they did not listen to him. He said that the social worker had not given him any reports about his children. He said: “They have told and created so many lies and I have had enough of their lies.” He said they took her [the child] to a residential unit which was in another county without even talking to him.
He wanted the children to know him and his family. He said the previous GAL had done nothing except tell lies. Neither the GAL nor the social worker knew what he [the father] had done for the children and their mother. He had fed, clothed, and provided a home for them. He said that one day the GAL and the social worker would be punished for telling lies.
He said he would pay to do any course and had done an anger management course while incarcerated and that had helped him. He said he would do anything that was asked of him.
The judge gave his decision immediately and said the threshold had been reached and made an ICO for 28 days. He said that he had considered the parents’ request for a new GAL, but it was his opinion that relationships and understandings change. He said the GAL was a professional and given the history that existed he was not persuaded that a new GAL would add value and he would appoint the GAL recommended by the CFA.
He advised that it would be good if the parties could correspond with each other regarding a proposal of working together going forward and perhaps the father might also consent to a short order to allow him to address some of the issues that had been raised.