Interim care order granted for a newborn, judge tells young mother she can be reunited with child

A judge in a rural town granted an interim care order for a newborn baby, but reassured the mother she considered reunification was possible.

The child was three weeks old and since birth had been in foster care through a voluntary care arrangement. The mother was in court and legally represented. The father was not in court but was consenting to the application.

Evidence of the social worker

The social worker told the court the mother was very young and had only recently reached the age of majority. She had been in the care of the state since pre-school and was in the care of the state when the child was conceived. The mother was in an after-care arrangement and was living in supported emergency accommodation with one-to-one support.

She said the mother had had a very traumatic childhood with a range of abuse and neglect perpetrated upon her. She had experienced the most severe adversity. She had psychiatric issues which had included psychosis, depression, anxiety and self-harm. She also had a history of criminal activity and was currently serving a suspended sentence.

However, the social worker animatedly told the court that during the pregnancy the mother had attended every ante-natal appointment and really took care of herself and by default the baby. She had been prescribed and was taking anti-psychotic medication but under the care of the doctors caring for her, safely came off this medication early in the pregnancy which had protected the baby from harmful side-effects. A psychiatric report had indicated that with the right supports the mother would be able to care for the baby.

The social worker said this was very positive, but she needed to assess what supports the mother would need. She said there had been a peri-natal psychiatric assessment which had shown the mother had no signs of relapse of psychotic episodes and there were ongoing appointments for this. The mother was taking anti-depressants.

The court was told this medication took approximately four to six weeks to have a positive effect and therefore this was a preventative measure rather than a treatment measure and this had been initiated by the mother herself. The mother had been cared for by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS), but they had now referred her to the adult mental health services and she was still under the care of the peri-natal psychiatrist.

The social worker said the mother was very easy to work with and she recognised the social workers’ concerns. The mother had excellent insight and understood the risks. She engaged well with social workers and agreed to the pre-birth plan and a voluntary care arrangement for when the baby was born.

She was motivated to learn, prepared properly for the birth and bonded well with the baby in hospital. She had access with the baby three times per week and had started a parenting course. She was supported by her own care staff who had reported the mother was doing well. However, the mother had not completed the housing application forms and this had been slightly concerning to the social worker.

The social worker said she was really surprised that the mother was not consenting to this application as it had been fully discussed and agreed. She said she had discussed with the mother a trajectory and path for reunification and set out a plan for the next 12 weeks of what needed to be done. She said that included an assessment of the mother’s capacity to live independently, manage her own self care needs and then an assessment of her ability to parent and manage the stressors that will come with parenting an infant.

The social worker said that she believed reasonable grounds existed for the interim care order and there was a significant risk of harm and therefore the threshold for granting the order was reached.

Evidence of the mother

The mother confirmed what the social worker had said. She said she had been in a relationship with the baby’s father for 15 months and he was supportive. She said she had recently started back in education and had chosen courses that would also help her develop skills for parenting.

She confirmed she was taking anti-depressants as a precaution and was trying to prevent things. She was having counselling every two weeks at a cost of €45 which she said she was paying for herself. She was seeing her child three times per week. She said she got on very well with the foster mother, but she wanted more access as it was not enough.

She said she had applied for her own accommodation but needed the forms to be signed by her two doctors and only one of them had signed it. She was waiting for the other doctor to return the form to her. She said she would work with anyone and do anything she had to do to prove that she wanted to have and care for her child. She recognised she needed to get better at life skills, such as budgeting and routines, but she was working on this. She said she was adhering to all the conditions of her sentence and was working with the probation officers.

She said she was not consenting to the interim care order because she did not want to lose any parental rights. She was happy to consent to the voluntary care agreement and for things to continue as they were.

The solicitor for the CFA told the mother that she would not be giving up any parental rights if she consented to this application. He said to her that by having the interim care order the CFA could not do anything without the court’s permission, so it was actually a protective factor for her and her child. He said the CFA would have to come back to court every 28 days and explain to the court what they had done to help her be reunited with her child and it would be the court who made decisions.

The judge spoke directly to the mother when the mother was in the witness stand. The judge said she had been very impressed with her and that she had incredible insight for such a young person.

She said she was going to make the interim care order for the following reasons: “It will bring benefits to you and your child. With voluntary care, you [the mother] can change your mind and I do not want you to put your child at risk. A guardian ad litem (GAL) can be appointed who will be independent and advise me [the judge] directly of the needs of you and your child.”

The judge said she wanted the mother to know that the making of an interim care order was no reflection on her. The judge told the mother she very much believed she was capable of turning her life around, that she believed the mother had the capacity and ability to do this.

She assured the mother that during this period she would be supervising everyone including the CFA and would be ensuring they did their job, that a path for reunification was followed. She told the mother that she could speak to her again at any of the hearings. She advised the mother that she tell the child’s father that she would like him to attend and that he should seek his own legal representation.

An interim care order was granted for 28 days.