An application to extend an Interim Care Order for a 12-year-old child was granted in the District Court in a rural town. The child’s father was dead, the mother opposed the order.
The social worker told the court the child had had regular contact with her father (Y), who did not live with her and her mother, until he died eighteen months earlier. A new partner (X) moved into the mother’s home a week after the funeral and claimed to be the father of the girl, which she found very upsetting. He was very controlling of her mother, who insisted she call him her father. She was afraid of her mother’s new partner and very upset. Her maternal uncle reported the situation to social services. The girl left the family home and moved in with her uncle’s family.
Social services had had previous contact with this man because Gardai had had to intervene so that his wife, now deceased, could have medical attention she needed.
The social work department contacted the mother and explained the daughter’s concern. She accepted her daughter was afraid of the man. She attended an appointment with the social work department to discuss her daughter, accompanied by the man. She was told he could not attend and he became extremely irate. The mother seemed confused about the paternity issue – she had been involved with this man in the past.
The social work department suggested to the mother that the man move out of the house and allow her daughter to move back in, but the mother refused. The girl had broken down on a number of occasions about the situation at home. She was very bewildered at her mother’s actions, and had had no contact with her since July 2012. She spent two birthdays without her mother. She was happy in her new placement, but found it very difficult to deal with the sudden loss of both her father and her mother.
An Interim Care Order was granted with the mother’s consent, but she then withdrew it. Meetings were set up between the mother and the social work department, but she insisted the man be there as well. A Care Order was sought and granted in October 2012, in proceedings in which the man attempted to participate, but the judge did not allow it. The mother said she was married to him and he was the child’s father, but did not produce a marriage certificate or evidence of paternity.
After these proceedings a meeting was arranged for the mother to meet the child in the HSE offices, but she did not turn up. The social work department had sought a parenting capacity assessment of the mother, as they had had previous concerns that most of the parenting of the child was done by her grandmother, with whom the mother and child lived until the grandmother’s death four years ago. The mother was now living in this family home with the new partner.
The girl had been assessed as having a mild learning disability but had supports in school and had made a lot of progress.
The HSE was now applying for a Care Order until the girl was 18. She had had no contact with her mother for over a year. They hoped there would be some level of contact in the future, it was very important for the girl. She would remain in the care of her uncle.
The mother’s solicitor said the mother appreciated she had not been part of the girl’s life for the past 18 months, but she wanted to re-establish access and repair bridges. She wanted a chance to prove herself.
The social worker said that rebuilding the relationship was one thing, providing for the girl’s needs was another. “A mother who declines any contact with her daughter for 18 months is a serious cause for concern.”
The solicitor said the mother accepted that there were problems in the relationship between her daughter and her partner, and was willing to go at the girl’s pace and keep him out of the equation for the moment.
Giving evidence, the mother said she had not been in touch with her daughter because of a quarrel with her brother over her inheritance of their mother’s house. She said she was afraid of her brother. She agreed her new partner had moved into the house a week after the death of the girl’s father. She said she wanted to meet her again, would like to see her three times a week, collecting her from school and bringing her home. Her partner would not be there, she said.
Asked why she had allowed the man to move into her house a week after the girl’s father died, she said: “I’ve been in a relationship with [X] on and off for 34 years. He said he had a paternity test [relating to the daughter].” She agreed with the HSE solicitor she had not seen any document, and was not aware of any test on her daughter.
Asked why she continued a relationship in the home she and the girl had shared, when her daughter said she was afraid of him, she replied: “I was in love with him.” She denied she prioritised her relationship with him over her relationship with her daughter. She also denied the girl had been injured in an incident involving her partner.
Granting the order until the girl was 18, the judge said: “It is clear [the mother] is under the control of [X]. She had had no contact with her daughter for the past 18 months. I am satisfied the welfare of the child is best served in the care of her uncle and his family. [X] under no circumstances is to have any access with the child, supervised or otherwise, and any access with the mother is to be supervised so that he has no access. Access is to be arranged through the HSE, supervised for the moment. I have to take into account the wishes of the child, which are that she remains with her uncle.
“I leave the issue of paternity to the discretion of the HSE. Whether she should have a DNA test I leave up to the HSE, in the light of the distress it might cause.”