A judge in a provincial city granted an interim care order for a child of primary school age, A, in circumstances where the Covid-19 pandemic placed the child’s mother under unexpected stress, causing her to relapse in her alcohol misuse. The child had spent two years in care with a foster family and had transferred home and was progressing towards family reunification.
The child’s mother consented to the making of the interim care order but her father strongly objected and informed the court that he was perfectly capable of taking care of the child in his own home. The judge considered the father’s addiction problems and his failure to engage with the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and granted a 29-day care order until the father could produce evidence to the court relating to his suitability for caring for his child.
The mother’s lawyer told the court that prior to the Covid-19 difficulties the child had the additional support of her foster parents and also her aunt to whom she was close. These supports were unexpectedly removed as a result of the pandemic restrictions and her mother found it very difficult to cope. Access had been progressing well with Child A’s father but tensions began to arise as the mother was feeling very isolated. The mother admitted to drinking vodka and she was now consenting to the interim care order being made for the child until such time as she could “get her head together”. The mother’s lawyer said that the mother hoped that this was the last care order needed for her child.
The father’s lawyer strenuously objected to the granting of the interim care order for the child, saying that the father had a perfectly suitable home for himself and his child. The father’s lawyer reported that the father had maintained sobriety for a two-year period and said that he had been deprived of all access with his child for the previous five weeks, despite the fact that he was joint guardian. The father’s lawyer reported that he intended to apply for weekend access with the child in the event that the interim care order was granted.
Father’s lawyer: “He is perfectly willing and able and he’s devastated that he hasn’t seen his child.”
The judge told the parties that she had noted the situation but that there was a “job of work to be done”.
The father’s lawyer strongly objected to a report being handed into court from the social worker. The judge said that in other jurisdictions the issues about which there is disagreement are highlighted. She said she noted that child’s father disagreed with the section of the report which referred to his mental health issues. The father had reported that he had a borderline personality disorder and that he was taking cannabis every night because sleeping tablets did not agree with him.
The father’s lawyer told the judge that the father is “constantly availing of services” and was engaging at the present time with services. He had found interaction with his child to be very difficult when it was supervised access.
The child’s social worker gave evidence that the mother drank half a bottle of vodka while caring for the child and had got very upset about this. It was the first time she had full responsibility for the child on her own and this stress contributed to her relapse with alcohol misuse. The mother had facilitated access between the child and her father every Saturday but the social worker reported that the mother had complained that the father was often jeering her by asking her to buy vodka.
The social worker said that the father had disengaged from all the services and when a new appointment had been made for him, he disengaged again.
Social worker: “We don’t have confirmation that he could care for [Child A]. He has never been assessed.”
The father’s lawyer argued that he had never had overnight access with his child despite his maintaining sobriety for two years. However, the social worker reported that the father had never taken the opportunity to be assessed. The judge intervened and asked if it was correct that the father had only finished using cannabis two weeks previously. The father’s lawyer replied that there was no evidence that use of cannabis impaired the caring for a child. The judge pointed out that the father had admitted using “two thinners of cannabis every night”. The father’s lawyer said that in some jurisdictions the use of cannabis “is not even illegal”. Lawyer for the CFA pointed out that the court was dealing with this jurisdiction only.
The judge asked if the father intended giving his own evidence and his lawyer replied that he did not. The judge said it was important for the child to have a mother and a father but that the addiction issues had to be borne in mind, along with the fact that father declined to give evidence, did not assist the CFA and continued to smoke cannabis up to the previous two weeks. The social worker said that the CFA was seeking a 29-day interim order.
The judge decided that, having listened carefully to all the evidence, the threshold for an interim care order had been reached. The judge granted the interim care order and directed access to both parents to be at the discretion of the CFA. She advised Child A’s father to “start the process” and provide the necessary reports to the CFA while the interim order is in place so that the matter could be progressed satisfactorily.