An interim care order was extended for three months to allow for progress on the part of the separated parents of a young child, who was in interim care with his older sister, who had a different father. The CFA had applied for a one-year short term care order for the toddler, B, and a long-term care order for his primary school age sibling, A, until she reached 18.
The court in a rural town heard the CFA was seeking the one-year order for B as it was planning reunification with his father but not his mother, but the CFA was not seeking reunification of either child with their mother. The court had already heard expert evidence from two psychologists, and the hearing now resumed.
The children had different fathers and all the parents were from another EU country. There was an interpreter in court. The children had been in the same foster placement for over three years and would be separated in the event of a long-term care order being granted for A and B being reunified with his father.
The children had come into care when B was a baby due to the parents’ coping difficulties. Both children were starting play therapy. The mother was expecting her third child in two months.
This was day five and six of the hearing. The court heard three witnesses, a CFA social care worker, a former social worker with the CFA and the GAL involved with the child.
The mother’s emotional capacity
The social care worker told the court that she had been involved in supporting and supervising access with the mother and her two children for almost two years. She was also involved in one-to-one therapeutic work under the supervision of a psychologist with A in relation to her attachment and behaviour difficulties.
When asked by the CFA solicitor whether the mother showed much encouragement to the children during weekly access, the social care worker said: “I didn’t observe much encouragement.” She went on to describe an incident where A had gathered all her school art work together to give as a present to her mother at access and how the mother put the work in her car without any comment. A’s behaviour was unregulated at times during access and A was calmer when her mother engaged with her. However, the mother’s engagement with A was not consistent, the social care worker told the court.
Social care worker: “I didn’t see follow through.”
CFA solicitor: “Why do you think that didn’t occur?”
Social care worker: “A lack of consistency in her presentation.”
CFA solicitor: “Do you think she is not able?”
Social care worker: “She is able on occasion, but not consistently.”
CFA solicitor: “Did you observe that the mother loved her child?”
Social care worker: “She told me many times. It is deeply upsetting for her not to be able to follow through on her role.”
The court heard the social care worker had been asked to do direct therapeutic work with A because the foster carers were concerned regarding day-time wetting, and A’s behaviour of being loud, throwing things around and being in a low mood. The therapeutic work (called “real world technique”) involved child-led imaginary play with different figurines and sand and water. When asked by the judge about her understanding of her function with A, the social care worker said: “[It is] to allow a process to take place and because it is a child-led activity the child acts out emotions when in a safe place and [is able to] integrate these into the sessions”.
The social care worker said themes emerged in her work with A such as control, females/males and the cross mother. In the early part of her work, the court heard A acted out scenes with the figurines which often involved going on an outing, being scolded by a mother and then ending happily. A played with the female figurines and on one occasion threw the male figurines against the wall and said, “all the men were [bad language]”. When asked by the father’s solicitor if she considered whether A was quoting or copying, the social care worker replied: “I can see she is expressing a feeling. I can’t interpret beyond that.” A spoke of her mother throwing her when she spilled things. Over the ten months the social care worker worked with A, she showed improvement in her behaviour, the court heard.
The social care worker said she saw some improvement in the emotional attunement between the mother and A, but this was variable, and it happened when A really sought out her mother.
CFA solicitor: “Going forward, is it important for A to have a relationship with her mother?”
Social care worker:” Absolutely, it should improve, the connection [and] relationship, she absolutely deserves that. “
In cross examination, the mother’s barrister referred to the access notes made by the social care worker which were in the documentation handed up to the court. She highlighted a number of positive comments on how the mother related to A at access.
Mother’s barrister: “[A] turns up with a handmade card and flowers, the mother was very pleased, and [A] has a sore tummy and mother sat her on her lap and rubbed her tummy.”
When asked by the mother’s barrister the CFA agreed this was an appropriate reaction. The court heard that in the early days of being in care A asked a lot when she was going to live at home with her mother and when asked if she would like to live at home, A replied ‘yes’ in a loud voice.
The court heard that there had been another incident recorded in the access notes when the mother soothed B when he was upset.
The social care worker said the mother’s barrister was taking out all the positive things out of her access notes. She said: “At the end of that [access], quite a negative thing took place.” The social care worker went on to describe how A had wet herself and was already clearly upset when her mother shook her head and said, “this is not nice”. When asked by the mother’s barrister, the social care worker agreed that she did not have any issue about the love and bond between the mother and her children, A and B.
The GAL told the court that she observed the mother missing a number of opportunities to emotionally engage with A. The mother’s inconsistency in her presentation at access had more of an effect on A than B as A needed and wanted more from her mother, the court heard.
When asked by the judge whether in terms of parental capacity it was an issue of emotional or physical capacity the GAL told the court the mother provided physical care and accommodation to a high standard, but the mother needed to try and manage how she felt and related to her children, so they did not suffer. The mother could benefit from therapeutic support in order to be aware and understand her children’s needs at an emotional level. The mother had attended six sessions of counselling but did not continue, the court heard. The GAL referred to the psychologist (engaged by the CFA) who had recommended counselling for the mother to deal with the deep-rooted reasons for her presentation arising from her relationship with her own parents.
The GAL supported the CFA application in respect of both children. When asked about A’s wishes she told the court A was very guarded and it was difficult to establish her wishes. When talking about home she placed the foster carers and her mother and B together. Based on her observations, the GAL said, “A had not got the consistency of care she deserves.”
She was recommending a care order up to the age of 18, but she said, “[you] should never rule out the possibility of things changing that can be reconsidered. It doesn’t take away from [the fact] if the mother can make changes. It is not an easy recommendation. [There is] such potential for the child in how much she benefits from consistency of care and how she has grown. I recommend a review in 12 months to see access and growth in areas of development and [if there is] any change in the situation. “
B’s father’s engagement with A and B
The father was attuned to B’s needs and picked up on cues, the court heard, and the social care worker said: “There was a lovely energy between the father and [B] and [he is] more playful than the mother.” The father had weekly unsupervised access with B. Initially A had also been going to access but the social care worker felt that B’s father’s attention was more focused on B and access was reduced and then stopped between A and B’s father as the CFA did not consider it was in her best interests.
Judge: “In one of your notes on the father and B [there is] an additional note on B’s father ‘he would like to care for A,’ but you note: ‘I witnessed B’s father barely tolerate A. I wonder if it is in her best interests’. Did A ask about why she is not seeing B’s father?”
Social care worker: “I explained to A her natural father is in another EU country and B’s father is the natural father of B.”
The court heard the father took on board advice regarding B’s nutrition, routine and delayed expressive language. The father was referred by the CFA to a parent support organisation and there was very positive feedback from the co-ordinator, the social care worker told the court. Work had been done with the father on a “circle of security” for B and there had been a change in the father’s perspective. There was no conflict between the father and the foster carers, handovers at access went well, the court heard.
There had been a gap of three months’ contact between the father and B when the father returned to his home country due to a tragedy in his family and the court heard on his return the father took on board advice about working at B’s pace. The social care worker told the court the father had always been attuned physically and emotionally with B.
At a recent child-in-care review the court heard the reunification of B with his father had been put on hold. This was due to the father having unsuitable accommodation and B’s change in behaviour. The father’s solicitor told the court he lost his previous accommodation and was now sharing with another man and his son. The father was in the process of seeking alternative accommodation.
The court heard that B had started biting other children at preschool and was lashing out when he didn’t get his way. Previous to this he had head-banged. When his access had been increased to twice weekly with his father, B started crying hysterically when his foster father left for work. The GAL said she was concerned that A was trying to tell people something and she did not know if the behaviour was directly related to the increased access. B was showing resistance recently at access with his mother. She said that play therapy which B was about to start would help.
The siblings’ relationship
The GAL told the court that one of the recommendations in the proposed reunification plan for B with his father was the importance of the sibling relationship and for all the attachment figures in the children’s lives to understand this from the children’s perspective. The siblings had a close bond. Their relationship had been the one constant relationship in the children’s lives as they had been together since B’s birth, the court heard.
GAL: “[A] and [B] have a very close relationship and bond. [A] can be controlling for [B] and absolutely loves him and wants to know [B] is OK and she is appropriate about what he can do … I couldn’t state it strongly enough. The two children had a challenging time. [B] was very young in care. [A] had multiple carers. They only ever had each other. [This] has to be held central to any decision and to recognise the need for their relationship and contact.”
Any change in B’s life needed to be carefully considered, the GAL said. The GAL said that a lot of work needed to be done in the next 12 months with B and any other therapeutic services should be put in place without delay including an attachment assessment. It was also important not to lose sight of A’s needs and to be aware of what separation from B would mean for her. “A close eye needs to be kept on [B] and how he makes sense [of the situation],” the GAL said.
It was important not to underestimate the extent of the work by the foster carers and the relationship of trust they had built with the children. The GAL was not sure that B’s father understood the importance of the foster carers and his sibling for B. In numerous conversations with the father, she was concerned that the father considered the foster carers as people just paid to look after the children.
Previous CFA social worker gives evidence for the mother
A social worker previously employed by the CFA was called as a witness by the mother’s counsel. The social worker told the court she worked with the case during the first year the children came into care. She said that issues of post-natal depression should have been considered by the CFA as this was flagged by the woman’s GP. The court heard there were allegations of domestic violence by the mother against B’s father and some bruising found to be consistent with restraint. There had been a Garda complaint, but no prosecution.
The social worker said the mother would have benefited if she had received cognitive behavioural therapy and trauma counselling. She said the mother responded well to encouragement. The current CFA “signs of safety” model, which was not in use when A and B came in to care, would have looked at the mother’s attributes rather than “lining up the ledger of negligence,” the social worker said.
She found the father defensive about his history. The court heard the allegations made by the mother against B’s father about alleged child sexual abuse of A were held to be unfounded by the psychologist working with A. The mother’s emotional attunement could be worked on in therapy as the foundation was there and “she would be a good mother but not a demonstrative mother,” the social worker said.
Mother’s counsel: “Not being a demonstrative parent doesn’t make you a bad parent?”
Social Worker: “Agreed.”
Case adjourned for three months
At the end of the first day of the resumed hearing the judge noted that based on the evidence heard she advised counsel to speak to the mother about whether she was open to therapeutic intervention. On the morning of the second day the mother’s counsel informed the court that although her client had undergone some counselling, she was willing to undergo therapy. On the request of the judge, the CFA solicitor and the mother’s counsel agreed to consult regarding sourcing a suitable therapist for the mother.
The children’s interim care order was extended on consent for three months and the short- and long-term care applications in respect of both children were adjourned to that date also in order to see if matters could progress in terms of the mother’s therapy, the father’s accommodation and the children’s play therapy.
The current CFA social worker gave evidence that the threshold was still in place for the continuation of the interim care order. The judge directed the following: updated reports be provided in terms of all access records for the parents with full details of who was present, length of time and all notes taken by social care workers; notes on “real world technique”; an update on mother’s therapeutic intervention, children’s play therapy and father’s work situation and accommodation.
Judge: “[This] is a difficult case, a situation where the usual norms of addiction and mental health are not arising. [There] is a situation arising regarding the mother’s emotional unavailability on a consistent basis [which] possibly arises from her own abandonment by her mother and her experience. She is extremely confident in work matters and basic physical needs. The difficulty is the emotional block. [She] seems like a woman who has the potential until she deals with the therapeutic intervention. [In] the interim she is very angry. I can understand the one thing she wants is to be a good mum and this is being taken away and she resents that. She needs to focus on what is stopping her from mothering her children.”
There was no issue regarding addiction or mental health with the father or his bond with B, the judge said, but she was concerned about particular problems she was hearing regarding the father’s unsuitable accommodation and job seeking.
Judge: “I’m now hearing issues of particular problems which are worrying. The father has lost his accommodation. He doesn’t have suitable accommodation, again, a chain of uncertainty, going for an audition for a job, a lot of factors in the mix. [I have] serious concerns about the children in care, [B] since he was a baby. [I have] concerns [about the] balance of the rights of the children and the interests of the children when the case is not finished this week. [There] is a lot of groundwork which could shape [things] overall [and it will] take counsel to speak to both parents.”
The judge noted the mother was due her baby in two months. “The mother doesn’t need any unnecessary pressure and I don’t want her to feel in any way under any pressure,” the judge said.
The matter was put in for mention in two months regarding progress regarding updated notes and reports. The children’s interim care order was extended on consent for three months and the short- and long-term care applications in respect of both children were adjourned to that date also in order to see if matters could progress in terms of the mother’s therapy, the father’s accommodation and the children’s play therapy.