An interim care order was extended in a provincial town in respect of three children. The parents were members of the Traveller community. The children had come into care on foot of an interim care order following allegations of substance misuse and severe domestic violence. The mother was in custody and the father had a criminal history.
The case had been known to the social work department since 2009. The mother had disengaged and was uncontactable. A parenting capacity assessment was carried out and it had been difficult to engage with the parents to complete the assessment. The social worker said: “They do not have the capacity to care for the children.”
The social worker spoke with a psychologist about carrying out an independent parenting capacity assessment. The mother agreed to undergo a hair follicle test (for substances) but she turned up late, the hair was sent to the wrong laboratory and the social workers were awaiting the results.
The children had been in two different placements since coming into care. The children were thriving and engaged with the school. The social worker said taking any child into care was traumatic. Since child A came into care there had been a dramatic change in his behaviour. At the school the teachers said they saw a child that was content and wanting to engage. He was settling in and trying to work. Before this, child A was demanding at times with outbursts. The social worker said: “These children are doing well at the moment due to the stability, routine and structure.”
Access was not going well. A had had a cough and access was cancelled. The social workers altered access so that the mother could meet child B at the social work office. The mother told the social worker on the phone that she was not coming to access and B became upset. The father could be heard shouting in the background.
The father said: “I do not get to see the children [and I get] no phone calls.”
The social worker said the father was in and out of prison, was not a constant in the children’s lives and posed a high risk of violence. The social worker said he had reached out to the father.
The interim care order was extended for 28 days and it was further extended a month later. The guardian ad litem (GAL) supported the application.
At this point the mother had been recently released from prison while the father was facing criminal charges in another part of the country. There were issues relating to phone contact between the mother and the eldest child, A, contributing to the breakdown of the children’s placements.
The children were in separate placements and the placements were meeting the children’s needs. The children had phone access with the mother. Child C was four years old and was finding it hard to engage in the video call for a long period of time. It was agreed that 15 minutes was sufficient for a video call.
The foster carers had issues with the mother contacting them. The foster carer made an error revealing her phone number to the mother when she was organising phone access. The mother rang the foster carer from three different phone numbers.
There were further concerns about the content of the conversations with the children. The mother was telling child B that the foster carers were well paid for fostering the children and to keep telling the foster carers she was hungry. B was doing well in her placement but would be placed in another part of the country if her current placement broke down.
Constant telephone contact with child A was undermining the placement. A was informed by the mother that child C was moving placement and A became very upset. The social worker said A did not need those worries and it was in the child’s best interests to have two supervised calls with the mother per week.
The mother knew her calls with the children were recorded. She said the children were very unsettled since they came into care and they wanted to come home. She said: “I am lost without my kids.” The mother indicated she would not make inappropriate phone calls and would engage in child appropriate content and would not talk to the children about the proceedings.
The solicitor for the GAL asked if the parents were presenting as a couple. The social worker said an assessor had been identified and was due to commence an assessment of the parents in the coming months.
The parents wished to be assessed together and wanted to co-parent. The social worker said that was a concern. The children had been subjected to domestic violence, violence on the street and alcohol and substance misuse. When the interim care order was made, the parents gave an undertaking to agree to obtain a barring order but that had failed to materialise.
The father was staying in another part of the country. He was before the courts in relation to a number of matters and was required to sign on at the Garda station in another town. The father refused to give his consent for the social worker to contact the Gardaí about his criminal matters.
The social worker asked the mother if she was in a relationship with the father and she confirmed she was. The father agreed and informed the social worker to use the mother’s address in order to contact him.
The GAL met the children on an introductory basis and she was confident they could articulate their wishes. The children were protective of their family and took care of the younger siblings. The GAL said: “We need to be mindful that the mother is under pressure and emotional. I do not think it is fair that there should be a free flow of access. I would call upon the parents to be as honest as possible.”
The judge extended the interim care order for a period of 28 days and said access should remain at the discretion of the Child and Family Agency and there should be more telephone contact. A parenting capacity and a risk assessment should be carried out separately.
When the case resumed the interim care order was further extended for 28 days. A psychologist had been identified to carry out a risk assessment on the mother and draft terms of reference had been prepared and would be shared with the GAL and the parents.
The father disengaged from the proceedings. There had been concerns about clandestine communication between the mother and the children and access had been suspended as a result. The mother had agreed to abide by the rules for access and it was reinstated.
There were also concerns regarding the behaviour of child C. He had attempted to put his hands around the neck of the foster carer to simulate what his father did to his mother. The GAL was afraid that his behaviour would turn into something more serious.