Interim care orders for three young boys, mother fails to attend hearing

The District Court granted interim care orders in respect of three boys, A and B of secondary school age and C of primary school age. The application had been listed for hearing the previous week, but as the mother had not shown up to court the matter was adjourned for one week to provide her with an opportunity to attend. The father was deceased. The Child and Family Agency (CFA) wished to proceed as an issue had arisen with the placement. The children were currently living with a grandmother following a private family arrangement.

The solicitor for the CFA informed the court that the mother had not attended again but indicated that she had been notified that the matter would be listed in a different court. The court was told that the social worker had tried to engage with the mother and the team leader had called out to the house twice during the previous week but she was not present. It was confirmed that the mother had received the notice of the proceedings the previous week but had chosen not to attend.

The District Court had had numerous changes in the court venue over the course of the previous few weeks and a change of venue had occurred late in the day. The judge expressed some concern that the mother had been notified that the matter would be listed at a different court room and he asked the solicitor for the CFA and the social worker to make an inquiry to ensure that the mother had not turned up at the other court. The CFA solicitor told that court that the mother had no mobile phone which was one of the issues with contacting her.

Judge: “Even though the chance may be remote we should be quite certain she is not somewhere else expecting a court hearing. The Court Service should really have someone over there directing the change of court. Then if we check there won’t be any doubt.”

The matter was let stand in the list for a period of time and the CFA solicitor then updated the judge that the other court room venue had been checked and nobody was present, and anyone who had arrived during the course of the morning had been re-directed to the correct court room. The judge was satisfied to proceed.

The CFA solicitor provided the court with a signed copy of the social worker’s report and a number of other reports including one from Barnardos. The social work team leader told the court that she had been allocated to the three boys for a period of seven months. She confirmed that the mother had not shown up at the other court venue. The witness said that she had made contact with the mother’s adult son and had also attended the house on the previous day and the mother was not there. She had visited the grandmother’s house and the grandmother had confirmed that the mother had received the summons and was aware that the application was before the court. The adult son was provided with the information and address of the court to pass on to the mother.

The family had been known to the social work department since 2009. In 2013 there was serious concern in relation to the neglect and emotional abuse of the children and also educational concerns. The witness told the judge that there had been no improvement and in 2013 there was a child protection conference and the children had remained on the Child Protection Notification System from 2013 to 2017. She told the judge that the CFA had made efforts to support the family and they had provided services and in 2017 things had improved slightly as the family were re-housed. The mother had been engaging with mental health and additional services.

The court was told that a concern had arisen in relation to the non-school attendance of one of the children and his behaviour in school. The school was unable to contact the mother and she would not come to the school to address the issue. The witness told the court that the Gardaí had called to the house following a referral and had reported that the mother was under the influence of drugs, the house was dirty and there was rubbish outside. Drugs had been found in the home and the gardaí had feared that the children in the house were being neglected. The team leader said that the CFA had put supports in place.

The witness said that in 2019 the concern had remained as Child B, who was then of primary school age, was in an accident and he had fractured his leg and the mother did not bring the child to the hospital. The team leader said that they could not make contact with the mother when the hospital wanted to treat the child and the treatment was delayed. When the mother was contacted she was under the influence of drugs.

Team leader: “The mother did not follow up with the physio appointments for the child and therefore the child is now limping as he did not get the appropriate help.”

The witness said that for the last physio appointment a professional followed up to bring him to the appointment because the mother would not bring him. The witness said that the number of adults in the house was of concern to the social work department and following a search of the house a quantity of drugs with the value of €1,000 was seized. She said that the state of the house had deteriorated and they were worried for the welfare of the children.

In June 2020 there was a Child Protection Conference and part of the safety planning was that no adult under the influence of drugs was to be in the house and no drug dealing was to take place in the house. The team leader told the court that there was a school referral and it was also reported that there was woman unconscious in the house. When she was being resuscitated C was lying on the bed beside the woman and did not move during process of resuscitation of the woman.

She said that the social work department had then realised that the safety plan was not going to work and by a private family arrangement the children went to live with the maternal grandmother. The court was told that the grandmother had agreed to look after the children for three weeks but they had been with her for eight months. The team leader said that the CFA had tried every support to get the mother to bring children to appointments and school attendance but nothing was followed through by the mother.

The witness gave evidence to the court that the family arrangement was no longer tenable as the grandmother was very sick with a chronic underlying respiratory condition and she struggled to get up and down the stairs.

Team leader: “Whenever we arrive at the house she does not know the children’s whereabouts. She reported that the children leave the house in the morning and she does not know their whereabouts until they return late at night.”

The witness told the court that the grandmother had asked the CFA to help her to get a placement for the children and she did not want the assistance of respite. The grandmother reported that the mother had promised her that she would support her with looking after the children.

The team leader said that the school had contacted the social work department when C was not collected from primary school and a social worker had to collect him from school every day. It had also been reported that A was also frequently late for school as he had to bring his younger brother, C, on the bus to school every day. B had missed a lot of school and the mother was prosecuted in 2018 for educational neglect. However, she did not engage in the legal process so there was a warrant out for her arrest.

The team leader told the court that there had been a concern that there was drug use in the house and that an adult son was drug dealing in the family home. She said that the mother had reported that she was afraid of her adult son as on a few occasions he had been threatening towards her.

Team leader: “[The mother] doesn’t engage with us and we can’t contact her. The CFA have tried everything to keep the children in the family but nothing is working and the grandmother’s health is deteriorating and we are afraid that the placement will break down abruptly and we will not have a plan.”

She said that it was her professional opinion that the threshold criteria under section 17 of the Child Care Act 1991 had been met. There had been educational and medical neglect of the children. They had no food and the mother had been seen begging on the road with the children. On a few occasions the social work department had had to buy electricity and food for the house. The team leader was of the opinion that an interim care order in respect of each of the children was proportionate and necessary.

She outlined the plan for placements for the children if the interim care orders were granted. The CFA had been able to secure a residential unit for the older boys together as they were very close. The plan for C was that he would go into foster care as he was younger and “still needs a lot of hand holding”. The judge asked if the placement would require a change of school and he was told that the plan was to keep C in his current school and “see how we go” and the judge noted that his teacher was very fond of him. The social worker told the court that they were lovely children even “given what they have experienced”.

The judge said that he noted that the father was deceased and the court was satisfied that the mother had been served with the proceedings but had not appeared at the court. Having heard evidence from the team leader and having read the reports the judge said that he was satisfied there was reasonable cause to believe that the children’s health, development and welfare was likely to be avoidably impaired or neglected and it was necessary and proportionate to make an initial interim care order pursuant to section 17 of the Child Care Act 1991 in respect of each of the three children and a guardian ad litem was appointed.