Interim care orders were further extended in a provincial town for three children, identified as child A, child B and child C, who are in two separate care placements. The parents were from a Travelling background. There was a long history of social work involvement with the family and the guardian ad litem (GAL) supported the application. This followed earlier extensions of the interim care orders.
The children had come into care when An Garda Siochana invoked section 12 of the Child Care Act, 1991. An interim care order was subsequently granted following concerns about alcohol and substance misuse in addition to allegations of domestic violence. The mother and father had a criminal history.
The mother had recently been 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 court heard the children had been placed separately and were doing well. The parenting capacity assessment had already begun, and the mother was engaging with the psychologist. The father had been offered an appointment with a psychologist and he was supposed to speak to a certain person. When the father was told that person was not available, he became abusive and did not attend the appointment. A further appointment was scheduled but the father continuously refused to accept the registered post.
Access was a major point of contention and there was a period of suspended access. The social workers had conducted two separate access reviews and the mother gave an undertaking that she would not go to access with the father as the father engaged in threatening behaviour and had been referred to the Gardaí. Two of the children had access with the third child every second week and they were going to the home of C’s foster carers.
Child C’s presentation going to and coming from access was very concerning and it took the foster carers a lot of time to settle him after access. At the last access the mother had been under the influence and access had been suspended. The eldest child was impacted as it was his birthday and access had been cancelled.
The mother asked: “Can I get a phone call once a week from my children?”
The social worker said: “That is not in the best interests [of the children].” There had been a phone call two weeks earlier with the children and the foster carers could hear screaming in the background. The social worker engaged with the Gardaí as there had been an incident at the parents’ house. Both parents were under the influence and the father had fallen down the stairs and had been taken to hospital.
The social worker was of the opinion that the calls were having an impact on the children. The mother said she would not allow the father to take part in the calls but the foster carers heard a man in the background shouting. There had been another call where the mother had been under the influence and the child had been fearful of what was happening.
The social worker said: “until she [the mother] shows she can put the children first, I believe the children are suffering.”
Child C had been making disclosures of his home life. The GAL said the disclosures indicated that he was feeling secure and comfortable so that he could outline the concerns. A and B were cautions about their responses to questions, they did not respond fluidly and that was reflective of the number of concerns reported to the CFA.
The GAL was of the opinion that if the assessment were to drag out, it would not be in the children’s best interests. There had been a significant number of placement moves for the children and they had only come recently in care. The GAL said: “It is a priority that they are stabilised.”
The interim care order was extended for a period of 28 days.
At a later hearing, an application under section 47 of the Child Care Act, 1991 was granted. This related to the lifting of the in camera rule in order to carry out an updated risk assessment for the father. The father was agreeing to the assessment.
A second application related to dispensing with the consent of the parents for two of the children to have a passport in order to go on holiday with the foster carers. The parents did not object to the children going on holiday with the foster carers but they had retracted their consent to the issuing of passports for the children following an incident at access. The parents had also engaged in threatening behaviour. The social worker said this had to do with the mother not having access.
The social worker was concerned about the impact on the children in the placement. If the foster carers went on the holiday, she said the children would have to be placed in an emergency placement.
The judge granted the orders under section 47.
At a further extension of the interim care order progress was reported on the mother’s parenting capacity assessment. A risk assessment was due to take place for the father but it had been hard to engage with him. The father was in custody due to a breach of his bail conditions. The father missed previous appointments, the social workers would attempt to contact him again once he was released from custody.
An access review was due to take place before child B’s birthday and it was hoped that there would be access and telephone access with the mother for the child’s birthday. The social worker explained that telephone access had stopped previously as the mother invited other people on the call. The social worker said: “We are open to a further access review once we get an assurance it will not happen again.” There was funding in place for an access worker.
The mother wanted to be considered as the sole carer for the children and she continued to inform the social worker that she and the father were no longer in a relationship.
The interim care orders were further extended at a later hearing.
The court heard there had been issues relating to phone contact between the mother and the eldest child, child A, contributing to the breakdown of the children’s placements.
The CFA sought to have the court dispense with the mother’s consent for child C to undergo a Garda specialist interview.
The mother had gone to child B’s school and the school teacher saw the child outside with the mother and reported that the mother had food for the child. The social worker spoke to the mother and the mother explained that she had met a friend in the vicinity and she could meet friends wherever she wanted.
Access was taking place every second week with A and B. There were ongoing concerns about coaching of B. Access with child C was supervised by an access worker due to his behavioural issues and disclosures he made.
The social worker said the mother was not allowed unsupervised access with the children, even telephone access. Recently there were males shouting and during a video call with C, the social worker said the guidelines given to the mother about access had not been adhered to.
The mother’s solicitor said the mother had an access application before the court. Access with C was taking place every month. The first access in a considerable number of weeks had taken place and the mother had to travel to another county in order to meet C.
Disclosures made by C had been sent to the mother’s lawyers. The GAL, the Garda and the investigating detective were of the view that it was in the best interest of C for the Garda specialist interview to go ahead but the mother was not consenting to it. There were three disclosures in particular that were the subject of the proposed Garda interview.
The first allegation referred to an incident which allegedly occurred when the child was two years old. The solicitor for the mother asked: “What information do you think a Garda will get from a child who was two years old at the time of concern?” The social worker said: “We need to listen to the professionals.” The solicitor for the mother said: “He [child C] was examined in a hospital and no further was action was taken.” The social worker said: “Anything that is stated by this child will form the basis of the interview.”
The other two disclosures were reported by the foster carer to the designated person and then to the social worker by email. The solicitor for the mother asked: “Do you have corroborating evidence of that allegation?” The social worker said it was the role of An Garda Síochána to investigate the allegations.
The judge did have a formal application to dispense with the mother’s consent and said that she did not think the application should be set out in court.
The interim care order was extended for a period of 28 days.