During the Covid-19 pandemic, where the courts sat on a social-distanced basis and with restrictions on the number in court, a number of child care matters were heard. Some were decided and others adjourned. The cases decided were heard with evidence taken on affidavit, with reduced numbers of witnesses and where the parents were not contesting the orders sought.
In one case the District Court extended an interim care order for five children who had been in voluntary care since 2016. The application to extend the interim care order was uncontested by the parents. The parents had been served at their last known address but did not attend the court hearing.
The CFA advanced the application with a sworn affidavit from the social worker. The judge had indicated that he had read the affidavit and report in advance. The CFA indicated that the section 18 full care order was listed for mention in June 2020 and on that date they would be seeking to set down a date for the hearing of the full care order.
The guardian ad litem (GAL) was not present in court to give evidence due to the Covid-19 restrictions but was supportive of the application to extend the interim care order. The solicitor for the GAL handed in to court two reports, one related to two of the children that were in a placement together and the second relating to the other three children that were in a placement together in another county.
The judge indicated that he was proceeding on the evidence by way of affidavit of the social worker “in the unusual circumstances of Covid-19” without hearing the viva voce evidence of the social worker. He said that he had read the report and the sworn affidavit to say that the report was true and accurate. In the circumstances the judge said that he was satisfied to accede to the application of the CFA as the grounds for making an interim care order continued to exist “mostly around poor school attendance and the parents’ lack of engagement and addictions with cocaine”.
The judge extended the interim care order for 28 days and the full care order application was listed to fix a date for hearing.
District Court extends interim care order for child of pre-school age
The CFA made an application to the District Court, again by way of affidavit and report of the social worker. The mother had not participated in the proceedings and the father was deceased. The solicitor for the CFA told the court that the CFA had been unable to serve the mother with the proceedings and stated “as far as we are aware she is living in a tent somewhere but we are not able to find her” and the CFA were proceeding pursuant to section 17(3) of the Child Care Act 1991. The initial interim care order was made on 6th September 2019 and the child had been residing with her mother prior to that.
The GAL was not present in court but the solicitor representing the GAL provided a report to the court and an affidavit that stated that the report was true and accurate. The court was told that the mother had not engaged with the help that had been offered to her and had “sporadic access with the child” and had not taken any steps of reunification with the young child. The solicitor for the GAL indicated that the GAL was supportive of the application to extend the interim care order and that the child was in a very good placement with a family member.
The court was told that a solicitor was representing the foster carer and they had the intention of proceeding with a guardianship application but there had been difficulties with serving the mother.
The judge indicated that he was proceeding on the basis of the reports and sworn affidavits of the social worker and the GAL and stated that he was satisfied in the circumstances that it was not possible to serve the mother but the grounds continued to exist and met the threshold for the making of the order. The judge extended the interim care order to the section 18 full care order was listed for mention.
District Court extends interim care order on consent for a young girl where abuse alleged
The CFA applied to the court to extend the interim care order for 28 days. The initial care order had been made on 5th December 2018 on the grounds of alleged emotional neglect, substance abuse and allegations against the father of abuse. The legal representative of the mother indicated to the court that the mother was consenting to the extension of the ICO.
The father was unrepresented and the solicitor for the CFA told the court that he had indicated to the social worker that he would not be in attendance at court but that he consented to the order. The father was called over the intercom by the court registrar but he did not attend the court. The solicitor for the GAL confirmed that the father had also indicated to the GAL that he consented to the extension of the order.
The CFA solicitor said that the social worker’s affidavit had been filed and served on all parties and the professional opinion was that the grounds continued to exist for the making of the order. The report had been read in advance by the judge.
The solicitor for the GAL handed in the report and told the court that the GAL was supportive of the application to extend the interim care order but the GAL had concerns in respect of the delay in looking into the allegations made about the father. The court was told that the CFA had correspondence with the specialised unit but there was a backlog of cases there.
An application under section 23 of the Children Act 1997 in respect of hearsay evidence was also before the court but the court was told that the application could be adjourned to the next date and it “may be a matter for the care order itself if it ends up being necessary”.
Extending the interim care order the judge said that he was satisfied on the evidence of the social worker by affidavit and the evidence on affidavit by the GAL that the grounds for the making of an interim care order continued to exist and that the threshold for an interim care order had been reached.
District Court adjourns after-care review for two weeks to allow CFA to explore funding approval
An after-care review in respect of a child turning 18 in July 2020 was before the court. The solicitor for the CFA told the court that an after-care plan had been “effectively” finalised and the GAL was in agreement with the plan. There were no other respondents to the application as the mother was deceased and the father was unknown.
CFA solicitor: “The issue now is for the CFA to secure funding for the after-care plan. The plan is approved by the GAL but it needs to be funded as it is very bespoke in respect of his needs.”
The court was told that the child had a high level of needs.
CFA solicitor: “He has no psychiatric diagnosis but he has a significant level of needs and that is why the plan is more complex and needs to be approved.”
The CFA solicitor said that the social worker team had made an application for funding approval and that higher levels in the agency were considering the application.
The solicitor for the GAL indicated that there was consent to adjourn the matter for two weeks “to allow the CFA to exhaust the approval process”.
The draft after-care plan was handed in to the court. The solicitor for the GAL said that the two weeks were to provide a further opportunity to secure the funding failing which the GAL may have to bring a section 47 application but an opportunity was being provided for the CFA to secure funding.
Judge: “If facilities are required by the child it will 99 per cent likely to be ordered by the court in any event.”
The judge adjourned the matter.
District Court approves another after-care plan
The District Court was asked to approve an after-care plan for a boy nearing the age of 18 where both his parents were deceased. It was described as a “great after-care plan” and the court was told that the GAL approved of the plan that was handed into the court.
The court was told that the child had been in his placement for 15 years and that he did not want to engage with after-care services but it was said that may be his view as a teenager and he may come around. The judge described the placement as “excellent foster carers” and it was described as a “very good news story” and an excellent after-care plan.
The judge said that he did have a question mark over housing in the plan.
CFA solicitor: “He can stay with his foster carers as he is in Fifth year and going into Sixth year. Then he can take into account his options such as HAP.”
The court was told that the GAL was satisfied that the after-care review be finalised and asked that the GAL only remain appointed for a further two weeks “to cement with the child that the GAL is out of the picture now” and to inform the child that if he had any issues he could contact the social work department.
Approving the after-care plan, the judge said: “This matter is before the court for after-care review. The court has read the after-care plan and notes that it is recommended by the GAL who represents the child’s interests. My only concern was in respect of housing but what can be done has been done and he can stay with his foster carers until he finishes school.”