A District Court in a provincial city granted interim care orders for four children, with a view to reuniting the two young children with their parents when their relationship had stabilised. The two older children had a different father.
A social worker told the court that both parents said they were not now in a relationship. The mother was homeless and living in a hotel. The couple had separate access with the children, including overnight access with the mother in the hotel. However, it later emerged that the overnight access had taken place in the father’s home. The Child and Family Agency then decided to review the reunification plan, and to clarify whether the couple were going to be in a relationship or would be co-parenting separately. The older children had had successful accesses with their mother.
The mother’s barrister said that the mother acknowledged the access had taken place in the father’s home, and said it would not happen again. The social worker agreed that access with the father was going well, and said that the level of supervision had been reduced. The father’s solicitor said that the father wanted to increase his access, which was three hours a week at the moment. The solicitor said that the man’s daughter had called to his house when trick or treating and said she wanted to stay with him. “Is it not an appropriate response from the father that he responded to his daughter crying by allowing her to stay in his house?”
The father said his daughter had said she wanted her father and mother to be together for Hallowe’en.
The guardian ad litem told the court that the older children (who had a different father) resented the role of the father of the younger children, but said he was very good with the younger children, “very attuned to their needs”. She said the mother was in a very difficult situation, due to her homelessness. “She can’t even make a sandwich for her children. In this situation it is understandable she might use the father’s house. The Signs of Safety model requires that everyone is open and works towards reunification. The children love their mother dearly, but they watch her.”
The judge said: “I think this reunification is going to work but both parents must be honest about where the children are going to be. It is not easy for [the mother]. It is not suitable for a young family to be in a hotel.”
The GAL said: “There is a difference between supervised access and the suitability of access. There should be someone available to the mother. There was a question of therapy [for the children]. It was not followed up.”
Judge: “Even if the family is reunified, there should be therapy.”
GAL: “I will be promoting that, but there is a question of who is available. There has been a lot of change for [Child C].”
Asked if she had an objection to the parents parenting together, the GAL said: “It is not a question of whether they are together or not. The issue is the impact on the children of the uncertainty, they have experienced them [the parents] together and not together.”
The father’s solicitor asked was it the case that what was needed was clarity, not whether they were together or not.
Judge: “They picked up that the court does not want them together. It’s not so. It is important, if there is to be reunification, to know what the children are coming back to, to be honest about it.”
The father said: “The only reason she said we were not together was that the [older] boys didn’t want us together. As soon as we were not together she said everything was going brilliantly.” Asked by the judge where the children coming home to, he said: “We are not together but we would like to work on it. But I don’t think everyone wants it. I’m the bad guy.”
Judge: “In the past whenever you had an argument [the mother] had to leave the house. That does affect the children.”
Mother: “I didn’t think of the effect that was having on the children. “
Judge: “At the moment reunification is still on the table. I want them to sit down and be honest about they are doing and what they want. Be honest with yourselves as well. I have no doubt that both parents love their children and they are in a very difficult situation. But children need a secure and stable home. Consider the children first and them having to go from A to B.
“Increased access should be on the table as well with full honesty from the parents. If they can’t get on then plan for co-parenting.”
She asked the mother if she was any closer to getting accommodation. The mother replied that she had been told not before Christmas.
The judge extended the interim care orders for the four children, and said there two days would be set aside for hearing the full care order applications for the older children.