In a rural town the judge, who was not the sitting judge, adjourned a review of a care order pending the appointment of a guardian ad litem for an infant. The care order had been granted in February 2017.
There was no guardian ad litem, and the judge asked: “How do you fill the mandate of the Constitution without a GAL? The guardian is not just for the views of the child but an independent view of the welfare of the child.”
In a second case the CFA was looking for a short-term care order for a six-year-old child who had been in care from birth under short care orders, which were due to expire that day. The judge asked what parenting capacity tools were used, and whether there was a guardian ad litem in the case. The CFA solicitor said there was not, as the background to the case was that all the applications to date had been on a consent basis.
“The mere fact that someone consents does not remove the obligation on you as a statutory agency to produce objective evidence,” the judge said.
The social worker said she understood and was also conscious that they were now working on a new framework, the “Signs of Safety” model. Previously in this case they were working on an old model.
“Three full care orders and the child isn’t six. It’s beyond my comprehension,” the judge said. “There is no obligation on us to make a care order up to 18. You’ve got to make your mind up what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
He made an interim care order on consent and directed that reports were to be furnished to the parents at least two weeks before the court hearing.
The next case was an application to adjourn a care order application where the mother was 17. There was a guardian ad litem in the case for both the mother and the baby. “The elephant in the room is unlawful sex,” the CFA solicitor told the court and a file had gone to the DPP. The parents of the mother, who was also being treated as a child, were not present, but were represented.
In the next case there was also a guardian ad litem for a 16-year-old, where there was an application for a care order, to send the child to a special unit, as the child had challenging behaviour and a history of absconsions.
The judge, having read the social work report, said that the child needed a diagnosis and proper therapy, if he was not to develop full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder. Adjourning the application, he said he expected psychological support would be in place when the case came back into court, and he lifted the in camera rule to allow records to be shared with the appropriate experts.
In the fifth case the CFA was seeking the appointment of a guardian ad litem, but this was opposed by the respondent. One child of the family was in care, and the CFA was seeking care order for her two younger half-siblings. Evidence from a specialist was due to be heard. The matter was adjourned to another court in the same district in a month.
Sister seeks appointment as foster carer
In the sixth case a young woman who was the informal carer for her young sister sought to be appointed as her foster carer so that she could deal with social workers, the girl’s school and other matters. Making the required order and addressing her, the judge said: “Your generosity is spectacular. It is a privilege to meet someone like you.”
In the seventh case a GAL was appointed for a four-month-old baby, after the judge established that the GAL was available.
The eighth case involved a review of a care order for a 17-year-old whose mother was ill and in a nursing home. She would stay with her foster family until 2020, when she was doing her Leaving Certificate examination, and hoped to go to third level. The social worker told the court she was very much part of the family. The judge noted and approved the after-care plan.
The ninth case involved a family where the mother was from Dublin but the child was in care in this district on a voluntary basis and the CFA was now seeking a care order. The father’s whereabouts were unknown and he was not involved at all, and the mother had not turned up in court or instructed a solicitor. The judge declined to make a short-term care order. “Without the consent of the parents you have to prove your case. There really have to be standards relating to evidence.”
The social worker said the six-year-old child had challenging behaviour and had been in care since the age of three, having moved through three placements. A placement had been found with a private fostering agency. The judge asked if this package included them providing fostering support, and the social worker confirmed it did. “I always wonder why is the State not able to do this,” the judge commented. He made an interim care order.