The District Court in a provincial city heard an application from the CFA for an interim care order for a child who was almost eight years old and had been in care on a voluntary basis with a foster carer since she was two days old. This was among nine cases heard in one day.
The social worker told the court that the CFA wanted to formalise matters and was asking for an interim care order on consent of all parties for a number of months. This was to allow for an assessment and for the GAL to carry out more observations with the child and to have further discussions and meetings before a full care order hearing.
The parent’s legal representatives said that the father was happy to consent to an interim care order and understood about further observations and was satisfied with access around the child’s First Communion. The mother consented to the interim care order with liberty to re-enter if there were any difficulties.
Judge: “What would be the consequence if I didn’t make an order?”
Social worker: “If you didn’t make an order and the child’s parents didn’t want to consent? From an emotional point of view, [the child’s] attachment is to her foster parents and from a mental health point of view, [she is involved with] her school and friends. I can’t imagine the trauma it would cause. “
The social worker went on to say that it was complex from a parent’s point of view. He had been the child’s social worker since 2014. He said when he met the parents their emotions were similar to those of parents who had relinquished a child for adoption. As a result, he asked an adoption social worker for support on the case. Last year the parents wanted the child returned and the relationship with the foster parents and the social worker became strained.
The GAL told the court that she was looking at the child’s files and noticed a certain level of drift in the case between 2011 and 2014. She had five sessions with the child so far to check that she understood her situation. The child’s life with her current carers meant she was very much part of the community. However, she wanted to have a relationship with her parents and siblings.
The child was up at 5 am on the day of the GAL’s visit. When asked about her feelings, the GAL said the child said she did not have any. The process was scary for her, she opened up and then took a step back. The GAL worked at the child’s pace. The child was very excited about her First Communion day. The child’s biological parents would be at the church and would return to the foster home for food. The child was aware of the plan and happy with this.
The GAL met the parents twice and would have two further meetings with them. She had to complete more observations of access and get to know the child better. She was in agreement with an extension of the interim care order. The parents indicated they would like to build up a relationship with their child and they would like her to visit them and stay overnight. The GAL said that this needed to be done carefully and everyone needed to be patient in order to build confidence. Access could be looked at with parents and siblings eventually.
The judge said both parents were consenting to the granting of an interim care order and he did not extend an order so that people could complete work. The legal grounds were set out in detail in section 17 of the Act. He was satisfied that there were grounds for an interim care order.
He said: “Voluntary care orders going on for this length lead to complications, no criticism on persons involved. Under section 17 2 b interim care orders can be made for more than 28 days where the parents consent. I’m satisfied where a child is in a single placement [for] her entire life any change to any placement, even to her parents, would adversely affect her.”
The judge made an interim care order for four months. The father wanted to make an application for guardianship of the child. The judge said as both parents were consenting, then this could be done by way of a statutory declaration.
Mother’s capacity to consent to an extension of an interim care order questioned
In an application to extend an interim care order the court heard that there was a question about the mother’s capacity to understand what she was asked to consent to and whether she could give instructions to her solicitor. The child’s CFA social worker outlined the mother’s background and the baby’s physical health. The mother had been in care and had a mild learning disability. The baby boy had been a premature birth. He had a cleft lip and palate and had undergone some corrective surgery with further surgery planned in August.
The court heard the mother had been in a mother and baby placement where there was on-going parenting capacity assessment but the mother did not want to stay. She loved her child, but there were concerns about the mother’s ability to meet the basic needs of the baby. She needed a huge amount of support with feeding her baby and did not remember times for feeding.
In January the mother said she did not want to parent the baby and she returned to her parents’ home. The baby was placed in foster care. The mother was neither consenting nor objecting to an extension of an interim care order. The father’s parents were deemed unsuitable for relative foster carer as there had been extensive social worker involvement with them. A parenting programme was being developed with the support of Barnardos for both parents. The social worker was waiting for an up to date medical report on the mother’s capacity to give consent.
The mother’s GAL gave evidence and said she would meet with the CFA social worker and psychologist to look at the mother’s capacity. The mother had access with the baby once weekly, and she observed it was going well. The mother was happy for her baby son to stay in care for now, and said she wanted to care for him when he was five or six.
The judge explained that an extension to an interim care order can be made in the absence of consent where there was an issue regarding the capacity of the mother. He was satisfied that the requirements of the Child Care Act were met in that the welfare of the child was likely to be adversely affected unless an order was made and he extended the interim care order for 28 days. He said the result of the on-going assessments would inform the court how to proceed and a full care order application was adjourned to the same date.
Solicitor seeks to come off record
In making an application to come off record for a parent a solicitor told the court that she had a conversation with the parent who said she wanted to represent herself. As a result the mother hadn’t seen any reports for today’s date. The mother explained that she wasn’t eligible for legal aid and that she couldn’t afford legal representation.
Judge: “Your former solicitor has all your documents and you are entitled to see the reports. There is a High Court decision of Judge Murphy where social worker and guardian ad litem(GAL) reports may be given to a solicitor on record but not to the individual. You are entitled to inspect and make notes but not have copies. The Child and Family Agency (CFA) and GAL should make available facilities for you to inspect them.”
The mother told the judge that she wanted to make an application for the judge to hear her daughter’s point of view. There was a supervision order in place to ensure that her daughter, aged 10, attend therapy and the parent was unhappy that she was not consulted and offered an opportunity to bring her daughter to the appointment and that this was arranged between the school and the CFA.
The judge explained that he could not take evidence but that the child was entitled to have her views heard and that a judge could meet a child privately. He would hear the guardian ad litemand CFA on whether he should meet the child and that he would let the matter stand for now. The CFA solicitor said that this was the first they had heard about the issue. The CFA had made contact with the child’s father who is in the UK but was not attending court.
The judge said that in the absence of her solicitor the mother was entitled to see the GAL and CFA reports and was not obliged to consent to applications by the CFA. She was not allowed to take photos of the reports or make copies as the mother was not legally represented.
Consent to extend interim care orders for five children
A CFA social worker made an application for a full care order hearing and an extension of an interim care order up to that date in a case involving claims of chronic neglect, housing issues, reports from Gardaí of the children being unsupervised, and children not in school.
She told the court the mother did not acknowledge any wrongdoing and loved her children. The social worker had made contact with the three fathers of the five siblings. A parental capacity assessment had recommended a full care order.
The children were known to two other jurisdictions and the same chronic neglect was mirrored. In earlier stages the mother did not identify the fathers of the children. The children were admitted to care in October 2014 and the youngest child was admitted from birth. One of the children had contact with her father who was consenting to the care order and the other two fathers were reported as disengaged. All the fathers were on notice and knew about the court proceedings. The court heard that five children were in three separate placements and the siblings had a lot of contact.
The access was currently suspended since January following an access where the mother tried to take her children and was verbally abusive towards the foster carers and the social workers. One of the children asked for the suspension of access as she was frightened and very distressed and crying. The eldest boy told the mother he wanted to stay with the foster mother.
The social worker visited all children and all said they did not want to live with the mother. One of the children reported being followed and the mother and her mother arrived unannounced at the foster carers’ home and came up to the window. In a café in the presence of one of the children the mother shouted “kidnappers” at the foster carers and took photos of the children in public.
The GAL recommended that the mother would not meet the children out in the community. She told the court that the children should not have access with the mother unless they say they want to see their mother. The eldest child, who is 16, sees her mother at an access house once weekly. One of the children said her mother was scary and the other children said they did not want to see her.
Supervised access took place fortnightly and siblings met informally with their foster carers. The mother gave an undertaking to the court previously not to arrive at the foster carers’ home. There had now been two incidents in the community where the mother appeared to have hidden behind a wall at the entrance to the access house. The GAL said she recommended an application for a full care order.
Judge: “Why should the mother give the court an undertaking going forward?”
GAL: “There have been concerns. The children were adversely affected in January 2018. The mother tried to get the children to run. I met with the children individually, they indicated they don’t want to meet the mother, child E is scared, he is a young child and does not speak but used an activity sheet to say that he felt bad before access, sad during access and afterwards. They are curtailed in what they can do. The foster carer has to minimise activities. The mother approached the children in the last month. “
The mother’s solicitor asked the GAL if she was aware that the mother will be contesting allegations and will give evidence about why she will not give an undertaking to the court not to see the children in the community. The mother gave evidence and said she wanted access twice a week for two hours. Ireland was not her home country and she said she would have family support in her home country. She said she had evidence from her GP that she had no mental health issues.
The GAL’s barrister asked the mother about her views on the incidents in the community outlined to the court.
GAL’s barrister: “You accepted that it was a traumatic situation. Do you recall saying it was upsetting for the children? Do you accept you said that it was?”
Mother: “Kindof. “
GAL’s barrister: “Do you accept the incidents recently set out, that they were upsetting for the children? “
The judge said that the evidence from the GAL and the social worker satisfied the grounds for the making of a section 18 application for chronic neglect and for the extension of an interim care order to the date of that application in June. He went on to say that section 37 of the Child Care Act provided for reasonable access. Where a parent is not satisfied then an application to court or the CFA was a matter for agreement or ultimately for the court.
Judge: “I have no doubt in my mind it is difficult for the children and parents and not as they wish it to be. There is a duty on parents to recognise an order in existence and there has to be some regulation. Access is not in the interests of children where they are unwilling to have it. Access that is not arranged is likely to be against their welfare and it lessens the chance that access will get back.”
Review of after care plan for a 17-year old boy in care
The court reviewed the after care plan of a young person who was six weeks short of his eighteenth birthday. The boy, who had a chronic physical illness and mental health difficulties had been in care since March 2017. The court heard from the boy’s social worker that the after-care plan was being firmed up. An application was made for a flat with Focus Ireland, a social housing agency who provide 9-5 on-site support. In addition, the CFA therapeutic team would provide 16/20 weeks’ support to help the young person to make the transition from residential care towards more independent living. He would be appointed an after-care worker.
The boy attended a psychologist in a children’s hospital who helped him cope with the management of his illness. He also attended the HSE Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS). The children’s hospital and the CAMHS services were coming to an end on his eighteenth birthday. The boy was not in education and was seeking employment. He did well on a two week trial and this had helped to motivate him and give him confidence.
The boy’s mother told the court she was unhappy that her son had not returned to school since the previous September. She would prefer him to stay in education and engage in part time work. She had tried to talk to her son about this. She felt disappointed with the lack of communication from the CFA about her son and his poor attendance at school. The judge acknowledged that a regular complaint against the CFA was their corporate inability to get children to stay in school. It was unfortunate that the boy was not in formal education.
Judge:“I’m disappointed at the number of children who fall away from education. It is very disappointing and I applaud the mother for trying to re-engage.”
The mother did not believe that her son was engaging with the CAMHS service and that his blood levels were being controlled. The mother told the court that she supported her son.
Mother: “I’m there for him, the door is open.” She said a phone call to his mother was cheaper than therapy for her son.
The mother’s solicitor said that the mother wanted the court to know that she had asked the CFA twice for help before her son went into care and this did not happen. The CFA solicitor told the court that the father, who lived in Northern Ireland, chose not to engage in the child care proceedings but was supportive of the after care plan.
The GAL told the court that she went through the after care plan with the boy and that he was happy with the report. She had been appointed last October. She met the boy ten times and attended CFA core group meetings about the boy. She said it was a broad plan. The GAL said that the boy was “a great young person” and there was “a vulnerability about his mental health”. She said that the boy needed help with practical things, like applying for benefits, utilities and he needed a support worker allocated for this. She told the court that the boy’s therapeutic team would appoint a social care leader and an occupational therapist from CAMHS to work together with the young person and focus on his medical and mental health needs.
The judge said that the HSE after care service guidelines in 2011 (which have not been revised) talk about a “seamless service”. This was not the case as the adult mental health services would not consider clients until they reach eighteen regardless of their mental health history. The judge said he did not understand this and hoped the reality would be better than the perception.
Judge: “This doesn’t serve anyone’s needs except the needs of the organisation.”
The court heard from the social worker and the GAL that the boy wanted the court’s involvement in his life to end from today’s date, but wanted to continue with the GAL until his eighteenth birthday. The social worker said that the boy did not want his issues to be broadcast or negative things said about him in court.
Social worker: “There are a lot of systems in his life. The child says he wants court to end from today.”
The judge said that the after-care plan seems appropriate. Accommodation was a serious issue for young people and homelessness was a thing to be avoided and common for children in care. He made an order extending the boy’s stay for three months in residential care past his eighteenth birthday to allow for the Focus Ireland apartment to become available and said that recent amendments to the Child Care Act appear to provide a way for the courts to revise an after-care plan if it is not meeting the needs of the young person. He hoped that the positives would outweigh the negatives and allowed the GAL to stay in place until the boy’s eighteenth birthday.