The issue of close or “unnecessary” contact during access, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was raised in a District Court in a regional city. The judge granted an interim care order in respect of a young baby and a full care order for 12 months for a toddler to allow the mother attend residential treatment. The solicitor for the mother told the court that the mother would like to hug her child and pick her up during access, which was restricted due to the pandemic.
The social worker informed the court that an emergency care order was granted the week previously in respect of the baby and she was discharged from hospital into the care of a foster mother. The social worker said that the baby was born detoxing from substances, however, there were no signs of any serious withdrawals and the baby was doing very well.
The social worker told the court that the mother hoped to enter residential treatment in the coming weeks, once she had submitted clean urine samples. The social worker described how the mother was very committed to getting clean and sober and the social worker hoped that the baby could join her in residential treatment. The social worker was of the opinion that while the Child and Family Agency (CFA) was not opposed to her caring for the baby while in residential treatment, that would need to be under an interim care order. The social worker also said that the decision regarding the baby joining the mother in residential treatment would be taken once the mother had settled in.
In relation to the toddler, the social worker informed the court that the paternity of the child had yet to be clarified. She said that the potential father had agreed to undergo a paternity test but that this was proving difficult due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The judge acknowledged the issues faced by general practitioners, but commented that tests like this should be given some sort of priority.
The social worker said that access with the baby was limited due to the pandemic, but the CFA hoped to be able to facilitate access in the residential treatment centre. She said that access with the toddler had taken place outside previously, but as the foster family had vulnerable children under their care, they could not facilitate access indoors. The social worker said that they could not conduct access by video link because the mother did not have a smart phone.
The solicitor for the mother said that access with the toddler had not taken place for a number of weeks and asked if access could improve in any way. The social worker responded by saying that access was outside during the summer and after this they went to a café. She said that they would have to look for a venue that could facilitate access and highlighted that access is restricted in terms of the amount of contact they can have. The social worker said that the mother cannot have any unnecessary close contact with her child. The solicitor for the mother told the social worker that the mother would like to hug her child and pick her up.
The judge interjected and said: “I take it you are going to risk-assess this case, as you do with all cases… it is a very difficult time for these children and for the mother. This nightmare that we are living through is a particular nightmare for parents of children in care”.
The social worker replied that it was a concern that the mother could not have any unnecessary contact and said that the mother could not change the child’s nappy, for example. She said that when the mother is in residential treatment they could look at the issue of access further.
The judge decided that the threshold for a three-month interim care order in respect of the baby was met and the threshold for a 12-month full care order for the toddler was met. The judge said that the orders were proportionate and noted the consent of the mother in respect of the orders sought for both children.
The judge also appointed a guardian ad litem to the case.