Overnight visits to mother directed following care order review

See also 2020 vol 2, number 29. “Full care order to age 18 for teenage boy who just wanted to be put first by parents” 

During a review of a full care order for a teenage boy the District Court heard that an overnight access with the boy’s mother had gone very well and the boy had returned to his placement in a residential unit on time. The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court that a report from An Garda Siochana was to hand, which confirmed that the boy had not come to their attention since the order was made. The solicitor said the matter had been re-entered before Christmas in order to allow the boy to have overnight access with his mother over the Christmas period. She said that the overnight access had gone very well and the boy returned to his placement on time and had not absconded.

With regard to the current access plan, the CFA solicitor told the court that the boy met with his mother once a week on a Saturday in a park. She said the access was taking place in a park because of the new Covid-19 restrictions, but that the outdoor environment seemed to suit them and it was going very well. She said although the boy was “not happy” with the current level of access, he respected that the court was reviewing the situation and was willing to work with the CFA on this.

The judge sought details as to whether the access plan was going to change when the Level 5 restrictions were eased. The CFA solicitor said that the plan was to allow the boy one overnight access per week with his mother for a period of three months initially. She said the CFA was also going to put in place a “robust safety plan” to ensure that the overnight access did not result in the boy placing himself at risk.

Judge: “You say the safety plan will be robust, what are the details?”

CFA solicitor: “There will be someone checking in with [the boy], and we have asked that the Gardai can facilitate that. The plan also includes that the Gardai will be made aware of the times he’s in Dublin, and [the boy] has to be available by phone throughout the day and at all times. If he doesn’t return at the agreed time, his absence management plan will kick in and the Gardai will be advised. If there’s a breach of this, all of the access arrangement will be suspended. From the mother’s perspective, it is expected that she is to supervise [the boy] at all times, she is not to be under the influence of any substances throughout the visit, and she will contact the staff in [the boy’s residential unit] if she has any concerns regarding [the boy].”

The solicitor said that the mother had been engaging very well with the social worker since the full care order had been made and there had been no issues with the current access plan.

The solicitor noted that neither the guardian ad litem (GAL) nor the father were in agreement with the suggestion to increase the access to one overnight per week when the restrictions were lifted. She said the GAL was of the view that the access should be increased to two overnights per week, but the father wanted access to take place overnight on a fortnightly basis only.

The GAL’s solicitor said that the GAL was conscious that the boy was “more than likely going to return to his mother” when he reached the age of majority, so in order to “better manage” the relationship with his mother, and in an effort to acknowledge the clear progress which had been made, it was better to increase the access to two nights per week, alongside regular reviews.

The father’s solicitor said the father was intending to write to An Garda Siochana about their recent report. She said he wanted to put “certain aspects” to them, as he had ongoing concerns about the boy’s engagement in criminal activity. She said because of those concerns, the father considered overnight access on a fortnightly basis to be the safer option.

The judge asked the CFA solicitor for an update on the boy’s education. The solicitor said that the residential unit had contacted a number of Youthreach centres, but all of them had “long waiting lists.” She said the CFA had been in touch with a tutor who advised that work was being assigned online at the moment because of the current Covid-19 restrictions. The tutor said that the boy was required to do an online interview as an initial step, but that “nothing could happen until after the next mid-term break.”

The judge asked why the tutoring service was not available until then and the CFA solicitor said that the expectation was that schools were going to be closed “at least until mid-term.” She said the tutor confirmed he was not taking on any new students until the school re-opened.

Judge: “I’m losing the logic of that. The difficulty is that if we are waiting until schools re-open, [the boy] might be waiting a very long time?”

GAL’s solicitor: “It doesn’t make sense, Judge. The GAL’s report very clearly outlines that education is an outstanding issue and it is a huge disservice to [the boy]. He needs an education and we don’t understand why home schooling can’t happen right now. There simply must be some way to get him started with online work.”

The judge asked if it was possible for the social worker to make direct contact with the youth outreach programme “to find out exactly what they can offer and when.” The CFA solicitor said she would seek clarification from the social worker.

Judge: “It’s very important that we don’t take our eye off the ball with [the boy’s] education. We can’t be playing catch up when the restrictions are lifted.”

The CFA solicitor said that funding had been approved for counselling sessions with a psychotherapist, but because of the Covid-19 restrictions, the sessions had yet to start. The solicitor said it was clear the boy needed the support. She referred to an ongoing issue with another resident within the unit, who had since moved placement, but there had been concerns about how he had dealt with the situation.

The judge said it was clear there was “more work to do here.” She said progress had been “very much hampered by the level of Covid restrictions.” She said she was impressed by the boy’s “level of maturity” in how he accepted the access regime which was in place, and his “continued willingness to work with the CFA.” She said although the restrictions were impacting on the situation, it was positive to hear that progress had been made in the boy’s relationship with his mother, and that access in the park had seemed to strengthen the relationship. She said she was “not sure” whether matters were at a point where two overnights per week could be considered, however.

She recommended that access remain the same during the current restrictions, and when the Level 5 restrictions were lifted, “access should move to one overnight per week.” She said it was vital that the CFA continue to “pursue and put in place an appropriate education plan” for the boy. The matter was put in for further review in a number of months.