A judge in a provincial city extended an Interim Care Order “very reluctantly”, and told the social worker that they would have to consider returning the younger children to the mother under a Supervision Order.
The social worker said social services wanted to extend the ICO while the mother continued to engage with all the services. The children had been taken into care when one of them went to Gardai seeking help. Their mother, who was a national of another European country, was drunk and very aggressive toward the children. The oldest child, a young teenager, was adamant he did not want to go home, but the younger ones wanted to go home.
“The mother is unable to understand our concerns around her drinking and aggression. She has agreed to continue with the parenting course, but she denies she was intoxicated last November though she was arrested drunk by the Gardai,” the social worker said.
The mother’s solicitor told the court she had attended four different parenting courses and also attended Alcoholics Anonymous three or four days a week. “What more can she do?” In relation to the violence towards the children, she understood it was not acceptable in this country, but it was in her own country.
The judge said she was very concerned. “The mother was told if she gave up drink etc she would get her children back. She did all that to the best of her ability. At what point do you decide you’re satisfied?” she asked.
The judge said she saw the oldest child in her chambers that morning. He was adamant he did not want to go back to live with his mother. “What therapies are available to him to rebuild his relationship with his mother?
“He is a very nice young man who expressed his views in a quiet and calm manner. He said he’s not going home. I can’t force him, but I can take the view he has to do work on his relationships with his mother, brother and sister.
“He said he didn’t know his father or where he was living in [their native country]. I want a plan for what he’s doing in his life and an assessment.” She said she appointed a guardian ad litem who was experienced in dealing with teenage boys.
Extending the ICO reluctantly, the judge said: “There were three issues – alcohol, violence and the parenting issue. She is dealing with it. You have to think about returning her children to her with a Supervision Order.”
When the Interim Care Order came back a month later for renewal, the CFA solicitor said there was consent to extend the ICO for the oldest child until after the Junior Certificate examinations. The CFA was seeking to extend the ICO for the other two children for eight weeks, with a phased return and a detailed timetable, building up from access to the children going home in a managed and gradual manner.
The social worker said that the children had come into care in a serious and sudden manner on two occasions. The circumstances leading to the Section 12 (Emergency Care Order) proceedings in 2009 and 2012 were very similar. Both the older children said that when they returned home in 2009 the issues re-emerged very quickly.
The mother had engaged with services and was addressing her issues. The timetable was to build from unsupervised access to one and then two nights overnight access, gradually increasing them. The middle child, B, wanted to return home but he had some anxiety about it and wanted social workers to continue to call. The social workers would continue to meet with the children and talk to them about routines, school and so on.
In relation to the oldest child, A, there had been a breakdown in his placement, but he still did not want to return home and continued to refuse contact with his mother except for text messages. He was doing well in school and was responding well to routine and structure in his life. He considered that any agreement on his part to meet with his mother would be interpreted as him not being believed about what had happened before.
The guardian ad litem also told the court that A was concerned his account of what had happened before was not believed. She had reassured him that no-one disputed it. He did not want to take the risk of going back home and having things revert to how they were before, which happened in 2009. He did love his mother and worried about her, but did not like the way she lived her life. If he stayed in care for a period of time it would open up the door for him to see his mother and siblings.
In relation to his placement breakdown he was “in a bit of a strop” because he had to explain the same thing over and over, and he was testing his foster parents. He had met a girl the same age and wanted to see her, but he had the right amount of freedom for a boy of his age. The foster parents might have over-reacted to his behaviour.
He needed to work on contact with his siblings first and foremost. If he saw them getting on with things, it might relieve him of the burden of worrying about his mother’s behaviour in the future. He was very worried about her partner and the fact that she was pregnant again. This was not just an adolescent reaction, he had experience in the past. The way in which he was disciplined in the past would not be accepted in our culture.
The mother’s solicitor said she had apologised to him, but it would be easier to express in direct contact. The mother told the court she would like to meet her oldest son, she was texting him regularly. She said she would continue to use all the supports and would comply with any conditions in a Supervision Order.
Asked what went wrong when the children went home after they had been taken into care in 2009, she said: “My kids are all I have in my life and I love them. Everything was fine. The doctors said my children were healthy.”
The CFA solicitor said: “[A] said you were drinking. You are taking steps now. The social work department wants to be sure it’s working. [B] wants reassurance social workers will still be involved. Do you accept that?”
The judge said: “What [A] likes about being in care is routine and stability. That’s what children need. Going to Barnardos and so on means going home and having routines, you get up, dressed, have breakfast, get the children to school, they come home, dinner is ready. Do you understand what I mean? Do you think the services have shown you how to be a more consistent parent?”
“Yes,” replied the mother.
The judge said: “I do believe it is best for the children to go back to their mother. Taking into account everything I think it best if it is done slowly. I will review the matter in a month. The mother has to understand the reunification plan is really important and I would like to see how she is managing after four weeks. I will extend the Interim Care Orders in accordance with the schedule proposed. It is better to do things slowly than fail.
“In relation to [A], I will leave it to 9th July. I will make a Section 47 order for a psychological assessment but it may be better to wait until after his exams.”
When the matter came back for review the court heard there was consent to extending the Interim Care Order for the oldest child until after his State examinations. The CFA sought an extension of the Interim Care Orders for the other two children for eight weeks, during which there would be a phased return to their mother. The timetable would start with supervised access, then one night’s overnight access, building up from two to the full week so that the return would be gradual. The CFA would be looking for a Supervision Order when this Interim Care Order had expired.
The guardian ad litem for the oldest child, A, said he did not want to go home or even to meet his mother at the moment. He felt his mother had been given a chance following the previous time they were taken into care, and the children went home. Her drinking and violent behaviour then resumed. He did love his mother and worried about her, but did not like her lifestyle. “If he stays in care for a period of time it will open up the door for him to see his mother and siblings.”
The mother said she would continue with all the supports being offered to her, and would comply with all the conditions in a Supervision Order if granted when the children returned.
The judge extended the Interim Care Orders in accordance with the proposed schedule of reunification, and said she would review the case in four weeks.