The District Court in a rural town heard that the CFA’s goal was to reunify five children ranging in age from five to 15 years old with their mother who was in recovery from heroin addiction and was homeless. The father was in prison. The CFA was seeking a twelve month extension of a section 18 care order in order to prepare for this to happen. The mother, who was legally represented, was contesting the application and was seeking a six month extension instead.
This case was among six other applications heard by the court which included two extensions of interim care orders, two extensions of full care orders, a guardian ad litemappointment and an application for enhanced rights for a foster carer, as well as the extension of an interim care order.
In the reunification case the CFA had obtained a care order in 2016 for all the children arising from concerns regarding their parent’s heroin abuse and domestic violence and where there had been no improvement following a case conference review.
Three of the children were placed in relative care with a maternal aunt and the older children were placed with maternal grandparents. The second eldest child’s placement broke down when she started absconding and she was now with non-relative foster carers.
The court heard the mother was “making great strides” with addiction issues and had cut her ties with people who were causing her problems. She had entered an addiction treatment centre from February 2016 until July 2017 and attended a weekly drop-in service afterwards with a group facilitator and monthly after-care services. The treatment centre provided a letter for the court. There was no evidence to say she was misusing drugs. However in December 2017, she was arrested for a road traffic accident and was over the alcohol limit when breathalysed.
The father was in custody in relation to the possession of heroin and had been recently charged with child cruelty. The parents were no longer in a relationship and were involved with other people. The two girls visited their father, but the boys chose not to. One of the girls had made disclosures about incidents in the family home since visiting her father.
The mother hoped for some progress in her housing and her solicitor told the court she hoped to be settled within six months and in a position to agree reunification plans. Prior to the children coming into care the family’s accommodation became flooded and the house was left in a “state”. The social worker said the mother struggled to maintain the property and pay bills. When she was discharged from treatment she resided with a friend with a view to obtaining a house.
The mother was now in a hostel and had presented as homeless to the council. The social worker told the court because the mother did not have the children with her she was only entitled to a one bedroom apartment. When asked about the accommodation issue by the mother’s solicitor, the social worker replied: “We would advocate on her behalf and [we] had meetings with the council in the past, [and] can only do our best.”
The social worker agreed with the mother’s solicitor that she had a duty to work with the council on getting the mother a three-bedroomed house so she could accommodate her children on reunification. When the mother’s solicitor said the mother was concerned she would get stuck in one bedroomed accommodation the social worker said the mother needed to prove to the council she could maintain her accommodation.
The social worker told the mother’s solicitor she accepted the mother was working with the CFA and continued to remain free from drug use. The social worker said the CFA was looking to increase access between the mother and the children, which was weekly. One of the children, B, recently had overnight access and this could be increased if the mother obtained housing sooner rather than later. She said: “My point is that she needs to maintain her accommodation and access.”
Access happened at a CFA facility which had a living space, a kitchen and a back garden, but was in demand so last week access happened in the community. The social worker said this was not ideal as it was difficult to “assess where the mother was at” in such an environment. The CFA had allocated an access worker to meet the mother to prepare for access and guide her through it.
The judge asked the CFA how the mother was going to show a track record. The social worker said: “The hope was if we can build access and [the] next step is a referral to an intensive family support service. The point is that it isn’t going to happen over six months. Time is what is needed to build it, [so] that access can happen in the mother’s home. The children need time to be ready to go home and [it] needs more than six months.”
The court heard from the social worker that all of the children see each other regularly and the children had various issues. A, the oldest boy, was extremely angry with his father, he had a disability and had difficulty with communication. He wanted his mother to have accommodation and used to call to see his mother when she lived nearby with a friend.
B was struggling in school, had a special needs assistant and was on a one-to-one reduced timetable. The teachers told the social worker her family circumstances were well known in the town which had resulted in fighting in the school. She had tried to move to a new school. She found visiting her father in prison overwhelming. She was due to start on a trial of one-to-one tuition for two hours a day. She disclosed to a school friend and a Garda she was the subject of an alleged sexual assault from a 24-year-old in May when she met him after he telephoned her at 1.30 a.m.
C had only taken up access on “half a dozen times” since he came into care. The social worker said he was angry about being in care and chose to avoid access which he said is “boring”. C could also throw angry remarks at B. He wanted to return home.
The social worker said he did not want traditional talk therapy. He had come for two sessions. What worked in the past, she said, were community activities. He engaged heavily in sports. C was quite poor academically and he had requested to repeat his first year at secondary school. She said however that his teachers were “mad about him” and he was charming and engaging.
D aged eight has stabilised somewhat. Before that, the social worker said, there were cycles of good behaviour and then a “blow out”. D told the social worker she had a feeling in her tummy and she did not know what it was about. She attended a family service that helped her with coping mechanisms.
E who is five, when asked by the social worker what he liked about his foster care placement replied: “I like it, she cooks the food.” The social worker told the court she was concerned the mother lacked motivation in doing homework and doing dinners but had attended Parenting Plus and was now better at “reining in” her children.
When asked by the CFA solicitor how the mother reacted to the five children’s issues, the social worker replied: “Parenting, she is able to do it. It is the consistency [and the] different dynamics [that cause problems].”
The court heard previously about a parenting capacity assessment which indicated there were no issues on the mother’s part regarding capacity. It was the mother’s and the access worker’s view that since the parenting programme the mother’s parenting had improved with the smaller children but with the larger number “you would be under pressure yourself. Now there are three teenagers.” She said the mother would have a lot of pressure.
The social worker confirmed with the mother’s solicitor that all of the children indicated a desire to come home. The youngest aged five was not clear but did not want to go home “right now”. She said reunification was the final goal and outlined the steps involved, which were housing, developing access and parenting skills.
She confirmed with the mother’s solicitor that she had seen the mother fully participate in an aftercare programme and said “she has to be commended for that, she has the ability, [there were] prior concerns. She needs to be able to meet each of their needs.”
When asked what other supports the CFA could offer the mother, the social worker said one-to-one access with the children and then a referral to an intensive family support service.
The judge said he was satisfied that concerns continued to exist even though it was a “credit to the mother that [she was] making great strides with issues and [this is] why the CFA is considering reunification. He said: “She cut ties with people causing the problem, we don’t always see this, my sincere hope is the reunification will happen”.
The judge said that “on the uncontroverted evidence” a six months’ extension was not realistic but this could be the case in six months’ time. The judge made an extension of one year to the section 18 care order so that the welfare of the children was not avoidably impaired or neglected. He directed that access should be at the discretion of the CFA.
He listed the case for mention in December to be re-entered if statutory child care reviews were not carried out. He made an order that the parents be assisted to participate in child care reviews and the therapeutic needs of the children would be supported. He made a direction under section 47 that if the case was unallocated to a social worker or family support worker for six weeks it was to be re- entered.
Enhanced rights were granted for the foster carer of a seven year old boy
The court granted enhanced rights to a foster carer to allow her sign consent as a guardian for her foster child’s school trips, passports, medical care and other everyday matters, under the supervision of the CFA.
The court heard the testimony of a CFA social worker, who said the seven year old, who was in foster care since he was three weeks old, was attached to his foster carers and his mother whom he sees every three weeks. A final care order was made by the court in February 2015. At the child’s last care review, she said the mother consented to enhanced rights for the foster carers and saw it as best for the child. The CFA were supporting the application and a report was handed into the court. The natural mother was not in court, but the social worker confirmed she had gone through the court report with her.
The judge having granted the order on the basis it was in the best interests of the child.