The disturbed behaviour of a child after access was at the centre of a review of a Care Order in a provincial city. The court heard that his behaviour was very aggressive after access with his natural family and that this “spills into the school environment”. It was also told that the child hid photographs of his natural family which were on view in the foster parents’ house.
The father was attempting to re-initiate contact with his child after an absence, according to the child’s social worker. The court heard that the CFA was conducting an assessment of access and that the father had agreed initially to some non-direct contact with his child.
The court heard that the child had a number of developmental issues when he came into care but that those had been rectified. However, he still experienced some anxiety in relation to contact with his natural family. A social worker told the court that the child was very mischievous and that after contact with his family he became aggressive and that the aggression “spills into the school environment.”
When the judge asked whether the boy had spent much time with his mother, the social worker said that there had been access with his mother a number of months previously but that the child was very aggressive the next day, punching the foster father in the face.
In relation to access with the father, the social worker said that non-direct contact would be introduced first as the boy had not seen his father in three years and the social work department was worried about the reaction of the boy to contact. The social worker said that she believed that the boy would benefit from psychotherapy.
The GAL told the court that the boy had made significant progress since coming into care and had caught up with all his developmental milestones and she praised the work of the foster parents. She said that he was very well behaved and that the only issue was how he behaved after access.
The court heard that when the boy was at access it seemed to go well, but the problems arose when the access was finished. In relation to the boy hiding the pictures of his natural family, the GAL said that she believed that it was indicative of an identity issue, in that he may be struggling with his attachment to his foster parents, while knowing that he had a natural family too.
She also said that she felt that the child needed to be supported from a psychological perspective. She said that access of one and a half hours a week between the child and the mother was too much in circumstances where the child was displaying anxiety after access and hiding pictures of his natural family.
In relation to access recommencing with the father, the GAL said that if it started there should be short visits at first and that “there is no relationship where he hasn’t seen his son in nearly three years. This is going to be a slow process. It will take at least six months to get it back on track.”
The father, when giving evidence, said that the decision to stop contact between himself and his child had been made by Tusla . He said that the social worker was “bullying and she made indications that my access would be reduced or stopped if I didn’t stop asking stupid questions … and she carried the threat through, the access was stopped.”
The judge asked the father whether he accepted that given that there had been such a gap (in contact) that they would “have to start again”. The father replied that he had a good bond with his child but “we are going out of our way and we are getting nowhere.”
In relation to building up contact between the child and the father, a psychologist suggested taking a graded approach “where you would go slowly, beginning with indirect contact.” The psychologist told the court that she had limited resources in dealing with the case as a member of her team had been out of work for a number of months. “We will do everything we can to try and work with the social work department to try and come up with a plan that is sensible and in the best interests of the child,” she said.
The judge said that it appeared to him that what was going to be done seemed to be “completely vague and unrealistic” and asked the psychologist when she hoped to see the child. The psychologist replied that she hoped to offer the child a screening within the next month. However, she said that the waiting list was between 12-18 months and acknowledged that such a period of time “is a very long time in a child’s life”.
The judge also noted that the boy had not had access with his parents for some time. He observed that access with the boy’s mother seemed to go well but there were problems afterwards. The judge acknowledged that there was engagement with psychological services but he went on to say: “Some kind of a plan has to be put in place independently. It must be very hard seeing things getting put back and back.” The judge adjourned the matter to see what progress was being made and asked that the case be treated as a priority.
A psychologist gave some background on the case and said that delays in the child’s development had become apparent, which the professionals working with the child had attributed to his home environment. His eyesight was very poor, having only 10% vision in on eye. The court heard that this issue was being addressed through patch therapy and glasses.
The court was told that the child had not really settled within the mainstream school setting although the school were said to be very committed. He had a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) for 16 hours a week but was still struggling, the court heard. The psychologist also said that the boy did not have great concentration and was aggressive.
The solicitor said that the CFA felt that the boy needed to be reassessed by the psychology department. He had been seen by a senior psychologist and it was felt that there might be some sort of attachment disorder.
The psychologist said that the suspension of access was a temporary measure, meant to address the boy’s disturbance after access during which “he would almost go into a different world for at least a ten-day period. They would find him awake in the middle of the night, he was aggressive to foster parents, not engaging with anyone, not the way he would normally be. It took him ten days to come back to himself. The impact in school was horrendous. He would be more aggressive than he normally would be (after access).” Despite this behaviour the court was told that the boy was getting on well in his foster placement.
The GAL gave evidence and said that the boy had very complex needs, and that he would not usually initiate conversation but when he did he was quite robotic, lacking in emotion. The GAL also said that when the boy came into care he had significant behavioural difficulties and that he would bang his head against the floor and screech and scream. The GAL said that the boy had made significant progress and that he had settled into the routine at his foster parents’ house. She said that there were still significant issues with behaviour which were apparent after the boy had access with his mother when he would scream, head-butt and run off with no sense of danger.
The judge asked the GAL whether she thought the boy would be better off in another type of school. The GAL replied that she was questioning whether “his needs can be met in that (the current school) environment” and that she was questioning whether he was on the autism spectrum. She said: “This little boy has significant global needs and they are not being met.”
The GAL also said: “The mother has had a significantly traumatic life and I feel she has been very damaged. I think it is difficult for her to be emotionally available (for her son). I think there may be a stunted emotional interaction [which arises] when you have an emotionally damaging childhood and life experience. I think she has good insight but needs to do work to help her to be more emotionally available. She doesn’t have that emotional attachment with her children. She has gone to one of the counselling services and I think she is trying to get support for that, that’s a long process but it would assist her interaction.”
Another psychologist gave evidence that work was being done with the boy and that there was possibility that he suffered from an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).