The family law lists in courts outside Dublin are often very crowded, with little time for the detailed examination of evidence. In many towns child care cases and private family law cases (involving matters like maintenance, custody and access and domestic violence) are listed on the same day.
For example on one day in a rural town there were 60 cases on the family law list, of which ten were child care cases involving applications from the Child and Family Agency (CFA). All ten were short cases, where the respondent (usually the mother) consented to the order being sought. Almost all the orders were for short periods of time.
One case involved a request from the CFA to lift the in camera rule so that the file on a child in care who had reported abuse at home could be sent to the Garda Siochana. This was granted, with the consent of both the child and her mother. Two cases involved the renewal of Supervision Orders; in one the child lived with the paternal grandmother, in the other three children were living with their mother; in both cases the people concerned consented to the renewal of the orders and the conditions that accompanied them.
A short Care Order was renewed for a child living with the paternal grandparents. The father was in prison and the mother in a drug treatment programme. Both parents consented. In another case an Interim Care Order was extended pending an application for a full Care Order. Here criminal proceedings against the father were in process.
Yet another case also involved a grandparent. Here there were three children whose mother had died. The father of two of them was unknown, and full Care Orders until they were 18 were granted by the court. However, the paternal grandmother of the third child, where the father was also deceased, sought to be the child’s foster carer and had been rejected by the HSE foster care committee. She was appealing this decision and also seeking guardianship of the child, and the Care Order was extended for two months to allow these proceedings to be heard.
In another case an Interim Care Order was extended where the mother was in prison and the father’s whereabouts were unknown; in yet another a Care Order was extended for five weeks while instructions were obtained by the solicitor for the mother.
The court also made orders concerning a Chinese child in care, whose birth certificate was in China and who needed it to get a passport in order to have his visa renewed. The child’s parents had lived in Ireland for some time, they were represented and were in court. The child had lived most of his life with his grandparents in China, and shortly after arriving in Ireland to join his parents the relationship with them broke down and he was taken into care, with their consent. The Care Order was extended for six months with the consent of all parties.
The judge demanded an explanation from the CFA as to why he had not been furnished with a Section 20 report (a report on a child where there are proceedings relating to guardianship or custody and access), when he had sought it seven months earlier. The representative of the CFA explained that the social worker who normally prepared such reports was off sick, but this work was now being re-allocated and would be furnished very soon.