The Child and Family Agency told a District Court it was satisfied that a one-year Supervision Order for an infant could expire because he was being very well cared-for by his father and paternal grandparents.
A year earlier the CFA had failed in its application for a Care Order for the baby, who had been born prematurely and had a number of health problems. The CFA solicitor told the court the agency had serious concerns about the mother’s mental health and her ability to care for the baby, especially in the light of his health problems. The judge said the CFA also had to show that the father was unable to care for the child, and had not done so. He granted a Supervision Order for a year on the basis that the couple and the baby live with the paternal grandparents, and that the child receive appropriate medical attention.
Six months later, in private family law proceedings, the father sought and obtained joint custody of the baby.
When the Supervision Order expired after a year and the case came back before the judge, the barrister for the parents told the court the mother was unwell. “When she’s well she’s grand. She knows she will be in hospital for the next three or four weeks. She is aware of the proceedings and the contents of the social work reports. She has various mental health issues,” the barrister said.
The solicitor for the CFA said the parents’ relationship had broken down last June. The mother was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The child’s de facto residence was with the father and his parents. This was a prerequisite for moving on with the case. The arrangement of the couple living with the paternal grandparents had broken down in May.
Judge: “There is nothing unusual in itself in not getting on with your mother-in-law. But it’s not about them, it’s about the child. I think the grandparents have done a great job.”
CFA solicitor: “It would be better if the father acknowledged more his cannabis use.”
Judge: “If we look for perfection we will get a catastrophic result. If we allow a little steam to escape we can get on. This is why some of us take alcohol or smoke cannabis. I understand why he would not admit illegality.
“The only thing I would say is it’s your child that will suffer at the end of the day. Where do we go from here? If the order expires I would be worried about the resources the baby could tap into.”
The CFA solicitor said the agency was more than satisfied with the care the child was getting. It also thought that the father’s parents had a different attitude to social workers now compared with at the outset. They were also getting help from public health nurses, a GP, a paediatrician and others.
“Our only concern is the mother. She is insisting the child is brought to [a central train station] for access. We would prefer if it was in [a shopping centre near the child’s residence]. It would be better if she travelled there.”
The parents’ barrister said there was no difficulty with that if she was better.
Addressing the grandmother, who was in court, the judge said: “We’re inclined to write people off. The mother must remain involved. The child is entitled to the company of his mother. You never know when you’re going to need somebody. She may be difficult, impossible, at times. She has her difficulties, not of her own making. How we deal with it can make it worse. You will be rebuffed, you will be insulted, but don’t let that be a reason for the child not to see his mum.”
The social worker told the court that he was very satisfied with how the child was being cared for by his father, very much supported by his own parents. There were no child protection concerns. He had made both announced and unannounced visits and never saw anything to give concern. He was satisfied that if there was no Supervision Order the father would still be in contact with services if he needed support and would respond to any advice given.
“Even if he is indulging in cannabis use, it’s not impacting on the child’s care. It is something he engages in periodically.
“In relation to the mother’s access, he’s worried about [the station]. It’s not that he has a problem with access, but with the child’s level of mobility, and she may not show up. There are environmental factors for the child [in the station], so he feels it would be better for her to come to [the shopping centre].”
The judge said he did not want the venue to be a deal-breaker. He asked what if the Supervision Order was to expire. The CFA solicitor said there was no objection.
“People should be allowed to live their lives without court interference. From potential disaster things are looking good. This case illustrates what can happen and what should happen. I think the Interim Care Order was the correct order to make on the evidence before the court at that time. The child got better.
“When the child came before me for a full Care Order I made a Supervision Order instead. Private family law proceedings copper-fastened joint custody, with care and control in the grand-parents’ home. That’s the extent of the help they can get from the legal system. I have to butt out, I have no further function.”
The parents’ barrister asked if the judge would hear briefly from the father. He told the court: “[The child] is doing very well. He’s meeting his milestones. He’s nearly walking. In relation to the mother, when she’s well we get on well. When she is well she would like access.”
CFA solicitor: “You are doing a great job in the circumstances.”
See Archive, 2014, Vol 1, Case report 14, “Care Order refused for young baby, Supervision Order granted instead”