A judge in a provincial city granted a three-month supervision order for three children, one of whom, A, was of secondary school age and B and C, of primary school ages, due to cumulative harm by neglect. The parents, while they consented to the order, opposed the timing of the assessment of the father’s parenting capacity. The children’s father was present in court and was represented. The mother was represented but was not present.
The judge welcomed the children’s father to court. The mother’s lawyer told the judge that the mother was commencing a 12-week addiction course later in the week and that she had consented to the supervision order. The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) reported that the father would have the support of his sister in caring for the three children while their mother was participating in the addiction course.
The father’s lawyer told the court that the following three months would be very challenging in the home without the presence of the children’s mother. For this reason, the father opposed the assessment of his parenting ability during the time period in which he would be caring for the children. His lawyer asked the judge if the assessment could be postponed until such time as the children’s mother had completed her addiction course and had returned to the family home. The judge said she would make a note of the father’s request but that the aim of the parental capacity assessment was to assess the parenting ability of the father during the three-month period.
The mother’s lawyer told the court that the three-month period of attendance at the addiction course would be a most inappropriate time for a parental capacity assessment. The mother had never undertaken such a course in the past and was fearful that if the assessment did not go well, it would lead to the seeking of a care order for the children before she completed the course. The lawyer for the CFA then pointed out that it was important that the evidence of the social worker be heard.
The children’s social worker told the court that there had been a long history of social work department involvement with the children’s family. Following an assessment by a family residential resource centre, it was recommended that the mother seek care for her own mental health. The social worker said that the mother’s GP reported that she was drinking heavily, whereas the mother only acknowledged that she drank “a few cans on a Friday night”. The social worker said that when she had visited the children’s home, it was obvious that the parents had no control over their children, who were allowed to wander about unsupervised.
The social worker told the judge that the children’s father often invited other adults to come drinking and to stay over in the house. The father’s sister had come forward and had started to call every night to assist the children’s father in their care. The social worker stated that the family welfare payments each week were being spent directly on paying money lenders. The father had expressed his fears to the social worker about the aggressive money lenders calling.
The social worker described the condition of the children’s home as being full of discarded rubbish, including some neighbours’ rubbish, which had been allowed to build up over time. She reported that the children had regular infestations of headlice.
Judge: “Can we deal with this paragraph in your report regarding the headlice as it’s very important? One child has to flick off bugs off her books in school? Is it your evidence to the court that there have been ongoing referrals since 2006?”
Social worker: “Yes. If we work with them, things are OK for a while.”
The social worker repeated her concern about the father’s worries regarding aggressive money lenders calling to the house. She reported that there were no provisions made for Christmas except where money was donated to the family.
The lawyer for the CFA reported that the three children had had a period of respite in the family residential resource centre, which they enjoyed very much. Staff at the centre had expressed concern that A had had her period but had no idea what was happening to her body and she had thought there was something wrong with her. B said that he sometimes had to bring his younger sibling, C, for a bath if he refused to go.
The judge said she noted the concerns of the parents about the timing of the parental assessment and she also noted the consent of both parents to the supervision order.
Judge: “I need to know the threshold is there even if [supervision order] is being made on consent. A supervision order is a serious intervention into this family’s life. It must reach the threshold.”
The judge said she had noted the serious concerns of the CFA around the children’s bathing issues, headlice infestations and the lack of any sexual education of the children. The lawyer for the CFA said the parental assessment was being carried out in order to discover if there was a potential for change in the family. The recommendation was that the mother should attend the addiction course but it was not possible to force her to complete the course. The judge said it was beneficial that the father could get a break at times when the children were in respite. The judge reminded the children’s father to be careful about the possibility of the children viewing inappropriate material on the television or in computer games.
The judge decided that having heard the evidence of the social workers and read the reports, she was satisfied that the required threshold had been reached and she granted a three-month supervision order for the three children.
Judge makes direction to process appointment of three special needs assistants as a matter of extreme urgency
The same judge made a direction that a school principal’s application for the appointment of three special needs assistants (SNAs) be processed as a matter of extreme urgency. This was so that the assistants could be appointed within five weeks for three children of primary school ages, who were without school places close to their foster home. The judge was told that it normally took a number of months for the applications for SNAs to be processed and that the school principal wanted the SNAs to be in place as soon as the children were admitted to school.
The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court that placements had been sought for the three children in the primary school closest to the children’s foster home and the children were currently without school places. She said that previous school reports had indicated that the children had additional needs and that their behaviour was often “boisterous”. The lawyer said that discussions had taken place with the principal of the school and that he had made applications to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) for the appointment of three SNAs. The principal was of the opinion that three fulltime SNAs would be required to meet the needs of the three children in order to facilitate their admission to the school.
The CFA lawyer said that she had been told that the application process through the NCSE could take up to three months and that a court direction in respect of the appointment of the SNAs might expedite matters. The lawyer asked the judge to make a direction to process the principal’s application and arrange for the allocation of the three required SNAs by a date five weeks later.
The judge made a direction that the application for the appointment of the required SNAs be processed as a matter of “extreme urgency”. The judge listed the matter for an update on the issue for a date two weeks later.