An extension of an interim care order was granted for an infant whose mother was deceased and whose father was in prison and would not be in a position to care for the child after his release. The infant had been in foster care with non-relatives since her mother died 11 months earlier. Assessments of prospective long-term relative carers had still not been completed.
The court heard paternal relatives, “Family One”, were currently being assessed as long-term foster parents for the child. However a maternal family, “Family Two”, had that morning decided they also wished to be put forward as long-term foster carers. This would therefore entail the commencement of a preliminary inquiry and full assessment. The child’s father was clearly distressed after receiving this news, as he felt it would considerably delay the child’s placement into long-term care.
The solicitor for the father said he was “supportive of his [relative] being the carer for his daughter. My client is in a state of some alarm as he doesn’t know what was going on.” He would like to address the court, “I want to find out basically what’s going on,” said the father.
The social worker told the court she had only found out today that Family Two intended to put themselves forward as full carers for the child, and a full assessment would have to begin. The HSE was committed to ensuring contact with both sides of the family and needed to look at building up her attachment from her current carer to Family Two now as well. However the child was a very small baby facing a very big move in the coming months, and sensitivity was needed regarding her routine.
The father’s solicitor said the father hoped to be out of prison during the summer. He thought his relatives had put themselves forward, he thought Family Two (maternal side) were supporting that and perhaps looking to be respite carers.
Family Two had felt access with the child might not be supported, the father’s solicitor said. The social worker said it was. The father was concerned the matter might proceed very slowly and the child might remain in care without a long-term carer.
The social worker told the court that up until now only Family One was being assessed as long-term carers. There had been “a hair’s breath” in deciding which family would be assessed. The main reason had been that Family Two had a very new baby which would impact on the child-in-care’s ability to attach. Furthermore Family One were being assessed because the child’s only living parent was in support of them. However, now Family Two wished to be assessed as primary carers also.
The judge said she was “at a loss to know why the assessments had gone nowhere since the autumn.” Why had an assessment of Family Two not taken place given the fact they would be respite carers, surely that would also need an assessment? Family Two “were always going to be in the frame, so how is it going nowhere?” The social work did not know, but they were a number of other issues being played out.
“[The child] is at a critical stage for attachment, so what was happening as regards her contact with the families?” asked the judge. She was seeing Family One on a Saturday and now Family Two would have to have a similar length of access, said the social worker.
The father told the court that he would like more access with his child, he was not in a position to take care of his child but was supportive of his relatives. His source of anxiety was “where are all the fostering assessments going,” said his solicitor. Five people/families had looked to take the child as long-term carers when her mother had died. The HSE had said a process of elimination would take a few weeks. He did not understand why Family Two took so long to make a decision, “it’s not fair on anybody and it’s certainly not fair on [the child].”
The HSE “sit here and say whatever they have to say and at the end of the day I don’t understand why it is so slow, my child is in care,” he told the court. “I just find the HSE are delaying the whole thing, I’m not in the loop as I said.” He did not want any conflicts between the parts of his child’s family. “My main concern is that she’s in care for nearly 12 months, it’s become a joke at this stage … all the stress and strain and upset don’t have to be there,” he said.
The guardian told her solicitor that she had made a recommendation for an attachment specialist, there were concerns that experiences of trauma in one of the potential foster mother’s childhood might affect her parenting. She might need therapy, therefore they would have to decide if it would be in the child’s best interests to be placed there. The first two years were pivotal in developing a child’s secure attachment, they did not want to disrupt it.
It was essential that the child did not experience on-going separation from her primary carer (foster mum) said the guardian. She was very satisfied with the child’s current placement. An attachment assessor would have to help the child with the transition of a grieving process in tandem with developing a new attachment when she made the move to long-term care.
The solicitor for the father pointed out that the maternal grandmother still had an application for custody which was an added strain to his client. The solicitor for the grandmother said her client would not proceed with her application until Family Two’s assessment had been completed, it would allow her to make a decision.
“Speed seems to be of the essence here,” said the judge.
The GAL told her the dynamics could be quite difficult between Family Two and the HSE, which was why she had provided the court with emails between the two, so the dynamic could be seen. She was not aware the assessment of Family Two “had even begun” last autumn.
The judge said: “The window for [the child] to make attachments is at a very critical period, unless there are very firm parameters at the next hearing” she would be making an order for the child’s welfare under section 47. “I need time-frames for the assessments, where they are, how long they are going to take, the access arrangements in the intervening period.” An attachment advisor was pivotal.
The ICO was granted.