A young girl is to remain in care until she reaches the age of 18 because of her mother’s alcohol addiction problems, her father’s lack of capacity to care for her and her exposure to domestic violence in the family home. The father is currently in prison and the lawyers for both parents, while accepting that the child should remain in care, argued that the care order should be for a shorter period. However, after hearing the evidence in the case the judge made an order that she should remain with her foster parents until she reaches the age of 18.
The court heard evidence of the mother’s history of addiction to alcohol and of her efforts to deal with it. She had previously been treated in a rehabilitation centre but she relapsed and was now planning to undertake a detoxification programme. The child had first been taken into care over two years ago and there had been an unsuccessful attempt at reunification which had lasted for three months. The father’s barrister said he accepted that the HSE were doing their best and he was very grateful to the foster carers but felt that not enough was being done to facilitate access.
The child’s guardian ad litem supported the application for a care order for the full term until age 18 and she gave the judge a letter which the child had written in her presence the previous week which the GAL’s solicitor said represented her wishes. The judge read the letter which he then made available to the parties in the case.
A HSE social worker said things had not been going well for the mother and she went to a residential alcohol treatment centre in the south of the country. She did well there and she transferred to a step down programme in a different part of the country. The child was brought to these locations to visit her mother and at that stage the HSE believed it would be in the child’s best interests to live with her. When the mother returned home, the child went home on day visits which were extended to overnight and weekend visits. At that stage the mother was meeting all of the child’s needs and she was returned full time to her mother last year.
The social worker said that things went very well at the beginning but there was a gradual deterioration in the mother’s presentation. The mother was frequently sick and appeared tired and she explained that this was due to the anti-depressants which she was taking. Towards the end of last summer, the child presented as being quite withdrawn and was reluctant to go out with the social workers. During one visit by the social worker she was climbing on furniture and shouting at her mother.
The mother appeared to be overwhelmed and she admitted to the social worker that she had been drinking again. She said that she needed a break and she signed a voluntary care agreement. The social worker said the HSE was very open, at that stage, to working with the mother to help her to deal with her drinking problem but she failed to link up with them and the HSE was granted an Interim Care Order to enable the child to stay with her foster parents.
At that time it was seen as a short term measure and the child had regular access with her mother. However, her condition deteriorated seriously and she missed her Christmas access with her daughter. The mother had a black eye and admitted drinking and said she had physical altercations with members of her family. She was offered a place in a relapse programme but did not take it up.
There was a huge improvement in the child’s overall condition when she went back into care. The social worker said she was quite relaxed when she visited her. She spoke about arguments at home between her parents during the summer and said her mother was not getting up in the morning. She wanted Santa Claus to come to her in her foster parents’ home but was quite clear that she wanted to have a relationship with her mother along with regular access with her.
The social worker said the child was thriving in her environment. She was very much aware of her situation and needed stability. She needed to know that she would continue to remain in that placement. She said the child needed to know where she was going to be living. “It’s not fair to her to say you’re only going to be here for a year. It’s not fair to be doing this to her at this age,” she said. The HSE would continue to promote her relationships with her parents but “she needs to know where she is going to be.”
The social worker said the mother had very little supports within her own family and she had not shown ability to maintain a level of sobriety in order to care for her daughter. She became quite overwhelmed and there were too many demands on her. She needed to address all the issues which were facing her.
The child had not had an active relationship with her father. The mother had stopped bringing her to visit him in prison as she felt it was not appropriate for a child of that age. The child had become completely overwhelmed and upset during a visit over a year ago and the father had agreed that she should go back to her foster parents. He had written a number of letters to the child but the last letter was written over a year ago.
The social worker said the letters had been an appropriate way of building up a relationship and they would engage her in a form of play therapy in the course of which access would be broached. It needed to be built up slowly as she had said that her father frightened her and she didn’t want to see him at the moment. The social worker agreed when asked by the father’s barrister that he had not pushed the issue of access when he was told that it would not be in her best interest. She said they (the HSE) had been very active in trying to engage the child and encourage her to write to her father but it had been very difficult for them to force the issue when she was saying that she didn’t want to see him. She acknowledged that the father had attended all court appearances and had shown full cooperation and patience in relation to the access issue.
The social worker told the court the HSE had been involved with the child since she was one year old and she had experienced a significant degree of turbulence. She needed security and the court would be able to do that by granting the HSE’s application for a care order until she was 18.
“I know her parents want what’s best but I don’t think it would be in her best interests to say it’s only for a year and for it all to happen again. We’re letting her down because we’re not able to say to her where she is staying. She is very aware that she could be returned to her mother and that’s very frightening for her,” she said.
Because the reunification had not worked, there had been a deterioration in her relationship with her mother and access between them was now taking place once a fortnight. She agreed with the GAL’s solicitor that if the child was in a position to re-establish her relationship with her mother a stronger relationship with her father would flow from that.
The child’s GAL supported the HSE application for a care order until age 18. She said the child had been looking forward to the reunification with her mother last year. The mother had done a stabilisation course after completing the rehabilitation programme and she had redecorated the child’s room in preparation for her return. The child had been told her mother was recovering from drinking. “She let the barriers down and talked about dirty beer and how she was glad her mum was getting better,” she said. The mother took all the necessary steps and was hugely motivated. “The question was could she maintain that sobriety.”
The GAL said however that she would have been very concerned about the number of times the child had been in voluntary care and respite care as well as having been the subject of Interim Care Orders. The mother had got a lot of support from the HSE and herself [the GAL] and they were delighted at what the mother had achieved up to the time of the reunification. The GAL said that problems became apparent in the autumn of last year and in October the mother admitted abusing alcohol and tablets.
The GAL was visiting the house every week and she became hugely concerned about the mother who was frequently crying and complaining of pains. The child looked scared and frightened and the GAL said it was clear to her that the mother was not responding to the child’s needs. The mother agreed that the child should go back into care. The child told the GAL that she was up late at night, had not been to school and was worried about her mother who, she said, “had lots of bad days”. The mother had a series of meetings with the HSE and, in fairness to her, she had admitted abusing drink and tablets and she had agreed to a continuation of the care order.
The GAL said the child “didn’t look back” when she went back to her foster carers. “She has an emotional relationship with them. She feels safe, protected and loved. She is only recently daring to believe there’s a chance that life could be a lot better and she has been incredibly brave to say I want to stay here.”
She said the child adored her mother and had a lovely relationship with her but it was a disturbed relationship and the child was hugely sensitive to all the issues involved. “She’s vigilant and she watches things like a hawk. I have huge concerns she has parented her parent,” she said. When she told the child that the judge was going to make a big decision about her she had replied: “Not again”.
She had always indicated that she did not want to meet her father and the GAL believed this was coming from the fact that she had not really been involved with him in the past and that she did not know him. It was her strong view that the mother had been in favour of her having a relationship with her father. The father had acknowledged that he had not been there for her and he wanted to take steps to change that.
The judge granted the HSE application for a full care order until the child reached the age of 18. He said the court was satisfied that the order was proportionate in view of the father’s lack of capacity and the mother’s alcohol problems. He said the mother could not provide consistent safe and secure care for her daughter. The mother had certain difficulties to address and he hoped she succeeded. He said his decision must have been an extremely difficult one for her to hear. He directed that access with the child’s father would be at the discretion of the HSE and that particular regard be given to her wishes and the distress that previous access had caused.