St Patrick’s Day access sought – 2014vol2#11

A judge directed that a teenage girl in care could have access with her parents in their family home on St Patrick’s Day, after receiving assurances that the parents would not be drinking. The Child and Family Agency solicitor said the CFA was unable to get anyone to supervise the access but was consenting to the access taking place in the local town rather than in the family home.

The application was made in the course of an application in the District Court in a rural town for an extension of an Interim Care Order for two children.

The barrister for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said the guardian was concerned there might be alcohol in the family home but the parents had given an assurance that they would not be drinking. The CFA was also concerned that a male relative, who had mental health issues, had been witnessed masturbating in the house on a previous occasion. Social workers had spoken to the parents about this and the parents had addressed the matter with the individual involved. The mother did not believe it had happened, which the GAL barrister said was a matter of concern. The court was told that there were several adult relatives living in the house.

When the judge asked if the parents could give undertakings that the adult would not be in the house, she was told that he had significant mental health issues. The judge said she had read the GAL’s interim report and it was “definitely clear” that the teenager wanted to be with her parents. The GAL’s barrister said she was “desperate to go home on that day” but that work needed to be done with the family in relation to behaviour in the house when the teenager and her brother were at home.

The CFA solicitor said the teenager had access in the family home three afternoons a week and St Patrick’s Day would be additional access. Normal access was for two hours and a member of a Traveller family support group was usually present for the final hour. A CFA member would also usually check in or telephone. “We say it’s not in her interests to have access in the family home on Monday (St Patrick’s Day),” the CFA solicitor said.

There would be no risk to the teenager “out in the town” and, in light of all the concerns, she said it should take place in the town. When the judge asked was it not the case that she would be exposed to a lot of alcohol being consumed in front of her in the town the CFA solicitor replied that she did not have to go to the parade but could go to the cinema, a coffee shop or McDonalds.

The judge was told that no social work staff from the CFA would be on duty in that particular area on St Patrick’s Day or at weekends. When she asked the CFA solicitor what would happen in an emergency she was told that significant emergencies were dealt with by the Garda Siochana under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 which permits the gardai to remove a child to safety where “there are reasonable grounds for believing that there is an immediate and serious risk to the health or welfare of the child.” The judge remarked that they would not have to exercise that power if there was an out of hours service in the area.

The GAL’s barrister told the judge she could make a direction that it would be in the best interest of the child that access take place in the family home. “She always wants to go home”, she said.

The judge said she acknowledged the concerns in relation to the incident in the house involving a relative but, having considered the matter, she directed that access take place in the family home from 10.00 am to 11.15 am. The teenager was to be brought there and collected by the foster carers and the parents were to cooperate when it was time to go. She warned that it would not be in the parents’ interests if any problems arose during access. “Put it this way. They had better not let the court down,” she said.

The court extended the Interim Care Orders for the two children.

In a separate application in the same court, the judge refused an application for St Patrick’s Day access by a mother who wished to bring two of her sons to the parade because the application had not been made sufficiently early to enable the court to obtain the views of the GAL, who was abroad. The CFA solicitor told the court there was already extensive access and it was not consenting to the late application.

The judge said the mother’s solicitor should have brought the application to the attention of the CFA and the GAL earlier. “I may have been able to consider it if the GAL was here and I could have canvassed her view. That application should have been made in advance so that those views could have been canvassed. I can’t grant the application,” she said.