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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Sasko Lazarov/ In such cases, a judge can grant an order for a child to be taken into care.

'He's devastated that he hasn't seen his child': The stories of children taken into care during Covid-19

The Child Care Law Reporting Project published its latest reports today.

A NEW SERIES of reports published this morning have highlighted the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable children and their families.

The Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) regularly publishes reports from courts which make orders under the Child Care Act, which mainly relates to children taken into care. 

Its latest reports feature cases such as an interim care order made when a mother’s alcohol abuse relapsed due to Covid-19 and the concerns around the pandemic restrictions on access after a girl was admitted to a psychiatric unit under the Mental Health Act. 

One of the main issues it identified during the pandemic was that of access, where face-to-face access between children in care and their parents was discontinued.

This regularly led to disputes between the parents and Child and Family Agency Tusla. 

“This was particularly distressing for parents and children where the child was in a psychiatric unit with other children who suffered from diseases like anorexia nervosa, and were therefore especially at risk from Covid-19,” the CCLRP said.

The impact of lockdown on vulnerable parents was also highlighted, where those struggling with addition or mental health problems were placed under further strain. 

This strain hindered their recovery and efforts to be reunited with their child. 

Services that could not be delivered face-to-face, such as various physical and psychological therapies, have also been an issue during the pandemic. 

The director of the CCLRP Dr Carol Coulter said: “Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of full care order hearings we expected to be heard were adjourned, and most of the cases heard remotely were uncontested.

“Nonetheless, the work of the child protection courts has continued, and we hope these reports offer an insight into the work of the child protection courts at this challenging time.”

The CCLRP usually publishes bi-annual reports but chose to break from its practice on this occasion so that practitioners and policy-makers could be more alert to the issues being caused in such settings from Covid-19.

Mother’s alcohol abuse relapses due to Covid-19

In one of the cases, a judge in a provincial city granted an interim care order for a child of primary school age where the child’s mother had relapsed in her alcohol misuse following stress caused during the lockdown. 

The child had previously spent two years with a foster family and had transferred home to progress towards family reunification. 

The child’s mother consented to care order being granted but the father objected and told the court he was perfectly capable of caring for his child at home. 

The judge considered the father’s addiction problems and his failure to engage with Tusla, and granted an interim 29-day care order. 

The father’s lawyer told the court: “He is perfectly willing and able and he’s devastated that he hasn’t seen his child.”

Prior to Covid-19, the child had had the additional support of her foster parents and also a relative to whom she was close. These supports were unexpectedly remove as a result of the restrictions. The mother subsequently found it difficult to cope. 

The report said: “The mother admitted to drinking vodka and she was now consenting to the interim care order being made for the child until such time as she could ‘get her head together’.”

The judge decided that, having listened carefully to all the evidence, the threshold for an interim care order had been reached. Access for parents was to be directed by Tusla. 

Restrictions on access a concern after girl admitted to psychiatric unit under Mental Health Act

In a separate case, parents of a girl who’d been admitted to a psychiatric unit because of a serious eating disorder raised concerns over access to her. 

No face-to-face contact was permitted in the inpatient unit during the Covid-19 restrictions. The parents only had Skype access to their daughter for the month she was admitted.

It came before the court after the HSE applied for a judge to extend the involuntary detention of the child in an approved inpatient unit to the end of July. 

The report said: “A consultant psychiatrist’s report said that the issue was not that the young girl’s weight on admission was so low but that ‘the trajectory of weight loss was so rapid’.

The report stated that although the child had engaged in a feeding programme she had no motivation to change. The court was told that the child was a serious harm to herself and ‘if left to her own devices she would starve’. The court was told that there was an immediate and significant risk to her health, the child had a lack of insight and no motivation to change. 

Responding to the concerns from the parents at not being able to see their child, the HSE said that it was “particularly difficult as people there are exceptionally frail and immune-compromised.”

The judge extended the order to July because failing to do so could lead to a rapid deterioration of her condition. 

The parents were asked if they wanted to address the court. The father said they knew their daughter was “in the right place and needs to be there”. He emphasised how stressful the situation was. 

The HSE told the court that the unit the girl was in was working on protocols to resume face-to-face contact and the hospital was not ignoring the stress on the family. 

The set of case reports can be read here

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