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'My daughter is my life': Mother pleads with judge to return child from care

The child was taken into state care after concerns about physical abuse.

Image: Shutterstock/altanaka

A DISTRICT COURT was the scene of an emotionally-charged hearing earlier this year that highlights the complexity of issues that can run through a single family law case.

On the face of it, it was a mother pleading with the judge to return her daughter to her care.

“I am willing to do anything so she can be reunited with me. I humbly plead to you,” she told the judge.

The court was told there were concerns that the child had been subject to physical abuse by the mother who had experienced mental health difficulties.

The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, was seeking an extension to an interim care order but the mother was not consenting, stating that she wanted her child back home.

Addressing the court, the social worker in the case said the situation remained the same.

She [the daughter] is happy in her placement and says she does not want to return home.

Lawyers representing the mother said the State was relying on an older report by a consultant psychiatrist on the mother’s mental health status.

Mother getting support 

The court was told by the mother’s lawyers that since her child was taken into care, she had found a new residence, was holding down a new job and getting support.

“She is getting on well,” her solicitor said.

When asked if that changed the social worker’s opinion on the matter, she replied that it did not.

From my professional point of view, there is a risk that the child would be neglected if returned to her care.

She said extending the care order would “protect the child” stating that there are still concerns about “emotional and physical abuse”.

The mother’s solicitor said the consultant psychiatrist’s report was “historic” and also disputed the report, stating there were a number of “deficits” contained in it.

The lawyer put it to the social worker that she was making her own assertion about the mother’s mental health. The social worker denied this and said she was relying on the report by the psychiatrist.

The court was told that the child had asked to see her mother, with the mother’s lawyer stating that the child had said she “loves her mother”.

The social worker said the child has met with her mother numerous times. The social worker said she knows the child well enough to know when she is scared and said the child did not want visitation with her mother increased.

The mother’s lawyer asked what the mother had to do differently in her lifestyle to change her circumstances.

Steps to get her child back 

“Have you informed her [the mother] about the steps she needs to make… like do X, Y, Z and this would have a positive effect or would prove helpful to access the child?”

“We haven’t given a step-by-step plan – I don’t think that would be appropriate,” responded the social worker. She added that the mother had been told that she had to “get better” in herself and that this was not going to happen in a matter of weeks.

The mother is also critical of the supervised visitation she has with her daughter, in which a social worker sits nearby. Her solicitor said there is “no degree of privacy”.

The reason for this is because the mother says things that upset her daughter, said the social worker.

“She would like some alone time with her daughter,” said the lawyer. “That won’t be happening in terms of our department,” responded the social worker.

The guardian ad litem (for the child) said she spoke with the child before the court date, stating the daughter said she was happy with her foster parents and was “happy in herself”.

“You did not meet with her before preparing this report, correct?” asked the mother’s lawyer. The guardian said she was out of work and a meeting with her had to be rearranged so she did not have the chance to before preparing the court report.

He put it to the guardian that the report presented to the court was just a “follow through” report from the last one.

“[The mother] has gone to maximum efforts to improve her life and therefore the life of [daughter's name] and wants to get back to her child,” said the lawyer.

Mother-daughter bond 

He said the mother had not been given a “road map” on how she would be best placed to win back the custody of her daughter. The guardian said no one was disputing the efforts the mother was going to, but said it was “complex” and there hasn’t been a “noted improvement” with the mother-daughter bond or connection.

“It begs the question, what must [the mother] do for the purpose of forming a bond with her daughter?” asked the lawyer, stating that it was impossible due to the limitations on visitation.

“Has she said she does not want to be with her mother?” he asked. The guardian said when the child is asked about her mother she “shuts down” and says she doesn’t want to be asked any more questions. The guardian said she does not want to push her on the issue.

“I don’t ask her direct questions,” said the guardian, who stated that interaction with a child must be done carefully so as not to lead her in the conversation.

Addressing the court, the mother said she believes her daughter is very happy. She said she would like the chance to see and speak to her daughter more.

It is hard when people are around, there are so many things to talk about.

“Before, she was a chatty, outspoken child… she used to tell me everything that happened in school and all matters of her life,” said the mother, who told the court that has changed since she was taken into care.

She said they both needed space to talk to each other and said it had been a long time since her daughter was open and chatty with her. “I have seen a change in her,” she said.

‘I will do anything’ 

When asked had she been told about what she needs to do to get her daughter back, she said she was told to improve her lifestyle and meet with her doctors regularly, which she told the court she was doing.

I am happy to do anything. I am more than willing to do it. I am more than willing to do whatever the court wanted me to do. I don’t seem to know. I am really missing my daughter. I have a job, I have accommodation, I attend all my meetings, there are none I have not attended.

When asked had she ever been abusive during visitations with her daughter, she replied:

[Daughter's name] is my life. There is nothing I would not do for her.

She told the court she believed her daughter had changed for the worse since being placed in care and said she was worried about the impact it was having on her.

“I am really scared and worried. I am willing to do anything,” she said.

“I have lots of help now. I am in great form. The doctors will tell you.
The delays are not helping me and it is not helping her. I am really missing my daughter, judge. I am pleading with you… I am willing to do anything to make this time shorter for us. She is growing every day. I am willing to do anything so she can be reunited with me. I humbly plead to you.

Addressing the court, her lawyer said his client had done what was demanded of her.

“Is she a drug user? No. Is she being accused as being an alcoholic? No,” he said. He stated there was no evidence of what she was accused of, which he said was on the “low end” of the scale. He said she deserves the benefit of the doubt.

He criticised reports from the State, saying they were merely “copy and paste exercises”.

The solicitor said there are assumptions and references made to the mother’s “mental instability” where there is “no evidence for that whatsoever”. He concluded by saying that mother and daughter should be reunited.

The judge said he was satisfied that grounds existed for the interim care order to be extended. He said he accepted that the mother was “striving” to deal with her issues and said he recognised that every case is distinct.

He said it was the obligation of the social welfare department to provide a framework for the mother to work towards reunification, while he said that may not be something that is easily done.

He said the onus was on the Child and Family Agency to assist the mother in any way possible. The judge said there was no doubt the child had been affected after being placed in care, adding that he understands the mother’s concerns about seeing changes in her child.

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