family courts series

Toddler left alone in Direct Provision centre removed from mother, custody awarded to father spent a week observing cases in the Family Court.

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This story is part of a series on the Family Court which can be viewed here>>

AN INTERIM CARE order was granted for a toddler who had been left alone at a Direct Provision Centre by his mother.

The judge heard that the young boy was living with his mother in the centre and had been left alone and unsupervised for a considerable amount of time on at least two occasions within the space of a month.

The boy had already been in the care of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) on two other occasions and he was also in care in another jurisdiction.

On the last occasion that the child was in care, a number of supports had been recommended and ordered by the court. These included respite and therapy for the mother and child, however, this support package was not provided.

No contact from social worker

The court also heard that no social worker made contact with the mother or boy after the child was returned to her care.

The court heard that the manager of the Direct Provision centre had discovered that the child had been left alone on one occasion and confronted the mother to tell her that this was not acceptable behaviour. He told her that if she needed to go somewhere she was to tell them so that they could find someone to look after her son.

She left her son on the second occasion for over two hours, saying she had to go to a funeral. The manager said she did not inform anyone and the gardaí were called.

They boy was taken into care by an emergency care order and placed in temporary foster care.

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The court heard from social workers which said that the boy was a “very vulnerable little boy” adding that he had attachment issues.

Access visits for parents

Since the emergency order was put in place there had been three access visits by the parents. The father of the young boy is no longer in a relationship with the mother and he is remarried with a family. The court was told that the boy would stay with his father every weekend.

One social worker who observed the access visits said that they were “engaging and playful” but was critical of the father saying he did not “engage, play or converse” with his son when he first entered the room.

He also said that when his son was sitting on his knee, he took out his phone, adding that he did not wave goodbye to his son when he was leaving.

He seemed “disinterested” according to the social worker, who said that on one occasion he appeared to be asleep.

On the second access visit he “showed no affection” to his son, but on the third visit he was “very engaging”. The social workers said they did not agree that the boy should be returned to the mother or father on that day, but that a parent capacity assessment should be carried out on the father.

The father said that he wanted to care for his son full-time.

Child in care

The lawyer for the mother put it to the social worker that it had not been explained to the young boy why he had been removed from his mother, saying that the boy  had been told that his mother had been unwell causing him great worry. The social worker denied this.

The social worker said that he did overhear the boy say to his mother:

I’ve been good mum, I want to go home.

The lawyer put it to the social worker:

Is it possible he [Child A] thought he was being punished?

The social worker team leader also said it was her opinion that the boy remain in the care of the Child and Family Agency.

The father’s lawyer cited that despite detachment, emotional and avoidance issues being found after the first care order was put in place, no supports were put in place to support the mother and child.

The judge agreed to adjourn the case and put an interim care order in place for 24 hours.

Attachment issues

The next day, the social worker responsible for the boy when he was previously in care took to the stand. The social worker no longer works for the CFA. His assessment of the boy was that he had attachment issues, saying he constantly sought attention from adults to the point where he was “overly affectionate to strangers”.

When I saw him again, he remembered me, he said he had missed me, and wouldn’t stop hugging me and was determined to stay in my lap.

It was put to the social worker that he had put a care package of supports together upon the child being returned to the mother the last time to improve the mother’s parenting skills.

However, he said that the case should have been reviewed and that there should have been ongoing visits made to assess the progress of the mother and the child.

“That should have been happening,” he said, adding he could not say whether the child would have been put back into care again if these supports had have been followed through.

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When the father took to the stand, he told the court that when he heard his son had been taken into care, he said he would take his son. When put to him that the social worker thought he was disinterested in his son during the access visits he said:

“I did engage in my own way.”

He told the court that he played with him and let him play on his mobile phone, like he usually did.

The father said he was not aware his ex had left their son alone on a previous occasion and he was only made aware of it when the social worker told him. He said his relationship with his son was very good.

“How do you show him love?” asked the solicitor for the CFA.

“By playing with him, taking him out with my other children, if he is upset I cuddle him and hug him and make him feel comfortable,” he said.

He denied he was was disinterested during the access visits saying he let him play with his mum, got down toys for him to play with. He said he had to leave early on one occasion as he had not put enough money in the parking machine and had to get back to it in case he was clamped.

‘I love my son’

“I love my son,” said the father, stating that he can offer him a stable life and that his son was already very much part of his family and that he wouldn’t find it difficult to settle in.

The solicitor for the CFA asked the father was it easy to “draw back” from his son and ex partner when she told him in the past they had planned to leave Ireland.

“No it was not easy to draw back,” he said, adding: “It was not my place to tell her not to go. I had no legal power to say she shouldn’t go. I never in any time found it easy,” he said, stating that he did seek legal advice about preventing her from going but he was told that as they were not married he had little rights.

The CFA solicitor asked if he was “happy to let them off” for which the father replied:

I was not happy to let them go, but practically, there nothing I could do.

“The social worker said you were disinterested?” asked the CFA solicitor. The father replied:

If I was disinterested I would not have been there. I was at the office at 9am at the three access visits, he played with his mum and me, the normal way I interact with my son.

“What the social work department say is that you’re unhappy to stand in if mum is not around,” said the CFA solicitor, adding that the father did not see his son as his primary responsibility.

“I don’t agree with that,” said the father.

Best interests

“I was trying to help mum help herself,” said the father, stating that when his son was in care the last time, he did not apply to be primary caregiver to his son as he thought that the best place for his son was to be with his mother.

The CFA solicitor said that he seemed more concerned about not getting clamped than seeing his son on one occasion, asking should his son not be his priority?

The father said that he did not stay until the end of one access visit and did not put him in the car as the last time he got very upset when he had to say goodbye. His father said he did not want to do that to him again.

The judge then asked the father some questions. The father told the judge that he had his immigrant status and that his partner now is very much open to his son living with them.

The judge then asked the mother to step into the dock and asked her how often her son visited her father. She reiterated that it was every weekend.

Insecure child 

The boy’s guardian described him as a very articulate boy. She said that he has no secure attachment to any primary care giver. “The child is insecure and would go off with any adult,” she said. The foster family he is with currently said he runs “from house to house looking for hugs”.

She said a very careful approach was needed with the boy and that a full assessment of the father had to be carried out to ensure that he and his family understood the boy’s needs.

She added that if the social workers had followed up on supports for the mother the last time he was taken into care then perhaps it “might have made some difference,” she said. She added that supports needed to be put in place to ensure that the boy bonds with his father.

“He is a very vulnerable little boy,”she said.

The judge said he was satisfied that the boy was left alone unsupervised for a considerable period of time on two occasions and that it was sufficient grounds to take the child into care.

The judge stated that he was also satisfied that after the last care order a package of supports were not carried through. He said he accepted that there were attachment issues with the boy and that the father had put himself forward to care for his son.

He granted an interim care order for the boy, stating that a custody order from the father should be made before the end-date of interim care order.

Upon their return a month later, the court heard that both applications for guardianship and custody had been made. The judge ordered that joint custody be given to the parents, with primary parenting awarded to the father. The mother made no objection.

The judge said that this was “clearly in the best interests” for the young boy.

“There may be difficult times ahead but with that I wish the father and son all the best. To the mum – clearly this is the best thing for Child A at this time,” said the judge.

‘A Week in the Family Courts’ series will be running all this week on 

Read: A Week in the Family Court: ‘There needs to be intervention before we reach crisis point’>

Read: A Week in the Family Court: 6,500 children are in care – here are some of their stories>

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