Children at risk from poverty and drug abuse

Latest childcare law report includes care orders due to homelessness and smoking

One of the issues raised around a care order was regarding the mother’s smoking habit

One of the issues raised around a care order was regarding the mother’s smoking habit


The case of a baby girl who was taken into care following her birth, her mother having been taken to hospital with a drug overdose while pregnant, is one of the cases contained in the latest report of the Child Care Law Reporting Project.

Risks posed to children through drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and homelessness again feature prominently in the fifth volume of reports produced by the project which is published today.

A full care order was granted in the case of the baby girl, both of whose parents were drug addicts and had resorted to criminality to fund their drug habit.

The parents had moved to Ireland from another jurisdiction where their older child, a boy, had previously been taken into care and adopted after the parents fled with the child in contravention of a protection order.

Police involvement was required to track them down and, when found, they were under the influence of illicit substances with a “strong smell suggestive of heroin smoke” in an unventilated room. The baby was extremely pale and dirty and hungry. He was placed in emergency foster care and subsequently placed in a closed adoption.

When the mother became pregnant again, the couple moved to Ireland over fears that this baby was also likely to be taken into care in the other jurisdiction.

However, while still pregnant, the mother was admitted to hospital for a drug overdose. The homeless accommodation in which the couple were living was found to be “quite dirty”. A pre-birth conference found the likely risks to the baby were very high and an interim care order was made.

The baby girl, who was born in Ireland, was subject to a number of interim care orders over a period of 18 months. During this time the parents had access to their baby five days a week and attended a drug treatment centre.

However, social workers were unable to find evidence that the parents had ceased their drug misuse and a full care order was granted until the child reaches the age of 18.

Care orders were refused by the courts in three of the cases reported in the latest volume of reports.

In one case a care order for a baby born 10 weeks prematurely was refused by the District Court in favour of a supervision order, which allows for the child to remain at home with regular visits by social workers.

One of the issues raised was around the mother’s smoking habit: a neonatal specialist told the court that, because the baby had been born at just 29 weeks, weighing less than a kilo, his lungs were immature and it was important he avoided tobacco smoke and lived in a warm, hygienic environment.

The court heard that the mother smoked up to 80 cigarettes a day, failed to follow advice as regards her smoking and declined to attend a smoking cessation officer. In her evidence the mother denied that she had not engaged with doctors around her smoking and said she had since switched to electronic cigarettes.

The judge found the parents had been “exemplary” in tending to the child in the hospital, the child was doing well and the baby’s paternal grandparents had said both the child’s parents and the baby could live with them.

The judge said things were “at a very positive point” and made a supervision order for 12 months with a number of stipulations, including that nobody could smoke in the house or around the baby.

In camera
The Child Care Law Reporting Project was established in 2012 to examine and report on childcare proceedings. Such cases were normally held in camera, but as part of the project reporters have been permitted to sit in on such hearings and publish reports anonymously since 2012.

The in camera rule around childcare proceedings has since been further relaxed, with restricted reporting by the media allowed in such cases since January of this year.

A District Court judge in a rural town refused to grant an interim care order for a 10-day-old boy, ruling that his mother “deserved the chance to rear her son with support”.

The baby was seized by the gardaí and the HSE when the mother left hospital after a different judge had ruled that he be taken into care under an emergency care order. When the order expired, the HSE asked that an interim care order be granted. The HSE raised concerns about the father and fears that he dominated his partner.

However, the judge said that while he shared these fears, he had to take into account the mother’s responsibilities and capacity. He said he was satisfied that, with adequate supports and supervision, she would be in a position to rear her child and would be a very good mother.

He invited the HSE to seek a supervision order, to which he attached conditions including a stipulation that the father receive anger management, psychotherapy and one-to-one counselling.

When the case came up for review two months later, the solicitor for the Child and Family Agency, which took over responsibility for child protection from the HSE earlier this year, adjourned an application for a full care order and did not seek a renewal of the supervision order.

An interim care order was discharged in Dublin District Court when the Child and Family Agency made a formal application to withdraw it, saying that the mother had made “phenomenal improvements” in her life.

A plan was outlined to the court for the reunification of the woman and her daughter. This included her sourcing accommodation, availing of therapeutic supports and full cooperation with the social work department. The court heard the mother was cooperating with all the central tenets of the plan, had taken part in a parenting course and was receiving counselling support for her mental health.

The relationship between the child and her foster parents would continue as there was attachment between them and they wanted to be available to the mother if she needed help.

Withdrawing the care applications that were before the court, the judge commended everyone involved in what he described as an extremely carefully thought-out plan which was extremely workable.

“I would like to congratulate everybody on the hard work they have done, not least the mother herself. It hasn’t been an easy road for her; she had done remarkable work herself. It’s always a really positive day in these courts when we see