Child and Family Agency missed chances to unite girl with father

School-going child in care over five years after removal from mother due to chronic neglect

The Child and Family Agency missed “windows of opportunity”  to bring together a child in care and her father,  the Dublin Family Childcare Court has heard. File photograph: Kane Skennar/Getty Images

The Child and Family Agency missed “windows of opportunity” to bring together a child in care and her father, the Dublin Family Childcare Court has heard. File photograph: Kane Skennar/Getty Images

 

The Child and Family Agency missed “windows of opportunity” four or five years ago to bring together a child in care and her father, a court-appointed guardian told the Dublin Family Childcare Court on Thursday.

The guardian said delays in the case four or five years ago, had a far greater significance in the life of the child and her father than delays in the case currently.

The primary school-going child has been in care for more than five years. She was removed from her mother due to chronic neglect.

There had been a series of short, interim care orders for the girl, until a two-year care order was made, with the consent of her father, on the basis that a reunification plan would go ahead and she would eventually live with him.

This order expired early in 2016, and has been extended on a temporary basis since then.

Adjourned

The agency now wishes to keep the child in care until aged 18 and a full care order hearing got under way in early October. But it was adjourned two weeks ago because the cross-examination of a clinical psychologist, a key witness in the case, could not be completed before the psychologist went on holiday.

The court had heard the child saw the case as a battle between her foster carers and her father, and wanted to be with both.

On Thursday, the agency sought to keep the child in care for a further six months, to give time for the full care order hearing to resume.

Counsel for the father, who opposed the application and complained of delays in the case, highlighted the court-appointed guardian’s evidence when the two-year order was made. The guardian had said then that the father’s level of access to his child was “a barrier to reunification”.

“Is it now?” she asked. The guardian said it was. She also said she agreed the child should be positively encouraged to attend access.

Asked whether she was satisfied the social work team was complying with its statutory duty, she said “in the last two years, yes”.

Opportunities missed

And asked about recent delays in completing the case, including the adjournment of the full care order hearing, the guardian said there were more windows of opportunity missed in the case four or five years ago than now.

Judge Brendan Toale said the case had an “extraordinary passage through the courts”, and was listed for hearing on a number of occasions. He said there were also an extraordinary number of issues between the parties in the case and he could not resolve them until a full hearing was completed.

The child had remained in the care of her current foster carers for a “considerable number of years”, he said, and it was not in her best interests that her current stability would come to an unplanned end. He said he was satisfied to extend the current care order for six months.

He also said a separate application could be made to court to increase the father’s access to the child.