Judge criticises 'serious failings' in Child and Family Agency's handling of adoption case

Had the CFA “just done its job” and acted upon the woman’s plea six years ago, “who knows” what type of progress towards family reunification could have occurred, the judge said.
Judge criticises 'serious failings' in Child and Family Agency's handling of adoption case

High court reporters

A High Court judge has rebuked the Child and Family Agency for having “completely failed” to support a relationship between the child and her natural mother.

Mr Justice Max Barrett said the girl’s natural mother had proven herself to be a “demonstrably competent” parent for her other children and was “literally begging” for a relationship with her 17-year-old daughter, referred to as Miss B.

Had the CFA “just done its job” and acted upon the woman’s plea six years ago for greater access and information about Miss B, “who knows” what type of progress towards family reunification could have occurred, he said.

The judge listed a litany of “manifold and serious failings” on the part of the CFA, including that it had failed to support appropriate access visits and to support the relationship between Miss B and her natural mother, who had objected to the adoption application.

Foster mother

Mr Justice Barrett noted the girl’s foster mother has done a “remarkable job” caring for the girl since she was just months old. There is a huge amount of mutual love between the pair, he added.

Miss B has development delay associated with foetal alcohol syndrome and a moderate learning disability, the judge said. She has indicated her desire to be adopted by her foster parent, whom she refers to as “mum”.

However, after meeting her the judge was “not entirely persuaded” Miss B fully understood the significance of adoption.

In setting out the background to the case, Mr Justice Barrett included submissions from the girl’s biological mother, who claimed she had been repeatedly beaten and raped by her husband, whom she is no longer with.

Prior to Miss B’s birth, the family moved to a rural, isolated area from a city, where the mother had been surrounded by relatives.

Alcohol

The woman said that over time she drank more alcohol to deal with the abuse and she did not realise she was pregnant with Miss B until four months along. By this point, she said, the foetal alcohol damage had occurred.

The woman said social workers told her she was not in a position to care for Miss B, who was very sick, and she signed a voluntary care order.

She said she has not drunk since she completed a short rehab stint when Miss B was a toddler. At the request of the social work department, the woman said, she also partook in two parenting courses, a psychological assessment, two years of therapy and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Access between her and Miss B became more difficult when the woman, by then a single mother, moved back to the city to be near her family. She was informed, due to the financial crash, that train tickets to visit her daughter at that time could not be funded by the State, said the judge.

She claimed that in the three years when no social worker was appointed to her case it became much harder for her to see Miss B or ascertain how she was and access was arranged directly with the foster carer.

Due to her concerns, six years ago the mother wrote a letter to her presumed social worker “literally begging” for more access, saying she felt “excluded” from Miss B’s life, said the judge. She had not been informed her social worker was no longer allocated to her case, and she received no meaningful response to her letter, he added.

Mr Justice Barrett did not believe adoption would be in Miss B’s best interests. He said he did not see any advantage to cutting the natural mother and child legal link when Miss B is on the cusp of adulthood.

When she turns 18, she will be able to apply to change her surname by deed poll and she can continue to live with her foster mother, if she wishes, he added.

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