My Blog

My blog is meant to inform but its primary purpose is not to be informative. It is about the law but it is not solely about the law but also about those places the law does not go. The law is the platform from which I dive. My blog is about my opinions but is not primarily about my opinions since I often temper these to the subject matter on hand, not to mention the imagined audience. Quite often when I open a subject which is related to the law for discussion, I find myself in a place I never meant to be, or to go, as if the subject takes on a life of its own. I write articles based on what I do for a living, and I am a family lawyer, but of course that is not all I am. I find that when I engage with a subject, and use writing to express my thoughts, that quite often the journey is more interesting than the end and that what I thought I was writing about is not what I wrote about at all. This seems to me to be a metaphor for life. I write, therefore, to throw some light into the dark, to increase my understanding and by extension hopefully, other people’s understanding of what often seems incomprehensible, to enliven the dull so my spirit does not sag and to throw some humour at what is often deeply sad so that I can, or maybe, dare I say hopefully, “we”, can gain perspective. I doubt I succeed but the effort is honest.

Monday, October 7, 2013


It is with a great deal of joy and not a little pride that I have to concede that once again the Irish are a surprising bunch and despite practically no effective opposition, they were not fooled and voted against the referendum to abolish the senate.  Yahoo.  Lest anyone think that I am being naive and it was just a vote against a sitting government, the little fact that they voted in favour of the second referendum to set up a court of appeal and relieve the Supreme Court, is proof that it was not.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Child Care Conundrum –Theory & Practice

I am bothered greatly by the child care system in Ireland.  Most of the children taken into care are from poor and marginalised groups.  Let me say at the outset that I do not believe that the privacy of the family trumps everything and support fully the idea of scrutiny from outside, however, carefully controlled and monitored.  In an earlier time, I watched Nuala Fennell , Minister for Women’s Affairs as she was then, pilloried because she suggested an investigation into the death of Anne Lovett, a young girl who died giving birth in a grotto.  Against the Minister, it was strongly asserted that the family needed its privacy and that was that. Ranks were closed and so when some time after Anne’s death, her sister also died, there was hardly a ripple.  Rumours were rife but that was it.   Happily we seem to have travelled some distance since then (one can never be entirely sure) but how insightful and compassionate we are as a nation, is another day’s work.  We like to think of ourselves as nice, hospitable people and that notion is so fixed in our minds that it seems to me it actively prevents radical re-examination of our societal values and our ability to look at ourselves critically and with self awareness.   Even now, after all the exposure of child sex abuse and corruption at all levels of our society, we have still to openly debate the type of society we want in Ireland and how we are to create it.  We continue to elect politicians whose main hallmark is their paucity of vision.  They are either profligate, louche, cute whores or thin lipped, mealy- mouthed and cap doffing.  Either way, they are mostly an embarrassment.  Perish the thought that we should have vision.  Ideals are for the young and immature, we seem to think, but do we ever stop to ask what we are without them?   If we have no direction, no vision, nothing to aim or strive for, where the hell are we headed and for what purpose?  Here we are about to abolish the senate in Ireland without a second thought, with practically no opposition or debate, little insight into the historical context in which it arises, the people that particular institution has thrown up and without whom we would be mightily poorer as a nation, little or no knowledge of how much will be saved by the abolition even though that is the main plank of the argument for its removal in the first place, and no real or meaningful discussion of reform within that institution as an alternative to abolition and how reform might create something with the true potential to improve the functioning of our democracy.  It is so much easier to destroy than to reform.  It is hard to accept what is wrong but still to try and make something better.  As a family lawyer I know this intimately. It is one of the hallmarks of marital breakdown i.e., the instinct to destroy as a reaction to hurt rather than to pause, examine and strive to preserve what can be preserved for the sake of the whole.  Valueless people profit all the while from those baser instincts in our nature.   However, this article is not about the abolition of the senate though I needed to say what I thought about it in passing, this article is about the child care system.  As I said it bothers me. I have a number of questions about it – why are so few middleclass parents caught in the childcare net?  How much cultural awareness do we as a nation have about the values and culture of other nations living here?  How compassionate are we to them and understanding of their needs?  How much training do our professionals have in dealing with foreign nationals? Who are our foster parents and what are the criteria for becoming foster parents?  In deference to the immigrants in Ireland, are we actively encouraging non- Irish nationals living in Ireland to become foster parents and if not, why not?  How much debate is there about the fact that certain foster families make their living from foster care, is that good or bad?  Who are the lawyers who represent the HSE in their operation of the child care system and how are they chosen?  Who represents the parents and how are they chosen?  Is there a danger of jadedness and/ or a cosy cartel operating between these professionals?  While fundamental rights are frequently at issue in child care proceedings and therefore, the courts and the judiciary are rightfully, in my view, involved in the child care system and its operation, it does seem to me that we need to consider a less adversarial approach and certainly in the lighter cases.  How much thought and debate are we having about the voice of the child in such proceedings and how that might best be brought into play and since experts are frequently involved in such proceedings, who are these “experts” and what expertise do they need to have to make them experts?
There are so many questions but why am I focussed on this right now?  As many of you will know, very few private practitioners who are not involved in the legal aid scheme, and I am not, do child care work and the reason is that very few people find themselves in the child care system who can afford private legal representation.   As I said, this is a system which affects the poor and marginalised disproportionately, or so it would seem.  When I was asked, not too long ago, to represent immigrant parents who had got caught in a child care situation but who could not afford me, I agreed because I wanted to see how this area worked in practice.  I never expected that I would be fairly actively involved for over a year and I certainly learnt a lot from the experience.   Of course, you cannot generalise from one case and I do not intend to do this but because of that case and chiefly arising out of my experience with that case, I conducted a fair amount of research and spoke to a lot of various “experts” and colleagues more experienced in this area than myself.  In the course of all of this, I became a lot more versed in this area than I ever expected to be and a lot more concerned about its operation that I had been previously.  Arising out of that case, I voted against the children’s amendment to our constitution not because such an amendment is not worthy and certainly not because I do not believe in the rights of children or their autonomy as human beings, but because the operation of my child care case was such an eye opener that I feared the children’s amendment would be abused and cynically manipulated rather than used to benefit children as intended.  I still have those fears. The amendment which was passed has yet to be enacted. 
The parents in my case were poor and marginalised and would never have been able to afford private legal representation had I not simply agreed to take the case.  The very first question I was asked by the HSE’s legal representatives when I appeared was why this couple had left their “very able and competent” representatives in the Legal Aid Board? The very fact of having engaged private representation called these parents into question and seemed to confirm the diagnosis of them as difficult and having something to hide.   We were off to a great start.  I should say that my couple had never actually harmed their child.  The child in question was a healthy older child close to her teenage years described as intelligent and well behaved by all concerned.  They had, however, behaved in a neglectful manner on one identified occasion, by failing to collect the child.  No actual harm had come to the child on that occasion as a result of their failure, but authorities got involved and contacted other authorities and so forth and so on.  It is fair to say also that as the situation was being investigated, the pattern of their drinking, as parents gave rise for legitimate concern.  It would be wrong of me to say otherwise.  However, after I had completed extensive research into the child care cases reported in the court judgements, newspaper reports, reports of Dr Carol Coulter and discussions with colleagues, I think I can say with confidence that this case was a “light” case.    Nonetheless, the organs of the state rowed in on top of this family at full tilt.  The Gardai arrived to the home of this immigrant family with no translator and just took their child and if they gave explanations, they were not capable of being understood since the parents had little or no English.  The mother immediately ran to the local garda station after they took the child as she had no car.  She was refused information since no one was able to talk with her despite Polish people having lived in Ireland for over a decade now in fairly large numbers.  She was handed a piece of paper in Polish which told her to be in court the next day.  No one was available to speak with her in her language about the matter. The following day the child was taken into care on an emergency order and ultimately, the parents were not allowed to see her for eight weeks.  For that first and crucial appearance in court they were unrepresented and there was no translator.  Accordingly, the only perspective the court had from the outset was that of the authorities who had taken the child.  It took nearly a week before they were assigned a legal aid solicitor on the eve of their second court appearance.   Imagine not knowing what was going on in those circumstances for that length of time and not seeing your child?  The parents spoke little or no English and were confused and bewildered to the point of nervous breakdown.   From the time of my involvement, which was another court appearance later, I was struck by the adversarial nature of these proceedings.  At no point was I cordially received or entertained by either the representatives of the HSE or their professional social workers.  At first, I thought it was my imagination, but even I am not that paranoid, their demeanour was always hostile and occasionally aggressive.  Having read the handbook for social workers involved in the child care area, I thought, naively as it turned out, that our engagement was going to be solution orientated. The literature would give that impression.  I approached representation on that basis from the outset only to find myself being treated as the enemy.  My colleague regaled me with her knowledge of “polish drinking” habits and seemed to be completely confident that she could speak authoritatively about the whole nation in this way.  She sought to involve me conspiratorially in this thinking.  Only someone with little awareness of our own history and how we were perceived, and continue to be perceived abroad, would have adopted such a high moral tone.  But even allowing that she may not have been entirely unaware of that, she still sought to place a whole nation into a stereotype.   I would not play and so the conversation quickly became tight lipped.  Drinking during the day, she seemed to think, was an indication that one very likely had a serious alcohol problem as if drinking in the evening was somehow less of an indication.  She found my unwillingness to concede this very unreasonable and when I told her that as a student, many years previously, I would very occasionally have found myself in good company and drinking during the day, her reaction was so incredulous that I began to wonder if my own child would not be taken into care and thought I had better shut up quickly.  So much for reasonable solution orientated discussions outside court.  On a lighter note, the same solicitor had her photo taken with a mobile phone, passing through a check out in a supermarket around the same time as our case was going on with a trolley full of alcohol.  I hoped for better things from the Judge but I was to be disappointed.  The approach both from the bench and from the HSE was adversarial.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it was punitive.  Not allowing these parents to see their daughter for 8 weeks was frankly inexcusable and unreasonable.  I can only offer the explanation for such draconian measures as punitive. During that dreadful time, the mother started to write to her daughter every day as a way of keeping herself sane.  Little diaries of her day spiced with lovely drawings.  Her days were largely uneventful since she was poor, unemployed and without social support so it would be fair to say that the letters were not exciting but they were moving in their own way.  However, HSE social workers said they could not see the point of them and since each and every one had to be translated (something they determined themselves to be necessary) they wanted them to stop.  My office had translated the first batch of letters before they were delivered to the social workers by hand.  We said we would be prepared to translate them going forward without charge.  This was refused as we were clearly not trusted to translate accurately but quite apart from this, they wanted everything to go through solicitors.   Accordingly, at the very first opportunity, the social workers applied to court seeking to limit the mother’s letters to one letter a week.  The Judge concurred largely because of the inconvenience to the social services and the costs involved (of translating).  When the mother sought telephone contact with her daughter, the cost of providing a translator for such calls, to monitor what she would be saying to her daughter, (something which social workers deemed necessary and which despite protests went unchallenged by the Judge) was deemed to be too expensive by the court and they denied her request.  Of course the Judge held out the possibility of giving the mother access, like a carrot before a donkey, each and every time we appeared.  The price for access was her positive cooperation with social services.  She said she was engaging with them positively, they said she wasn’t.  They maintained that she needed to deal with her alcohol addiction however, they made absolutely no suggestions as to how she was to do this. It was a game of cat and mouse.  In an effort to assist her, my office went on a hunt for a polish speaker qualified to conduct an addiction assessment as to whether or not she had an alcohol problem. It was very clear to me, however, that if any professional said that she did not have such addiction, social services would not accept this since they had already determined that she did as had the court. In fact that determination was made before I ever appeared in the case.  We did find someone who was prepared to assist but such person was rejected by social services since they maintained they did not know anything about this person and needed to investigate.  More delays.  Meanwhile our client was quite literally losing the will to live.  We came up with doctors who would conduct an assessment but they were rejected because HSE Social Workers did not know them and had not vetted them despite their having recognized medical qualifications.  The Judge never seemed to lose patience with the extraordinarily slow pace of social services but he frequently, turned to us, the professionals acting for the couple, asking if we were doing enough with a strong undertone that we were not?  Social workers, through their representatives and directly outside court, would ridicule our efforts to find professionals to work with this Polish speaking family and they would get away with that, without offering any alternative other than they were looking into it.  Meanwhile these parents were not seeing their child.  Naturally, we appealed at a very early stage.  However, because the District Court Judge would schedule the case every few weeks offering the carrot that he would consider access on the next occasion, the higher court refused to allow the appeal to go forward as a priority listing. Accordingly, the appeal would simply take its place and might or might not have been heard for some months.  This meant that by the time our appeal would be heard we would in fact have reappeared in the District Court on the scheduled adjourned date. In that event, if the appeal was going forward, the District Court would have had to suspend matters until the appeal was heard.  The child would, during that time, continue in care without the parents seeing or being in contact with her other than occasional letters.   It was self defeating from our client’s point of view even though it might have made legal sense.  There is an enormous difference between the resources available to Dublin practitioners in this type of situation and those available to practitioners outside Dublin.  A clear consideration for the clients in this situation was the possibility that the District Court would give access on the next occasion before them, however, if the appeal went ahead that would not happen.  At the time of our application to the Circuit Court to shorten time to enable us to appeal, which was opposed by the way, we were scheduled to be back before the District Court the following week.  The Judge had offered the possibility of access, something that was highlighted by the representatives of the HSE to the Circuit Court even though they subsequently vehemently opposed it when we appeared back before the District Court.    The Circuit Court therefore, could not see the need to schedule the appeal quickly since they felt that it was likely that the District Court would give access on our next appearance.  They did not.    None of the literature in this area recommends a punitive approach and indeed, the HSE literature is far from such an approach.  Worthy sentiments abound but the reality on the ground is very different.
On an entirely different, though nonetheless interesting, note, I was also struck by the extraordinary sexist nature of these proceedings.  It was as if the father did not exist.  His views were never sought.  From the outset his drinking was deemed less of an issue without the slightest proof one way or the other.  No explanation was given for this. He, clearly, had also been drinking on the date of the incident that led to HSE getting involved.  However, despite the reality that his drinking did not appear to be much of an issue for the social workers or indeed his involvement to any great extent in the need to engage with them, he was never offered him the opportunity to visit with his daughter on his own during that lengthy period by either the court or by social services nor did they engage with him independently or hardly at all in fact.  I had secured independent representation for him at an early stage but my colleague who agreed to act without payment, frequently articulated to me that she might “as well not be there”.
After two court appearances and when we had become involved and were making life a tad uncomfortable in our estimation, the HSE contacted the Gardai and asked them to follow up on their enquiries with the parents.  As a result the parents were contacted by the Gardai at their home and asked to present for voluntary questioning on a bank holiday weekend.  At a pre-arranged time both parents presented to the Gardai.   The father was released quite quickly but the mother was kept in for 4 hours.  At one stage, she said she would leave and they told her that if she did, they would arrest her.  She was given no food or drink during that period and had no idea what was going on.  As far as she could determine, they were ostensibly awaiting the arrival of an interpreter.   In the late afternoon of the Saturday, I arrived at the police station enquiring about my client and demanding to see her.  Within 5 mins she was let go however, the official interpreter refused to tell me what was going on because he was finished his engagement and I could not pay him for his time.  Accordingly, we sat in my car while a Polish friend interpreted what had happened to the mother in the police station.   It seems that in the course of the “voluntary” interview with the mother, the police suggested amongst other things that she get a “real” solicitor and said they could recommend someone to her. This, despite the fact that I had spoken to them several times during the day as had my office.  Nothing ever happened as a result of this ordeal in the police station as everyone knew nothing ever would, since there was insufficient evidence to charge these people with a crime of any sort.  The purpose was to “frighten the horses” so to speak, bring her to heel as she was perceived as “difficult” and her legal representatives, even more so.    What an abuse of our resources and the organs of the state!
Eventually, after about 8 months and many court appearances, the child was returned to her parents.  During all this time and in the course of several HSE reports before each and every court appearance, of which there were many, the child would ask to be returned to her parents. Despite application from us seeking a court appointed Guardian ad litem and despite offering the names and qualifications of two such persons  to the court, one a qualified Polish social worker and the other not a Polish speaker but very familiar to the court and a retired social worker , the court refused to make that appointment.  Interestingly, at this point the children’s amendment to the constitution had passed.  Progress was made in the case after a letter of complaint on behalf of the client about the assigned social worker was sent to her superiors in the HSE and she was removed.  A different solicitor for the HSE also appeared in the case.  The change of personnel made all the difference but the proceedings were still largely conducted in an adversarial manner.  I was struck that each and every time a social worker professional would appear in court she, it was invariably she, would be accompanied by one, and sometimes two others, to spend hours standing around for no good purpose save, it would seem, to give moral support to each other.  You would have to wonder why professionals would need that type of moral support to just do their job!    One would also have to wonder how, given the courts’ concern about money and indeed the HSE’s stated financial concerns in this case, and at a time generally of scant resources and increasing demand, the appearance of two or three social workers, instead of one, hanging around the courts, is justified. 
In the early stages of this case, I sought the opinion of a Senior Counsel who specialises in child care cases.  He advised me that in his years of reading reports from the HSE in such cases, he had never seen one that was quite so unnecessarily personal and downright objectionable as the first report in our case. He was amazed and appalled.  Indeed it was the very personal nature of that report that determined the relationship between my client and social services.  It would have been exceedingly difficult for her, having suffered the pain and embarrassment of reading such a report and having it read, to have struck up a rapport with the duty social worker.  With the advent of a new social worker, the reports became a lot less objectionable in their tone and content. 
Because my experience, apart from my research, of this area was limited to one case, I was loath to write about it eventhough I was minded to do so for some time, however, I have come across a speech given by Dr Carol Coulter to the Legal Aid Board on the 20th June, 2013 in which she echoes many of my concerns.  This has somewhat empowered me, since Dr Coulter is the Director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project.  In the course of that speech she said “Among the most common problems giving rise to child neglect is the abuse of or addiction to alcohol and /or drugs. Usually before the HSE seeks a Care Order the parents, commonly the mother, are given an opportunity to seek treatment for addiction.  Often a Supervision Order is put in place.” In the instant case, the parents were not given any opportunity to seek treatment for addiction, indeed ,no suggestions were made as to what would constitute treatment until several court appearances had been made and they had not seen their daughter for some considerable time.  Equally, the suggestion of a Supervision Order never arose though it was proposed by us when we arrived in the case and rejected.    Furthermore, in the instant case only one incident was actually brought to the attention of the HSE and arising out of that incident no actual harm had come to the child nor was there any evidence produced that she had ever been harmed. Of course, given the behaviour there was a possibility and there was also some other causes for concern.   However, it is still a fact that the reports of the HSE describe the child as being in good health, bright and well behaved.  Now I do acknowledge as I have previously that I did have concerns about the drinking of this couple and certainly I don’t think that the HSE’s involvement with the family was unwarranted as such however, the manner of involvement particularly in the first 6 months or so was heavy handed, lacking compassion and extremely adversarial.  The method was familiar to me.  I went to boarding school.  It was that old tried and tested ‘nun method’ of break their spirit first with the suggestion of possible kindness to come and then come forward with a cookie, but only after the spirit is broken.   At no stage was the issue raised before the court of whether or not taking this child into care was a proportionate response.  Even allowing for the possibility that it might have been felt it was, how could it ever be justified that the parents did not see the child at all for 8 weeks and their contact with her was limited to one letter a week.  And what about the child –how was she damaged by having no contact with her parents for that length of time? Social services kept emphasising that she was completely understanding of what was happening as she had excellent English but it never occurred to them that as a Polish child who had spent the earlier part of her childhood in Poland, her emotional language was going to be Polish.  Dr Coulter, in her talk, also asks the question   “Is a Care Order, for example, a proportionate response to the problems these children have, or would their needs be adequately met by a Supervision Order with directions for certain changes to be made by the parents”?  I would contend that in this case a Supervision Order with such directions would have been a proportionate response particularly after the initial emergency order.  I note that Dr Helen Buckley, a professor of social work and social policy in Trinity College and a member of Dr Coulter’s Oversight Board, stresses that the issue in child care proceedings should “not be addiction per se but the impact of the addiction on the capacity of the parents to care for their children”.  I would contend that in my case it was the addiction per se that was considered both by the HSE and the Judge as being the issue and not the capacity to parent as such.  Dr Coulter comments in her talk that she was struck by the number of cases “where the children involved have little visibility in the proceedings”.  Indeed! 
I started off this article by commenting on the fact that most of the people involved in these proceedings are from poorer backgrounds and my only evidence for this was how few private practitioners are involved in such cases.  Like most solicitors I suspect, I grew up in a fairly comfortable, middle class family.  However, I can remember some of my friends, coming from professional backgrounds, arriving in school unwashed and unfed due to parental drinking or serious parental depression and pill popping.  Occasionally,  all three.  I can remember the community regularly sheltering those children when parents were not around.  Drinking and drug abuse is certainly not confined to the poor and marginalised.  It was not then and it is unlikely that it is now.  Dr Coulter says “Because the majority of children whose cases come before the child care courts are from poor and marginalised backgrounds it can be difficult to hear their voices in the process.  The Legal Aid Board does sterling work in representing the parents in care proceedings, but inevitably the professionals in the HSE and their lawyers, who are in court every day of the week, will be better able to articulate what they want from the court than will people who may have difficulties with legal concepts or even the English language”.  Certainly the issue of ensuring equality of arms between the parties is very important, however, it does not go far enough in my opinion as it does not raise the issue of why so few middle class families are before the courts in this area.  Are they all so much better behaved now than they were when I was a child, I doubt it.   
I have raised the issue of over familiarity between professionals, a cosy cartel.  Certainly, when I appeared out of nowhere, so to speak, I felt that there was resentment.  The apple cart was upset.  I don’t think I made that much of a wave, certainly not what I would have liked to raise, if I had more resources and a more resilient client who was prepared or able for the row, none the less, I was treated like Attila the Hun.  I am very much of the opinion that these cases are frequently handled by practitioners as a “matter of course” and I would be strongly of the view that on both sides of the equation, the system would benefit from the injection of some new blood.  I do not advocate replacing persons of experience as their experience is invaluable, just adding to the pool.  I also do not want my remarks to be interpreted as criticism of legal aid who practise frequently under trying and under resourced circumstances.  I know that many of them have defended their clients up to the High Court and the Supreme Court which is why I was able to read judgements in these matters.  As Dr Coulter indicated they do a great job however, that does not take away from the need and responsibility we have to examine their role and how best it might be carried out.
I am an experienced collaborator and mediator, however, at no stage was I ever engaged by any of the professionals involved in this case in a truly problem solving way.  Indeed my attempts and those of my office to resolve problems in the case by offering help where we were in a position to give help for example to translate letters thus saving time and expense, actively seek Polish nationals who could assist with alcohol addiction assessment or who could represent the child, were greeted with suspicion and derision.  The only time the professionals on both sides met was outside of the court in uncomfortable and frequently crowded circumstances not at all conducive to problem solving.   Dr Coulter suggests that “Where parents are involved in the process every effort should be made to come to an agreement with them about the best way forward for them and their children before orders are sought.  Mediation clearly has a role here.” I completely agree but my actual experience is very far removed from this.  Even when more reasonable and problem solving personnel presented in the case,  it was at best adversarial bargaining rather than true problem solving.  I would suggest that unless social workers involved in this area receive entirely different training than currently, quite apart from the lawyers, it will be impossible to achieve this goal.  It is not enough to send professionals on weekend courses and expect them to change the habits of a lifetime.  Change has to be far more fundamental than that and it needs to start in University and continue all the way up.   
Finally and because this is already a long article, I might as well mention the issue of the foster parenting system as well.  Generally speaking, I support the idea of foster care, particularly as an alternative to institutional care, however, I do not support it as a career.  We are much given to extolling the virtues of those who agree to foster and that lavish praise can often prevent us from asking some necessary questions.  Should some families have three and four children, as well as their own, at a time?  The fact that placements can be hard to find does not mean that we should not ask that question.  The qualifications to foster need to be a lot more transparent and we need to actively look for families to foster from particular ethnic backgrounds.    In the course of my proceedings I asked the court if the parents might have some contact and communication with the foster parents as it appeared to me that there was unnecessary animosity between those parties.  Parents could have explained some of their traditions directly to the foster parents (especially as the child was spending Christmas with the foster family).  This would have helped with understanding all round.  Occasionally in the reports of the HSE the foster parents’ views were quoted and frequently, they were very positional and unhelpful.   Those comments, which should not I feel have been presented in this manner or at all, caused a lot of misdirected anger between the parents and the foster parents.   The Judge greeted my suggestion of communication between parents and foster parents with some interest and said it might be considered though he took no action as such.  I could not but note at the same time the expressions of the social workers in court, even the ones just there for moral support, when the suggestion was made, which were aghast and incredulous, followed by violent head shaking at such a preposterous idea.  Why should this idea be so preposterous? I know there are certain instances when the last thing you would want is contact between the parents and the foster parents due to the nature of the case or the particular record of the parents but this was not one of those cases and it was never even considered.  Indeed when we finally did get access after all those weeks and it was once a week for a few hours for quite some time, it often had to be renegotiated because the date or time did not suit the foster parents.  Imagine the frustration if you are waiting to see your child for those few hours once a week and then it is changed.  That was not just once,  it was several times including significant cultural days for the parents which were changed at the request of the foster parents.  The foster parents also complained about having to travel to bring the child for access and how it impacted on their other foster children, they had a few and their own children.  I realise that there are many wonderful foster parents and I would be the first to acknowledge that without them our child care system would grind to a halt but they are paid for their work albeit that work is probably, frequently, very difficult.  It seems worth mentioning that it was not that difficult in this case as at all times the child was very well behaved and had good English.  Incidentally, the foster parents forgot to collect the child from school twice precisely the incident that gave rise to the involvement of the HSE in the first place.  You have to laugh even if it not funny ha ha.
I frequently reflected during the case, and many times since, the difference it would have made to my client had social services considered using some of the money, that might be paid to foster parents,  to make my client’s life a little easier,  at least in the short term .  This family lived on very little and had no idea of any social welfare entitlements that they might have had.  Accordingly, the mother had a chronic medical condition which caused her pain and discomfort and which went untreated as she could not afford the Doctor and had no medical card. She and the father were constantly criticised both by the social workers and from the bench because they had such poor English and seemingly had done little to improve it, without any consideration of how this couple would or could avail of English language classes and the practicalities of that for them.  At no stage did anyone tell the mother how to go about applying for a medical card and that was eventually left to my office.  Criticism was made, and indeed written, in one of the reports about the child’s old fashioned clothes or that the clothes were old and even that they were smelly, without balancing comment about the resources available to this couple. 

I wish I could end on an upbeat, funny or positive note.  The whole business was grindingly sad and depressing and I can only thank my own friends who listened to me rant and rave in the course of this case and put up with it.  Otherwise, I would probably have become sad and depressed myself.