The Child & Family Agency was established at the beginning of 2014 and according to its website, it is the “dedicated State agency responsible for improving wellbeing and outcomes for children”. The website goes on to say that it represents the most comprehensive reform of child protection, early intervention and family support services ever undertaken in Ireland. It says that it is an ambitious move, which brings together some 4000 staff and an operational budget of over €600 million.
That’s the website. Here is a thumbnail idea of what happens in practice.
My client lives in the UK and is separated from his daughter’s mother. The daughter was taken into care when she was an infant and for the last several years my client has been trying to make contact with and establish a relationship with his now 5 year old daughter. His daughter has been in foster care for these last few years.
My client first of all had to prove through DNA testing that he was the father of the child and this took a considerable period of time. The Child & Family Agency (CFA) said that he had to move slowly and access would begin and gradually build up.
Over the past two years he has had two visits with his daughter and two Skype conversations. The visits and the Skype conversations went very well. Everybody speaks very highly of my client and believes him to be a dedicated and loving father.
Twice he has travelled from the UK to exercise access and within an hour of access commencing, it has been cancelled because “your daughter does not want to see you”.
I was in court with him last week when he learnt that his daughter was being brought out of the country on holiday. He knew nothing about it despite the fact that he is the court appointed guardian (along with the CFA). The Child & Family Agency have stepped into the child’s guardian’s shoes and although my client has guardianship rights, they have been entirely ignored.
I stated before last week’s court hearing that it was an absolute outrage that my client and his daughter were being treated like this. The CFA wanted the judge to make no order and allow access to continue at the discretion of the CFA. The social workers (three of them) said that it was not possible as they could not force a child to see her father if she did not wish to. My client’s argument was that every time he spoke to his daughter, he had a perfectly good time and she was clearly happy with him and if she now has to be dragged kicking and screaming to see him, there is clearly some problem but the CFA were not dealing with whatever that problem is. They were absolutely adamant however that they would not fix even 10 minutes for my client to have a Skype conversation with his daughter because they would not force the daughter to do something she clearly did not want to do. My argument that we were talking about a 5 year old child whose father was being systematically excluded from her life fell on deaf ears.
The matter proceeded to hearing and the judge was extraordinarily critical of the manner in which the CFA had dealt with my client. He could not however make any order and the matter was put back for a few weeks. Within 24 hours I received a letter confirming details of two access meetings that are to happen before the next visit to court.
Let me go back to what the website says. The CFA is the “dedicated State agency responsible for improving wellbeing and outcomes for children”. If that is the aim, the CFA are failing miserably and their predecessor organisations have failed miserably in the past.
It is a sobering thought to think that 15 or more professional people, including professional foster parents, are being paid well to ensure that a genuine caring and dedicated father such as my client is being kept away from his young daughter. The daughter will suffer and the father is definitely suffering. It seems to me that the CFA will improve the “wellbeing and outcomes for children” provided their actions are exposed in a regular and very blunt manner in a court even if that court is held in secret. Shame on the Child & Family Agency!