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A mother and father have not been able to hold their toddler girl in their arms, or see her face to face, for a four month period since last Christmas due to Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions, a court has heard.

By Gordon Deegan

The girl – just over 18 months old and now walking – has been in care since she was three days old. AS part of a TUSLA, Child & Family Agency (CFA) Interim Care Order (ICO) arrangement, the toddler is currently in a placement with relations of the girl’s father.

The couple are allowed regular access to the child but this was reduced to weekly video clips and up to date photos of the girl during Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions.

A social worker told the Family Law Court in Ennis that due to Covid-19 restrictions, the couple were not able to hold their child or see her face to face from last December until face to face contact resumed out in the open air in the past couple of weeks.

This arose from TUSLA suspending face to face contact between parents and their children in care due to Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions.

The social worker told Judge Sandra Murphy: “The couple sometimes find it hard to abide by Covid 19 guidelines but it is taken into consideration that they haven’t seen their daughter or held their daughter since Christmas 2020.”

The social worker told the court that the girl’s father “has called unannounced on a daily basis to the home constantly seeking to see his daughter and didn’t comprehend the seriousness of Covid 19 and not putting his own daughter and his own mother at risk as well”.

She stated that “this caused a lot of tension in the paternal family and the father blamed the social work department over not being allowed to see his daughter during Covid-19. He appears to not understand the seriousness of Covid-19”.

Instead of face to face contact during Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions, the parents could have WhatsApp video calls with their daughter.

However, the social worker stated that the WhatsApp video calls were suspended by TUSLA due to the girl’s age and her not being able to engage within the calls.

The social worker stated that instead, the little girl would have access through weekly video clips and up to date photos of the girl.

The social worker stated that “the mother has abided by all access arrangements during Covid-19 and has been pro-active sending back video clips so that the child can recognise her voice”.

The social worker stated face to face access has resumed in the open air in the past couple of weeks and is going well.

At such face to face access in the open air, physical contact, including holding the baby by the parents, is allowed.

The social worker stated over the next two months, each parent will be allowed one hour access each week. She stated that the access will be Covid-19 compliant “so that on the days it is raining, unfortunately we won’t be able to accommodate face to face contact and we would be back to video clips and weekly photos and the days that are dry we would be back to face to face”.

The social worker stated that there can be flexibility around this and will be reviewed. The social worker stated that the girl continues to thrive and is doing very well in her placement and is meeting her milestones.

Solicitor for the CFA, Kevin Sherry was seeking an extension of an Interim Care Order (ICO) for the girl to allow parental capacity assessments of the parents be carried out.

The girl was initially a voluntary placement after she was three days old and ICO proceedings were required last year by the CFA.

It was not stated in court in what circumstances the initial ICO was made.

Judge Sandra Murphy extended the ICO for two months to allow the parental capacity assessments take place.

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