Vulnerable Northern Ireland mother loses care battle

Family Law|July 29th 2015

The High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland has rejected a mother’s bid to have her two year-old daughter returned to her care.

The mother suffered from a mental illness called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Triggered by “severe recurrent childhood trauma” and sexual abuse, “her mind has shattered into fragmented states or personalities”. Additionally, she does not always remember what she has done after ‘switching’ between them. According to experts on the condition, some of those who have DID are eventually able to “revert to a single personality”, whereas others cannot.

Although the mother had never physically harmed her daughter, ‘M’, her therapist believed that she posed “significant on-going risk” to the girl’s safety. As a result, a local Health and Social Care Trust applied for a care order which would place M with her paternal grandparents. Their application was supported by the girl’s father, whereas the mother wanted her daughter back in her care.

Two specialist psychologists assessed the mother and both concluded that she “could not be M’s primary care giver”. They agreed that she had “a greater chance of progressing in her therapy if she is not caring for M”. One of the doctors noted that the Trust went to great effort to avoid separating the mother and daughter, but had been forced to intervene after the mother attempted suicide.

After reviewing the evidence, Mr Justice O’Hara said he was satisfied that the paternal grandparents would be able to “provide a stable and secure home for M”. He added that it was a good thing that a kinship placement was possible as it would keep the girl with her own family.

The judge ruled that a care order was “inescapable in all the circumstances” and approved the Trust’s plan. However, he made one amendment. The original plan called for the mother to see M once every four weeks. After discussion with M’s guardian this was changed to once every two weeks. Mr Justice O’Hara said that if the mother was restricted to seeing her daughter less than once a week, it would be “an excessive and unjustified interference with the rights of this family”. Therefore, he said that the care plan should be amended to reflect that.

Re M (A Child: Care Order: Mother With Dissociative Identity Disorder) is available to read here.

Photo of the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Northern Ireland by William Murphy

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