The story of three-year-old Billy

The Irish Association of Social Workers drew on its experience to provide the following children protection scenario, though it is not drawn from an actual case.


Image title

Family: Billy’s mother, Sarah, and his father have spilt; Billy has two older brothers in care. Sarah is caring for Billy and has begun a new relationship.

Case history: Sarah is a mum-of-three. She has a history of addiction. Two children are in care. Sarah, however, is caring for three-year-old Billy as she is engaged in an addiction treatment programme and presenting drug-free. Sarah and Billy were living in supported homeless accommodation but recently moved to private rented accommodation.

Initial concern: Billy’s brother's foster carer told social care services that Sarah was slurring her words when she called. Billy is in a crèche but is frequently late and has begun getting aggressive with other children. Billy's mum, Sarah, is involved in a new relationship with Andy, who she met at addiction services. They moved in together very quickly after meeting. Not much is known about Andy. Billy told staff at the crèche that Andy is ‘always shouting’ and that ‘mammy is always asleep’.

Case conference: Sarah attends a case conference with her social worker, social work team leader, principal social worker, public health nurse, key worker in supported accommodation, crèche worker, and addiction support worker. Key concerns discussed are that Billy is late to the crèche and says mammy is asleep a lot, there is little information in respect of Andy, and Billy’s dad is not engaging with social work services. Sarah has also given ‘dirty urines’, testing positive for benzodiazepam, but is generally engaging well in her addiction programme. Given the concerns, it is decided that Billy should be listed on the child protection register.

Child protection plan: A child protection plan for Billy states he must be on time to crèche, that Sarah must link with addiction services and give clean urines, seeks more information about Andy, and refers the case to family support and for a family welfare conference. A core group meeting will review progress in three months.

One month later: Sarah sustains significant injuries when Andy becomes violent towards her. Billy witnesses the incident. A neighbour calls Gardaí, who attend Sarah’s home and find her to be under the influence. Concerned for Billy’s welfare Gardaí check the child protection register and see that Billy is listed. On the basis of Sarah being under the influence Gardaí decide that Billy should be taken into care. Billy is placed in emergency care.

Click here to read The Detail's story on the gap in children at risk rates in both jurisdictions.

Click here to read The Detail's story on the gap in staffing numbers and the pressures facing child and family services in both jurisdictions.