Edgar & Inglis and ANOR 2015 FamCA 228

The child was aged 6 years at the time of the hearing, and had been previously cared for by the mother, father and paternal grandmother.  The mother was aged 16 years when the child was born, and the parents were living in the grandmother’s house at the time.  The parents separated a few week after the child was born, and both had re-partnered.  The child had been cared for by the grandmother for 3.5 years from the age of 3 weeks.

The child protection department had monitored the child’s welfare as the mother had been unable to cope and there was concern about neglect.  The mother’s own parents had an extensive history of substance abuse, neglect and violence.  Initially the department supported the grandmother being the primary carer, with the mother having supervised access.  This arrangement occurred despite the department finding that the grandmother’s house was of a very low hygienic standard (environmental neglect).  In time the mother participated in rehabilitation programmes and her parenting capacity improved and a reunification plan was developed and was implemented via an agency.

The grandmother objected to the reunification plan and applied for a change of orders so that the child returned to live with her.  The grandmother cited information that the child was upset on returning from time with the mother, and that bruises had been observed.  The grandmother wanted the mother to consult on topics such as arranging for the child to have a haircut (decisions about daily welfare).  Tensions emerged between the three parties.

The mother submitted a report from her treating psychologist whom she had seen 29 times after being referred for anxiety and inability to manage emotions, depression, self-harm and dysfunctional relationships.

The judge found that a report by a family assessor was of little assistance as the report did not address the topic of the child’s attachment to the three parties.  The judge described the methodology used by the assessor as flawed as the assessor reflected opinions expressed by parties involving allegations and counter-allegations, and provided few observations on critical topics.  The assessor was unable to give reasons for recommendations.  The judge gave no weight to recommendations made by the assessor (expert evidence unsatisfactory).

The judge found that the child was attached to the mother and grandmother.  The judge found that the child spending significant time with all three parties caused serious issues for the child as the child was exposed to parental conflict.  The father and grandmother did not support the child developing a meaningful relationship with the mother.

The judge did not change the parenting orders.  The judge made a specific order for the father and grandmother to encourage the child to use the term Mum to refer to the biological parent, and to cease using this term to refer to the child’s stepparent (specific order name for stepparent, restrained).