A father who had admitted responsibility for causing serious head injuries to his infant son failed in his attempt to get access to him at a child care hearing in a rural town. The District Court judge heard evidence from a social worker that a senior clinical psychologist had recommended the father have no access with his son due to concerns that the infant could be re-traumatised.
Even though the infant was only three months old, the court heard that memories of the trauma could be triggered by the sight, smell, or sound of the father. The infant had suffered severe trauma which had almost resulted in his death and his brain needed time to heal because of his physical and psychological injuries.
A social worker from the Child and Family Agency said the mother had supervised access to the infant and the father had supervised access to two older children. She said the parents had not come to the attention of the social services prior to this assault which occurred while the father was feeding the infant. She said the baby had suffered very serious injuries but there was a possibility of some physical improvement.
Both parents, who were represented by solicitors from the Legal Aid Board, consented to a four month extension of the Interim Care Order. The court was told that the father’s access to the two older children was supervised by his extended family. A forensic assessment of the father was being made and his solicitor said he would be guided by the advice of the experts. The CFA solicitor said her information was that the relationship between the parents had now ended.
The social worker said the father had supervised access with the infant in hospital after he had admitted responsibility for the injury. “He was allowed to hold the baby during one visit. I was disturbed because the baby was uncomfortable. It didn’t feel right that he was feeding the baby as the injury had occurred when he was feeding him,” she said. “We don’t know how the baby is feeling”.
The CFA solicitor said the injury was “at the extreme end and we don’t know what damage has been done. We are looking for a short order at this stage. We need to do the forensics.”
The judge said he could see where the social worker and the psychologist were coming from and they were giving “a blank No” (to access) at this stage. “At another level, I won’t accept a blank No from someone who has never met the man or the child. It’s fine on a short term basis but I won’t accept it on the next occasion.”
He asked the CFA to examine other access options for the father such as being able to observe his son. “I have dealt with these cases before and there tends to be high drama but there has to be an element of where we go forward.”
He said the injuries were serious and it was one of the worst tragedies to happen but one had to remain calm. He said no access at all was “somewhat harsh” and there might be ways where there could be access of which the child was not conscious. He asked if there was a specialised unit to deal with this type of situation.
“It is becoming more common and it crosses all social and economic boundaries. It doesn’t always come from people with a history,” he said. The father’s solicitor said an assessment of the father was being done because his action had been uncharacteristic. The judge said a total ban on access was too severe. “It’s judge and jury,” he commented. The father’s solicitor said he would be attending the infant’s christening shortly and the CFA solicitor said access would be reviewed on a weekly basis.
The judge granted the CFA’s application for an extension of the Interim Care Order for four months.