Care Orders for seven children where sexual abuse alleged

Summary

A District Court in a rural town made Care Orders for varying lengths of time for seven children ranging in age from 17 to two and a half, following allegations of physical and sexual abuse.

The proceedings, which lasted for about eight months in all, were sparked by an allegation of sex abuse by one girl [child B] against her father, but when the children were taken into care medical evidence emerged that another child [child C] in the family had been anally raped. He alleged that a young relative had committed the offence.

The oldest child [child A] also said there had been domestic violence against the mother and some of the children. The parents both denied all the allegations, though they accepted that the third child had been abused by someone outside the immediate family.

A year earlier the mother had drawn the attention of the school to the fact that he was being bullied and sexually taunted on the halting site where they lived. The social work department had been contacted, but they told the court they understood the problem had reduced and there was no further intervention.

The manager of the residential centre where this child now was, and where he has to be attended by two adults at all times, said: “I have managed this centre for nine and a half years and he is one of the most traumatised children I have seen. If he does not learn to regulate his behaviour he is likely to engage in serious criminal behaviour. The extent of his problems could not be from one event, but over a period.”

The court also heard that there was no specialist unit for assessing child sex abuse in this part of the country, and none of the children had been assessed by such a unit. A social worker who had had a short placement in such a unit concluded that the girl B’s allegations about having been abused were credible. Another social worker said that she thought another child had been sexually abused, but there was no professional assessment of this child.

The judge ruled that the four oldest children, ranging in age from 12 to 17, should be in care until they were 18, while he granted Care Orders for a year for their three younger siblings, pending assessment of the parents. The court will review all four full Care Orders in nine months.

The HSE had sought full Care Orders until 18 for all seven children, while their guardians ad litem (GALs) had proposed six-month Care Orders for the younger children to allow assessments of the parents to be carried out. All the children had been in care under an Interim Care Order for five months when the Care Order proceedings began and guardians ad litem (GALs) had been appointed to represent all the children.

The hearing

Paediatrician’s evidence

When the proceedings began the court agreed that evidence from a specialist in community paediatrics could be taken out of sequence. She gave evidence relating to the third child, C, where there had been allegations that he had been sexually abused by another minor who was related to him.

The doctor said she did not get a detailed history of the allegations in advance. There was no evidence of trauma and the child’s general health was good. She found a rash around his anus, along with two lesions, including a healed fissure and a bigger open lesion. There was a skin tag suggesting another healed lesion. While it was possible to get tears associated with constipation, the location of these lesions was indicative of abuse, which was 92 per cent likely in such circumstances. This was indicative of trauma in the anal area.

The child’s reflex dilation was also indicative of abuse. The rash gave rise to concern about herpes, but the tests for this virus proved negative. The boy showed no distress during the examination.

The parent’s barrister asked if these symptoms could arise from constipation, and she replied that the lesions would not be in this position from constipation.

Counsel for the parents said that the older two children, who had made allegations against their father, should come to court and be questioned about their allegations, which were denied. The judge said he would be very reluctant to have a child come to court to give evidence and be subject to cross-examination. If the child wanted to see him that was different, and he normally saw children in his chambers.

The Garda Inspector in charge of the criminal aspect of the investigation said it was detailed, complex and lengthy. He said he was concerned that the disclosure of certain matters during these proceedings, where individuals had not yet been interviewed or to whom allegations had not been put, might affect the Garda investigation.

The judge said that the proceedings before him required “a full disclosure of what we are enquiring into. If that prejudices the criminal investigation so be it. I will not proceed on the basis of a limited inquiry. Justice requires that I hear all the evidence.”

He said that a large number of children had made allegations. Only one of them had been referred to a child sexual abuse treatment clinic for assessment. “That surprises me. I don’t see how the allegations can be dealt with by the HSE without assessments.” He asked if the Child and Family Agency (CFA) was applying on this basis for full Care Orders for all the children.

The HSE barrister said it was. “What usually happens where there is a succession of Interim Care Orders or a short-term Care Order is that the investigation can be progressed. If a long-term Care Order is made it does not rule out reviews. We have to do the best we can with what we have at the moment,” he said.

First social worker’s evidence

The first social worker told the court there were seven children in the family, of which she was dealing with five. The school attended by the second child, B, now 14, contacted her to say she had made an allegation she had been sexually abused by her father since she was 11. She also said she was beaten by him and was afraid to go home.

The social worker said the girl presented as very credible. She was anxious and upset. She described numerous occasions when her father kissed her and put his tongue in her mouth. She had told her best friend who said she should tell the school counsellor. She also read a magazine and saw a TV programme about a father abusing a daughter.

She said her uncle, to whom she was close, had recently left the halting site where the family lived and she didn’t feel safe there any more. Her parents thought her uncle could have done something to her. She was worried about the implications of what she had said, and that the family would be split up. She said her siblings had been physically abused and she was worried her sisters would be sexually abused.

The team leader contacted the Gardai and accompanied them to the halting site to get all the other children of the family who were taken into care. Some went into a residential placement and others into a foster home. There was not enough room for them all in the foster home.

The girl never retracted her allegations and was very consistent. She also disclosed her sister had been sexually abused by her father, and gave further details of physical abuse. She said her father was on a lot of medication and maybe did not know what he was doing. She was very aware she was not believed on the site, but was very determined in her story. She was doing well in school and was very involved in sport.

The mother did not believe the girl’s allegations, and this was her attitude during access visits. Other relatives also told her they did not believe her. She was hugely upset by this, and eventually said she did not want to see her mother at access visits. She felt very rejected by her mother and hoped they would be reconciled in the future.

The social worker applied an assessment of child sexual abuse to the child, and her presentation was appropriate to the assessment. The social worker said she saw no motivation for her making it up.

She said the girl had no access with her father at the moment, as there was a Garda investigation under way. The judge in an earlier hearing had said there should be access. The girl wanted to confront her father and then never see him again. She felt he would admit the abuse. The social worker felt this was not appropriate.

The father met the other children. The eldest son, A, had written a letter to him. He said his father asked him in a phone conversation to get B to change her story. He had a visit from his parents who told him to tell B to stop telling lies. The father was abusive towards the social worker during an access visit with the younger children. He told the children they would be home soon.

The father had also turned up at a local Garda station and threatened to set himself alight because social workers would not let him see his children. He was then admitted voluntarily to psychiatric hospital afterwards.

The social worker met A weekly. He had talked to B about her disclosures and asked his mother about them, and she said she did not believe them, their father was an innocent man. He said his father was physically abusive to him and his siblings, and also beat their mother. He said his father had tried to get him involved in criminal activity. He did not want to see his father any more and said he was afraid of him.

He was very sporty and very applied in school, and wanted to go on to third level.

The third child, C, (about whom the paediatrician had given evidence) was very anxious when he came into care and showed very worrying behaviour. He was very sexualised, attempting to touch care staff in their private parts and urinating down the stairs. He had been moved to a high support unit for children suspected of having been sexually abused.

His behaviour was much more concerning than that of the other children. He had nightmares and flashbacks and a lot of fear of being sexually abused. He spoke of further sexual abuse of three young relatives, including anal penetration. He said his older cousin had raped him over a period of two or three years. He said another cousin was also involved and the boy had said he would kill him if he told anyone. He also spoke of domestic violence and physical abuse at home.

His behaviour deteriorated when he was told he was going to have visits with his father. He had to leave the residential centre, he was threatening staff, biting them, saying he would make false accusations against them, made sexual comments to other residents so it was felt his presence there was not safe for these children. He was moved to another centre. Two staff had to be with him all the time. He openly masturbated in front of staff and urinated on a staff member. He had said: “I know I will do something to a child.”

He had calmed somewhat recently and had had an access visit with his parents. He gave his mother the names of cousins who had abused him. When asked why he did not tell her he said he was afraid his father would hit him. At a later access meeting his mother told him she had approached a cousin who had denied the abuse, but she believed him (C).

He had been assessed by a psychologist who said he was suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder and emotional dis-regulation. The psychologist thought the only suitable therapy for him was in the UK. He would need committed, dedicated psychotherapy over a period of two to three years.

Asked why his behaviour was like this, the social worker said sexual abuse, physical abuse at home, witnessing domestic violence, meant he mistrusted everyone, especially men and especially younger men.

The boy said he would like to go home and live with his mother and for his father to “go to jail”.

The social worker said she was also responsible for the two youngest children, girls aged four and two and a half. The older one had referred in an access visit to her father hitting the children “with a stick”.

She said she was very concerned that the father posed a serious risk to the children and the mother did not accept this, which meant she could not keep them safe, though she had very obvious love for all her children. She also said she did not think the parents could protect C from his cousins. He needed long-term therapeutic intervention. Without it, he would be involved in criminal behaviour, substance abuse, relationship problems, etc.

The CFA barrister said there was another incident involving C that did not directly relate to these proceedings. The parents’ barrister said it did not suit the CFA to raise it. The CFA barrister said it related to an allegation made by C against a care worker. It had been investigated and there was a report, which would be produced in due course.

The judge asked the social worker if she had spoken to C’s teachers, and she said she had. His behaviour in school was so challenging he could only be in class for an hour a day. He had a special needs assistant.

The parents’ barrister asked if the mother was “a good mother trying to do her best,” and the social worker agreed she was. The barrister said there had been a lot of bereavement in her family, and she found it difficult to cope with all the children. He said: “[You say] the reason the mother is not being a protective factor is that she does not believe B. That is emotional abuse, according to you?”

“Yes,” replied the social worker.

He said her report referred to the father masturbating in front of B, but this had not been in the report when she had sought the Interim Care Order earlier. The social worker said that there was a Garda investigation going on and the father had not been questioned at the time.

The parents’ barrister read from interviews with the children in which A said: “No-body ever got hurt at home” and C said: “We never get hurt. If we do something wrong Daddy says to go outside and calm down and take a drink of water.” “Isn’t that exactly what people learn in parenting courses?” the barrister asked. The social worker agreed.

The parents’ barrister said that the parents were saying that no abuse was committed and the mother will not accept that the father did what he was accused of. It was put to the mother the previous July that if she accepted he did abuse the daughter the social work department would work with her with the aim of returning the children. “At its kindest it’s an ultimatum, ‘If you believe B, the kids are going back, if not they stay in care’.”

The judge said he [the barrister] was exposed to the black and white world of criminal law, child care law was not black and white. He asked the social worker if it was possible for the mother to support B without believing her. “Not really,” replied the social worker. The social work department felt she could not protect the children if she did not believe them.

The parents’ barrister raised the question of the children’s uncle, the father’s brother, who had come to live beside the family on the site following the break-up of his own relationship. The barrister said B was in love with him, wrote him love letters and Valentine cards. “The day after he left the site she made allegations to get out of the site. Did that not merit some investigation?”

The social worker said the girl said her uncle loved her. “Was he having sex with her?” asked the barrister. “She said he would never do such a thing.”

“It’s the elephant in the room,” said the barrister.

“Jumping from a Valentine card to sex is a long jump,” the judge commented.

“The parents feel there is a connection between him leaving and the next day she made the allegations. She told her mother she was going to lock herself in the caravan,” the barrister said.

Barrister: “Had you any concerns as a professional about an inappropriate relationship, that [the girl] was in love with him?”

Social-worker: “No.”

Asked by the judge if she had explored this relationship with the girl, she said she had and the girl said he would never do anything like that, and this reply was credible.

Asked if the girl had been referred to a psychologist, she said she had been but she chose not to engage with the psychologist.

Summarising the risks to the children, she said these were: on-going sexual abuse, physical abuse from the father and the mother’s refusal to support the children. The conclusion was that the father and mother were unable to provide a safe environment for the children.

The parents’ barrister told the court that the social worker said the mother was unable to be emotionally available to the children because she could not control her emotions at access. She was very upset because her children were taken away and the children were very upset. It was very emotionally charged.

He said it took the judge who had heard the ICO application earlier to direct access with the parents. Almost as soon as it was arranged the CFA suspended access. “The father told the children they would be going home. We suspended that access,” the social worker replied.

Barrister: “Why was the mother’s access suspended?”

Social worker: “We needed to be sure it was in a safe arena where the father would not turn up and disrupt it after he had turned up at the Garda station with petrol threatening to set himself alight.”

Asked what A believed of what his sister had told him, she said she had not asked him. “For all you know she could have told him she was raped,” the barrister remarked.

“There was a Garda investigation going on,” the social worker said.

“Every time I ask you why you didn’t pursue a line of inquiry you say you didn’t because there was a Garda investigation. From the parents’ point of view we really don’t know what the allegation is beyond what was said last March, forced kissing and masturbation,” said the barrister. “I am amazed if this is the height of the evidence, that the Gardai are still involved.”

Asked by the barrister if she dealt with a lot of people from the Travelling community, she said she did not. “Are you not at a disadvantage then in not knowing where they are coming from?” the barrister commented.

He asked if it was not the case that B did not want to go home because she fundamentally disagreed with aspects of Traveller culture, like young marriages. The judge said this was not relevant. The barrister said that A was a happy boy, involved in sport etc. “Taking someone out of a halting site has to affect their thinking. He’s one of the local young fellows now,” the parents’ barrister said. The social worker said there was not a massive change in his sporting activity compared with home.

Asked by the judge where he was going with this line of questioning, the barrister said: “A huge amount of effort has gone into making these children happy with clubs, bikes, etc. Seven Traveller children have been brought from a condemned halting site and given all sorts of privileges. That has to be part of the mix.” He pointed out that the public health nurse and the local GP had said the mother was very good mother, and provided food, clothing and shelter for the children.

Asked about her qualifications in assessing child sex abuse, the social worker said her work in child protection included assessing child abuse. She had experience in assessment under supervision. The children lived outside the catchment area for the main specialist sex abuse assessment unit in that part of the country.

“You had a 14-week placement in this unit. Did you contact these units to ask them would they do assessments?”

She said she had not.

“If this was a case in the east of the country would there be a specialised assessment?” the barrister asked. “If it fell into the catchment area, yes,” the social worker replied. “You have little or no experience of dealing with Travellers and no outside expertise had been sought in relation to this case?” he said. “No,” she agreed.

The solicitor for one of the three guardians ad litem for the children put it to her that B had been accused of malevolently making up stories leading to the whole family being taken into care and was uncaring about the consequences. “This is not the girl I know,” the social worker said. “She is a sensitive, caring girl. It is ridiculous to suggest she made it up. We did explore whether someone else might have done these things. She was very upset that I was not believing her. She was adamant it was her father.”

She said the girl was very upset about everyone being in care and said she wished she had put up with the abuse so that the family would not be split up. She felt responsible for her siblings being in care. But she never retracted anything. She was concerned about her mother. All the children were very worried about their mother and her mental health.

Psychologists’ evidence

A CFA psychologist said she had met B, who was a pleasant and articulate young woman. She was resistant to any gentle exploration of her history. She made it clear she did not want to engage in therapeutic work, which she found too intrusive.

The psychologist also saw A, who had requested the meeting. He came across as very articulate and pleasant, he had a lot of concern about his siblings, especially C, who contacted him regularly by phone. He felt very protective about his younger siblings and responsible for them. He had a great desire for further education.

A second psychologist said she had seen one of the middle children, D, who had a number of placements break down. She had made a number of allegations against her foster parents, and was at present in a residential placement. She perceived herself as the family favourite and tried to prevent any negative information about her family being discussed. A lot of her presentation was not unusual for a child her age going into care and resistant to it. She made it clear she wanted to return home and believed she was going home. She refused to believe she may not return home and would not do anything that might jeopardise her return.

Second social worker’s evidence

The social worker for this child and the fifth child, E, said that their initial placement had broken down and they were moved to a residential unit with their older siblings. They became very upset at Confirmation and First Communion ceremonies. At the celebration afterwards the mother sang a song associated with the death of her sister, which the children found very upsetting and this caused chaos with all the children. It was very traumatic for the staff at the venue.

The child D also said she told her mother an uncle had “tried to sex me”. Asked if the CFA had assessed this allegation she said it had, but in this part of Ireland they did not have access to specialist units. There had been a joint interview between the Gardai and a social worker.

Asked by the judge if the CFA was involved in the Garda investigation, she said “Yes”. She agreed with the parents’ barrister that no such allegation [of sex abuse] had been made by the child relating to the parents. “Is this another ground [for seeking the care order]?” asked the barrister. The social worker said she would take instructions.

The judge said: “This is of enormous consequence for the respondents. It is also of enormous consequence for the children. The parents should know what case is being made here.”

The parents’ barrister said that these two children had seen an extraordinary change in their living circumstances, with new bicycles, hip-hop dancing, gymnastics etc. The social worker said that the foster parents had no children of their age, and thought the children needed to mix with their peers, so they arranged these activities. She said that E was still insisting she wanted to go home, despite these activities.

Asked about the professions of the foster carers, she said she could not identify them. “They are not unemployed Travellers from a halting site?” asked the barrister. “No.”

Barrister: “The parents were never in a position to provide every conceivable privilege or luxury to their children.”

Social worker: “I think what is provided for the children is what other children of their age have.”

The judge pointed out that the child’s school report was very good. “She didn’t achieve that in two or three months in foster care. Her mum and dad played a role in that,” he said.

Asked why the father still did not have access to his children, the social worker said that the Gardai said while they were conducting their investigation they could not address the issues with the father, and they could not offer access until then.

She said that the department was also worried about the reaction of the mother to D’s claim she told the mother of abuse by an uncle. The mother seemed more interested in the possibility that B may also have been abused by this uncle [rather than her father] than in comforting the child who mentioned the abuse.

The barrister read from the social work report which said that D showed “a melancholy … which suggests D might have been abused.” “What is the scientific basis for that?” he asked.

Social worker: “She presents as a happy girl but sometimes seems to be somewhere else. There is a sense it might have been abuse.”

Barrister: “Could it be consistent with missing Mum and Dad?”

Social worker: “That would be another reason for being sad, yes.”

Barrister: “What more can these parents do? The reality is that your mind is made up and you reject everything positive. Do you accept at all that you are interpreting every possible thing against them?”

Social worker: “I don’t accept that.”

The judge said: “The difficulty with an adversarial procedure is that cross-examination has to hone in on specific points while this is much more complex.”

The parents’ barrister asked about these children’s foster placement, which had been with a lesbian couple. The social worker agreed that D saw the relationship between the couple as affectionate, but E was not comfortable with it. The barrister said E had claimed that one of the foster carers had hit her and the HSE did not seem to take this seriously, yet it said she “minimised” a reference to her father hitting her.

The social worker said that the foster carer felt she could not keep E following the allegation, as she felt she would be vulnerable to further allegations.

The barrister also raised the suspension of the access with the children’s father “as a result of what happened at access”. The social worker said that after access the girls withdrew from the friendships they had formed and it was after this they made the allegations against the foster parents. They felt that the contact with the father had resulted in the breakdown of the placement. They were not blaming the father for this.

The solicitor for the GAL asked would not be better for these children to have the father engage in assessments, E to go into care for six months and that she accept this. The social worker replied that full Care Orders do not mean that children remain in care until they are 18. “We would work with the mother and father for reunification.” She said there was no evidence the father would work with the social work department on assessments, and she would be concerned about another six months’ insecurity for E.

The GAL solicitor asked what counselling services were offered to the parents, and the social workers said that the mother had sourced her own counselling. There was a local service for risk assessment, which assessed the risk of sexual offending.

Asked about the assessment of D in relation to sexual abuse, the social worker said it was felt her allegations were credible. The child did not want to dwell on it. It was felt that art therapy was the way to go with her.

The social worker agreed with the GAL solicitor that there was a high level of hygiene at home with these children and that there had been no neglect. She said the concern was over the allegation of sexual abuse against the father and the mother’s denial.

Asked about a care plan, the social worker said that the care plan came after a Care Order was made.

Assessment

The judge said: “There is an issue I want to explore. I can see why more assessments are required and I can see why the father is reluctant to engage because he seems to have it in his head he would have to admit liability that he did certain things. I really think an assessment needs to be done where he adheres to his position he’s an innocent man. We need to get over the hump of this. I want there to be a discussion on how. I’m not making a decision on guilt here.”

The parents’ barrister said it had been suggested that a HSE unit dealing with sex abusers carry out an assessment. In a report this unit described its work as “sex abuse treatment and assessment for adults who sexually abuse”. There might be progress if someone other than this unit carried out the assessment.

The CFA barrister said that he did not see a “hump” at all. The assessment of an adult must come behind the safety of the children.

The GAL solicitor said it was being suggested that you get your full Care Order first and get your assessments later. That was not what happened in other areas. The welfare of the relationship between the parents and children had to be considered. The court had to go through a balancing process. If orders were made without assessments they would be unsafe.

The parents’ barrister said that there was already a report from the local service for sex abusers that the father was a threat to children and adult females without ever having seen him. The lawyers agreed to discuss this further outside the court. During the discussions, they identified a private assessment service that might be acceptable to the father.

Residential centre manager’s evidence

The manager of the specialist residential centre where C was moved after his first placement was terminated told the court he was sexually overt on a daily basis. He became increasingly aggressive with attacks on other residents. He had a perception they were out to get him. He assaulted them and invited them to perform sexual acts. There were very little boundaries in his behaviour with staff, and he was particularly anxious around male members of staff, wondering would they hit him or rape him.

“He is an extremely traumatised young person,” she said. He shared information about his own alleged abuse with everyone. “He probably re-traumatises himself. He would re-enact the abuse when he was anxious, in graphic detail. He had flashbacks. He talked about being locked in huts, being in fear.” He cornered staff, groped them and prevented them from leaving. He found it difficult to engage in the activities a young teenager would normally be interested in.

“Unless he gets help as he goes through puberty his future will be very concerning,” she said. “We need to help him understand his behaviour before it becomes associated with arousal because of puberty. He’s a lovely child who fills the house with laughter a lot of the time. But he can’t sustain that. There is a danger this child will be lost.” He was unable to engage in the therapeutic process, he needed to know he was in a stable and secure placement for a period of time.

Referring to the scale of the problem, she said: “I have managed this centre for nine and a half years and he is one of the most traumatised children I have seen. If he does not learn to regulate his behaviour he is likely to engage in serious criminal behaviour. The extent of his problems could not be from one event, but over a period. He would have been sore, he would have been hurt.”

She said he had medical problems, including anal haemorrhage from an anal tear and back pain which he said was a historic injury from a TV being thrown at him by his father. He needed psychological and psychiatric intervention. The parents’ barrister said that it was denied his father had thrown a TV at him.

Team leader evidence

The social work team leader said that a year earlier there had been a referral from the principal in the children’s school, who said the mother had told her that C was being bullied and sexually harassed on the halting site. She had talked to the mother and C in the school. After a period they told her that matters had greatly improved.

Asked what services were made available to the mother, she said counselling was offered, but there were issues around domestic violence and she declined. Later the mother accessed counselling from a voluntary organisation. Asked about assessment of child sexual abuse, she said there were no specialist services available in this area, but trainers were brought in from specialist units to give training courses to staff.

She said she had experience of working with Travellers and Traveller organisations, and had worked with this and other families on this site providing child care and adult education services.

The team leader’s conclusions relating to this family were concern about the allegations of sex abuse of B and C, and the fact that the mother was aware of the allegations concerning C but the abuse continued. This raised questions about the ability of the parents to provide safety for him. There were the disclosures of the three oldest children of physical abuse by the father and domestic violence in the family home, and the parents’ absolute denial of everything except the abuse of C. There was no safety for any of the children in this environment, so the CFA was seeking full Care Orders for all seven children.

In relation to the children’s own wishes, there was a huge responsibility to listen to these children, but the CFA also had a responsibility for their interests, which might be different to their wishes, she said. Children only made disclosures when they felt physically and emotionally safe doing it.

Asked to comment on the GAL’s proposal, she said this was for full Care Orders for the four older children, with six months’ Care Orders for the three younger children, during which parental assessments would be carried out. She felt that there was evidence that the environment posed a huge risk for the younger children as well. The CFA always kept in mind the objective of working with the parents towards reunification, with reviews every three months for two years, then every six months for two years, and then annual reviews.

The parents’ barrister asked her whether, following the mother’s allegations relating to the abuse of the C, the HSE had gone to the site to investigate or informed the Gardai. The team leader said they did not, as they understood the mother did not want social workers on the site. The meetings were in the school.

“Her wishes are irrelevant,” the barrister said. “When you get such an allegation your obligation is to investigate. When B makes an allegation – Bang! The mother reports her son was being sexually harassed and nothing happens for a year. You are the HSE. What did you do between her telling you [about the abuse of C] and you taking the children into care after B’s allegation?”

The team leader said she understood the mother had concerns and was prepared to do certain things to ensure C’s safety.

Asked what evidence there was of harm to the younger children, the team leader said: “We can’t wait for evidence of harm. We have to look at the risks. We believe they suffered emotional harm by being exposed to domestic violence and witnessing C’s behaviour.”

Following legal argument about a document linked to a letter A had written to his father, the judge said he would see the two older children in his chambers the next day.

Father’s evidence

The father told the court he had started studying a third level course, he was well-respected by his community and was a good parent. He was “no angel” when he was younger, but he promised his wife to stay out of trouble, and he did. He gave up drink seven years ago and never touched drugs.

Asked by his barrister about his history of convictions, he said they were mostly public order offences and breaches of the peace, and had taken place when he was still drinking.

His eldest son, A, was always very bright and did very well in school, going on to secondary school. He was also very good at sport. He was never in trouble in school and was always in perfect health.

His daughter, B, also attended secondary school and was good academically, though not as good as A. In relation to social activities, he and his wife did not like her going to clubs. “In the Travelling community, especially with girls, we don’t like it. But she insisted and we had to let her go.”

He agreed the third child, C, was “in a bad place at the moment” and needed help, but he did not want him to leave the country for it.

He said C had told him another boy had hit him and done sexual things to him. They had reported it to the school principal. He was seen by a psychologist. “I think it was going on a long time before it was brought to my attention.”

Asked by his barrister if B did not see her path in life within the Traveller culture, including young marriage, he agreed, adding: “I wouldn’t force my sons or daughters to marry young. Do it after education, maybe 23 or 24. In the Travelling community you are seen as too old to marry at 25.”

He totally rejected the allegations made by B that he had forced her to touch his private parts or to kiss him. “I go over and over and over why the allegation was made. I know she was very, very fond of my brother.”

He said B used to hang around with this uncle when he was in the halting site for three years. The day after he left the site they went to collect B from school as usual and were told to wait. She did not appear and then about five gardai appeared along with a social worker who said B had made an allegation and was being taken into care. Following this the gardai arrived at the halting site and took all the children into care.

He repeatedly denied allegations made by B as her statement was read out to him. Asked if he was ever physically abusive to A and C he said he would sometimes give them a slap with the back of his hand.

Asked if he would attend an assessment, he said not if the assessment unit had anything to do with people who committed sexual violence. “I might consider it if it was away from the HSE,” he said.

Mother’s evidence

The mother told the court that her third child, C, was “raped by some cousins”. “I brought him to the doctor and his backside was bleeding. The doctor told me it was worms. [The father] brought him to [local hospital] Casualty and they said it was worms and gave him cream.”

She said the eldest child, A was close to her and his father, but she had not seen him for more than three months. Referring to her second child, B, who had made the allegations against the father, she said she and her husband had refused to allow her attend a Halloween disco shortly before she made the allegations. She was not allowed to do such things.

B asked her if she had believed the allegations against the father, and she told her she did not, she thought she was talking about the uncle. When she told her that the uncle and his partner were not getting on, the girl said: “Thank God they are not getting on. He will be back down to see me.”

The HSE barrister put it to her that when she went to the school to express her concerns about C she had referred to name-calling and bullying, not to rape. “I told the social worker that they were feeling up [C] and calling him names,” the mother said.

The judge asked her did she speak with the uncle.

She said her husband went to where he was now living and spoke to his brother, and he said he did not do anything to B. The father added: “I asked [my brother]. He was hesitant and said no. I asked him to give the Gardai a statement.”

Referring to what happened at the Confirmation ceremony, the mother said a cousin had told B to tell the truth and she [B] had said that the social workers would not believe her.

“Give me back my children,” she pleaded to the judge.

The solicitor for the GAL asked her whether there was any help she would like, any help she would ask for. She replied: “Whatever you decide to give.”

The guardian ad litem said she thought the older children needed full Care Orders until they were 18, but that the younger children should only be kept in care for a short period while further assessments of both them and the parents were carried out.

Making the Care Orders until they were 18 for the older children and the short Care Orders for the younger ones, the judge complimented the mother on the fine job she had made of rearing the two older children, whom he had seen earlier in his chambers, and who he said were bright, articulate and polite children.