A highly complex case which included a number of preliminary applications was heard on 22 days over five weeks. Interim Care Orders (under section 17.1 of the Child Care Act 1991) were finally granted for two young children who, according to their older siblings (Children A and B) in new disclosures, had been sexually and physically abused by their parents three years earlier. Assessments were ordered to be carried out while the Interim Care Orders were in place.
The older siblings, who were of primary school age, were already the subject of Full Care Orders since late last year following allegations of sexual abuse by an uncle. These allegations had been deemed credible by St. Clare’s, a child sexual abuse assessment and therapeutic centre.
The two younger siblings (Children C and D) had also been in care but had been returned home late last year under a Supervision Order. All four children had been found to have suffered neglect prior to going into care. There had also been domestic violence in the home and physical abuse as well as parental alcohol and drug addiction.
The allegations of sexual abuse concerning the parents from the two older children were recorded on DVDs by the Gardaí in a child specialist interview, in the course of preparing a criminal case against the uncle. There were a number of days of legal argument concerning the admissibility of the contents of the DVDs as evidence in the Care Order proceedings for the younger children.
Eventually the DVDs were found to be admissible. They were played to the court, and described abuse perpetrated by the parents on the children. The parents strenuously denied all the allegations of abuse, but the mother acknowledged that she had neglected the children when she was on drugs, which she had now ceased.
During the case differences emerged between the guardian ad litem for the two older children and the one for the two younger ones about whether or not the DVD evidence should be admitted. It was argued that this could jeopardise the therapeutic work being done with the older children.
Lawyers for the parents argued that, following the allegations on the DVDs, no additional conditions were placed on the Supervision Orders for the younger children and there was no corroborative evidence to support the allegations. It was pointed out that the older child who made the allegations was very angry with his parents and St Clare’s specialist child sex abuse unit had suggested this might explain the allegations.
The judge made Interim Care Orders and ordered that the credibility of the allegations be assessed, that risk assessments be carried out on the parents and that there also be a credibility assessment of the information-gathering process.
During the case, following a number of days’ legal argument, the court ruled against an assertion of public interest privilege by An Garda Síochána, who argued that the Garda who had interviewed the child should not give evidence in court. The judge rejected the claim of privilege on balance and said if he was compelled to call the witness to court he would do so, that he was prepared to issue a warrant. The following day the barrister for the Gardaí told the court the Garda child specialist interviewer would be in a position to give evidence.
On day seven of the inquiry, a witness statement pursuant to section 23 of the Children Act 1997 (which deals with the evidence of children) was issued and a redacted version of the DVD interview was agreed to be given to all the parties. The CFA was relying on the DVD interview of Child A only.
Two separate guardians ad litem were appointed for the children due to a possible conflict of best interests between the older and younger children. The original guardian was appointed for the older children (Guardian One) and a second one (Guardian Two) for the two younger children, the subjects of the ICO.
Guardian One brought a section 47 application to the court, asking that the section 23 disclosures (on the DVDs) not be made. He told the court that it could compromise the therapeutic process of the two older children in St. Clare’s. He felt non-disclosure was in their best interests.
The judge pointed out that the “whole argument last week was that disclosure was in the two younger children’s best interests”.
An application was also brought by the Child and Family Agency that the DVD should be admitted as evidence, though it was technically hearsay evidence.
Two days’ legal argument followed during which guardian One told the court that an ECO should have been applied for as the matter was one of extreme urgency concerning extreme abuse, both sexual and physical. He spoke of the further allegations/disclosures which were annexed in the back of the booklet prepared for an earlier ex-parte ICO application, which had been refused (an application for an ICO was then moved on notice to the parents). These were transcriptions by the foster carer of disclosures to her by children A and B.
The judge ruled that the DVD be admitted as evidence. The CFA had shown the court it was not in the child’s interests to give oral evidence or evidence by way of video link. At the conclusion of this application the CFA brought a late application for an ECO which resulted in children C and D going into voluntary care, where they remained for remainder of the inquiry.
The substantive hearing
After three weeks of discussing the legal issues, the inquiry proceeded, the DVD was shown and witnesses were called to give evidence. Evidence was heard from social workers, the parents, members of the Gardaí, the guardian (GAL) and a friend of the family.
During the viewing of the DVD in court, the father made threats against the life of the foster mother of Children A and B which he immediately retracted. The foster mother was informed of the threats and subsequently decided the children would have to leave her care. Within five days they were moved to a new and short-term foster placement quite far away. It was also too far away to attend therapy in St. Clare’s and their current school.
Child A was told of the sequence of events which led to the placement breakdown. The judge was concerned about the circumstances relating to the foster placement breakdown and asked for an inquiry to take place as to how it had occurred. He said he was “gravely concerned about the evidence he had heard”.
A further issue that emerged during the case was that St. Clare’s (St. Clare’s provides an integrated therapeutic assessment and therapy service for children where sexual abuse is a concern) could not assess the younger children as they themselves had not made disclosures – the allegations had come from their siblings, Children A and B.
St. Clare’s only assesses children where they have made disclosures themselves of having been abused. However St. Clare’s Unit had viewed the DVD and a letter written by A known as the “Why I’m Angry” letter and reported a concern as to a possible motivation of Child A to punish his father and mother.
The court heard evidence of when the older children’s allegations had first surfaced and whether there was any evidence of current abuse or neglect.
Following the hearing of the evidence, the court granted an Interim Care Order, which must be renewed after 29 days, during which the parents were to be assessed in order to establish whether they presented an on-going risk to the younger children. The children were also to be assessed in order to find out what their experiences had been, but the judge stressed that such assessment must be at the children’s own pace.
Garda specialist child interviewer
The first witness to give evidence in the inquiry was the specialist interviewer with An Garda Síochána, attached to the child protection unit. The redacted DVD was played (it had also been played the week previously during the section 23 application). The Garda explained what was happening at different points when the DVD was paused. Child A had made notes and brought them along. During the interview the Garda had gone through the notes with him.
DVD is played:
The Garda reads out A’s notes to him: “My mam and dad would force us to lick the parts on their body, my mum’s boobs, my dad’s willy, trying to make [C] and [D] touch their things too.”
The Garda told the court A told her he tried to stop it and said: “Mam, you can do it to me,” that his dad “tried to lick [D’s] fanny”.
The DVD revealed further revelations from A to the Garda concerning sexual abuse of the children by both parents, where he [A] told them to stop and do it to him instead. He said the parents also allowed them hit the younger children.
The Garda was satisfied that A knew what he was talking about when he said “fanny” and “willy”, that he meant vagina and penis. He understood what breasts and a bum were. The next section of the DVD described incidents of physical assaults of C and D by A, he was forced to punch them.
A: “Mam and Dad got a needle and stuck it in us and tried to stick it in to [C], do you know when junkies have a needle and they try to stick it in.”
A’s notes: “I’m angry because we’ve got no food and no help. The flat was full of poo on the door, walls and floor. I’m not afraid of Dad anymore, why did I have to mind [C] and [D]? “They used to hit me for no reason. You didn’t get us food at home. I had to rob the food. You didn’t care about us and yous never will. I’ve seen you have sex loads of times. Dad used to call us bad names. When we pood our pants and weed in our bed you didn’t clean it up and said how dirty we were.”
A tells the Garda that he had to sleep with no cover, he had given his to his siblings, he had to turn the mattress with poo around.
In his notes A states: “While you sat in bed you let us do what we wanted to do.” The DVD showed him telling the Garda his parents were in bed for nearly the whole day.
A’s notes: “You didn’t let me go to school (he missed nearly a whole year). You made me lie to [C]’s baby teacher, saying you were just around the corner, you were in bed, forced me to do stuff I didn’t want to do.”
The DVD ended.
The Garda told the CFA solicitor her impression of the interview was that A was quite clear and could answer specific questions, he pointed out when he did not know something. The level of information given was quite detailed. He was one of the first children she had dealt with (in seven years’ experience) who had disclosed such an amount of incidents in one family.
She told the barrister for Guardian Two that there did not appear to be a lie at any stage. She found A to be consistent, he did not deviate. He tried to play a protective role in order to make life easier for his siblings. The mother had not taken a protective role and the Garda felt there is a huge concern for the children’s safety.
Mother’s barrister: “Do you have a policy document which sets out a progression of scale of child abuse?”
The mother’s barrister said the child had been unclear in describing body parts, the Garda disagreed. The barrister told the court the mother denied any such conduct as described in the interview.
The father’s barrister asked the Garda about A’s motivation for the disclosures: “If in doing what he’s doing he gets his father arrested he is not afraid any more – do you think that this goes in any way to motivation?”
The Garda thought he was explaining why he was doing what he was doing.
Father’s barrister: “Does the fact they [the disclosures] are very extreme raise any red flags to you?”
The Garda said it did not. She also told the court that she had never heard all of these things together in any one case. Some children took their time to disclose things, they tended to work up to more serious things as time went on.
She told the judge the purpose of the interview with A was to obtain as much evidence as possible in relation to the disclosures he had made about incidents at home.
Allocated social worker for C and D
On day 18 of the 22-day inquiry, the social worker allocated to Children C and D told the court that a strategy meeting was held the day after the DVD interview was carried out. The meeting was attended by herself, the team leader, the principal social worker, the duty team, the area manager, the Garda inspector, the OARS family assessment service and the family support worker.
The social worker told the court that the normal course of events was to put a safety plan in place with the family and ask the alleged perpetrator to leave family home. But in this case both parents were the alleged perpetrators which ruled out the children staying at home, and the department could not rely on extended family members due to the uncle. Therefore it was in their best interests to be received into care while the investigation was conducted.
The social work department had redacted notes available to them and the history of the family background. They also had two reports from late last year from St. Clare’s. [These had been included as evidence in the care order hearing for Children A and B]. The social worker felt the children should be in a safe environment on an interim basis, in their best interests, while the assessment was being made.
She had received reports from the social worker in the private fostering agency, which disclosed child sex abuse (CSA) and physical abuse allegations against both parents. The nature of the acts alleged was similar to those alleged in the redacted DVD.
At this point a finding of fact in the full Care Order which was in place for the two older children was discussed. It was accepted that the allegations in terms of the mother and her brother were found to be credible. [A had seen his uncle on top of his mother in bed and they were both undressed].
The social worker told the court that when the two younger children had been in care the first time two years’ ago, the foster mother had reported concerns of sexualised behaviour. There had been no follow up and it had been managed by the foster carer, the behaviour had diminished after a few months of being in care.
The judge pointed out the social work department had previously had the opportunity to investigate and had not. The social worker told him that some sexualised behaviour in children was normal.
The Guardian Two barrister asked her if she would agree that “a particular problem with St. Clare’s is that they rely on disclosures only and don’t assess behaviours?” She agreed.
The social worker told the court the children and their parents had been reunified under a Supervision Order (SO) and the family had compiled with the conditions. Weekly urinalysis for the parents had been consistent and clear. Supports for the family included the family assessment service OARS, a family support worker, the public health nurse (PHN), the social workers, addiction counselling (YAP), Accord (marriage counselling), and, prior to reunification, parenting courses. A psychologist had also been involved in the past.
The father’s barrister asked if there had been any objective evidence from the agencies involved that gave support to the allegations on the DVD. The social worker said there had not been any.
There were 10 incident reports from the private fostering agency looking after the two older children that included physical and sexual abuse. These were admitted into evidence. Both parents denied the allegations made by both children in their entirety. These reports were compiled from disclosures the foster mother wrote down into a diary that Children A and B had told her. There was reference in one of the incident reports from early this year to a maternal aunt in relation to sexual abuse.
The father’s barrister asked why the social work department were not relying on B’s disclosures as well as A’s: “Could it be there was already a question mark around B’s propensity to lie?” she asked the social worker. The social worker said she was not aware of that.
The father’s barrister said there was a psychological report from 2012 which found B had a propensity to tell lies, which was the reason why the CFA was “not relying on his disclosures, though they are very similar to those made by A”.
The judge told the barrister she would have to call the relevant witness as the source of that assertion, if she wished to put it further.
The judge wanted to hear from the social worker what assessment of the risk was carried out by the CFA when Guardian Two raised concerns in court during the section 47 application. The social worker told the court that the assessment still stood but the pursuit of the Interim Care Order (ICO) was the department’s way of protecting the children. They had been monitoring the children and had been in contact with the support services, the agencies had “had no concerns of risk to the children”.
Raising the issue of coaching, the father’s barrister contended that A would see himself as a member of a minority prior to entry into care and the words and language used in the disclosures were not words that A would have been familiar with. The social worker pointed out that children have other influences and picked up words from peers, family were not necessarily the strongest influence.
Allocated social worker for Children A and B
The social worker for Children A and B told the court that she had developed the reunification plan from when the children went into care the first time. The parents had made huge changes while the department had worked with them, everybody had noticed that and the reunification plan with Children C and D had been working well. She said the parents did not get on with the foster mother for Children A and B [who had been in care for about 20 months before their full Care Order was made].
While the four children were in care, the mother had dealt with issues around taking medication, urinalysis and domestic violence.
The mother’s barrister asked the social worker about the boys creating lists of allegations. The social worker told her that the boys had kept a copy book to get the worries out of their heads onto paper and the foster mother had a significant incident report book. During the DVD interview the boys had felt it easier to read out of the copybook rather than say it face to face.
The ‘Why I’m Angry’ letter was discussed. Child A had agreed to write a letter to his mother, explained the social worker; it was to begin a line of communication between them. At the start of the year the first piece of the letter was written in St. Clare’s with his therapist. It was then completed in the foster carer’s home. The mother had read it in the presence of the social worker and had been very upset. The social worker then wrote a response for the mother who dictated to her as she was too upset to write at the time.
The court heard that within the letter items 1-14 on the list had been compiled in the therapeutic process in St. Clare’s and items 15-17 in the foster home.
The list was submitted to the judge and the content of the document read out in court:
1. I’m angry because we’d no food and got no help from yous.
2. When I told you about Uncle [X] we didn’t get treated nice,
3. The flat was full of poo, on the door, walls and floor,
4. They used to hit me for no reason or for nothing,
5. You didn’t get us food at home, I had to rob the food because that’s how mean yous are, you didn’t care about us and you never will,
6. I seen yous have sex loads of times,
7. Dad used to call us bad names,
8. When we pood in our pants or weed in our bed yous didn’t clean it up. How dirty yous were,
9. While you sat in the bed you let us do what we wanted to do,
10. You didn’t let me go to school,
11. You made me lie to [C’s] baby teacher and you said you were around the corner but you were in bed,
12. You used to bully me and the kids and little [C] when we did nothing wrong,
13. and force me to do stuff I didn’t want to do,
14. When I lived at home I was a slave,
15. Dad used to throw plates at me and hit our heads of the walls,
16. Why did you let [the uncle] do bad stuff to us?
17. I’m very disappointed.
The mother’s response was read out in court:
“Dear [A] I read your letter and it hurts but it’s true. I was taking drugs and tablets which made me lazy and I couldn’t cope, [I wanted to] become a better mother for yous, I always looked at your photo, it made me stronger, when it comes to [uncle X] I’m sorry, out of all of this, me and Da feel like we have lost you, we want you back on the visits, meet us once to try and explain our mistakes, from a mother to her son please, please meet me, I will never let you down again, I’m very, very sorry, please give me the chance to be the mother I never was … without you I am lost, love you, love you son, mammy and daddy, you’re our boy…”
The social worker told the court that during the Supervision Order she had requested to speak to Children C and D alone but was turned down. The house was clean with appropriate levels of clutter and nothing as previously described prior to the order.
She said after his siblings C and D were reunited with their parents, Child A was informed they were no longer taking drugs and drink, he was being told the house was clean and tidy. He was not aware that his Care Order was for three years and that there was a reunification plan for him as well.
The social worker said her plan was to do it step by step as he was an anxious child who worried a lot. He was refusing to see his parents, it was easier to work at a slow pace with A. He was “incredibly angry, the only thing he agreed was to write the letter, he didn’t want anything to do with his parents.” The guardian had told him that the two youngest children would not have been returned home if things had not improved.
The Guardian Two barrister asked the social worker if when she saw the “Why I’m Angry” letter, made at the start of this year, had it caused her to reassess the situation, did it cause alarm bells to go off? The social worker said no, she had been upset for Child A.
There had been an allegation that the father had shown A and B pornography. It was addressed with their father and denied, the social worker said.
Social worker for children C and D
The social worker for children C and D returned to court the next day to finish her cross examination. She told the court that all four children had originally come into care three years ago because of neglect. The sexual abuse allegation was grounding the current ICO application.
After the “Why I’m Angry” letter and before the DVD interview, there were sexual abuse disclosures made by Children A and B regarding their parents. The father’s barrister asked: “Specific new allegations that could impact on the infants at home, what specific steps did you take?”
The social worker said they continued to monitor the situation with the school and crèche and there was no indication of abuse.
Father’s barrister: “There was no further action taken other than what was already in place?”
Social worker for C and D: “No, we did continue to monitor, there was no indication of sexual abuse regarding [C] and [D], we linked in with services, family support and OARS.”
Father’s barrister: “If there were heightened concerns and these concerns weren’t raised, why wasn’t it put? They weren’t given an opportunity to deal with them?”
Social worker for C and D: “At the time I felt it was up to [A] and [B]’s social worker. It was about [A] and [B].”
Judge: “You related it to [C] and [D] and you are their social worker.”
Social worker for C and D: “Yes, judge.”
Father’s barrister: “You had heightened concerns that did not exist around the time the Supervision Order was put in place, surely they should have strengthened the conditions or added to them, would that not have been the first step to take?”
Social worker for C and D: “I’m not sure but that decision wasn’t made at that time.”
Barrister: “Would it not have been at least fair procedure to tell the parents you had heightened concerns and you wished to add to the conditions of the Supervision Order?”
Social Worker: “That decision wasn’t made at that time.”
The judge asked her if they sought to vary the Supervision Order, she told him they had not.
The father’s barrister pointed out that allegations about the children being made to eat Child D’s faeces had come out in incident reports from the private foster agency six weeks before the allegations on the DVD came out.
The social worker said she was aware of this and it had raised a concern and she had not ignored the allegation. It would be investigated, the paperwork had not yet been done for it and she had not met with the parents about it but would do so. The family support service had not been contacted, nor had the PHN, the GP or OARS, regarding the allegation of the faeces. The social worker added that they were historical allegations.
Father’s barrister: “Extreme incidents of physical abuse are noted in the incident reports … attempted stabbing of children with infected needles.”
The social worker told her it was not investigated to date. No timeline had been established for the allegations.
Father’s barrister: “The timing of the incidents, the area of the alleged sexual abuse by the respondent parents of all the children involved, in relation to that allegation, the timing that is being alleged would have been the preliminary and most basic step to take in assessing the credibility of the allegations.”
The social worker told her the timeline would be investigated. The parties then tried to establish the timeline of the historical alleged events A discussed in the DVD and a timeline of three years ago was generally agreed upon.
The father’s barrister asked if the allegations could have taken place with so many supports in place for the family with people from different agencies in the house seven days a week.
Social worker: “We have closely monitored families for 10 years and didn’t realise sexual abuse was going on.” It was possible this happened with all the services in place, she told the court.
The mother’s barrister told the social worker that her process was faulty, she had not told the parents, she did not follow procedures in the handbook (Child Protection Guidelines) and then she asked the court for an Interim Care Order.
The judge later pointed out that he was operating under Section 17 of the 1991 Child Care Act, which required that there be “reasonable grounds” for making an order.
There were reasonable grounds for concern that the children may be at risk, said the social worker. They had “no evidence at the moment of assault, ill-treatment or neglect since they moved back home. Or that their health, development and welfare have been avoidably impaired or neglected, but is likely to be if the CSA allegations are credible.”
The mother’s barrister said: “The threshold is reasonable cause to believe that any of the circumstance mentioned in 18.1 a, b or c, that the child has been or is being assaulted, ill-treated, neglected or sexually abused since their return.” There was no evidence, said the social worker, they did not know whether it “is being impaired or neglected” which was why they needed to assess and investigate. Allegations of child sexual abuse against two very small children needed to be taken seriously.
The social worker believed there was a risk and there was confirmed interfamilial abuse regarding the uncle and Children A and B.
The mother’s barrister said the standard they were meeting was vague and insufficient, sexual abuse was serious abuse but there were legal standards that had to be met and evidential standards.
The barrister asked about the likely impact on Children C and D if they were taken out of the family home. The social worker said on balance she favoured removing them to a foster placement they knew really well, as against sexual abuse they could be facing. She was not diminishing the effects of being removed.
While the mother’s barrister put it to the social worker that she had no objective evidence, the judge said it went to the balancing of risk. The social worker said: “On balancing the rights of the parents and the rights of the child, the rights of the child were paramount here.”
Regarding C and D making disclosures, the social worker said children rarely disclosed, it took a long time. She did not know how long it would take for an assessment of the children and they had not made any disclosures so St. Clare’s would not assess them.
The father told the court that when his four children had gone into care for the first time three years ago he was not at all times in full control of his senses. He had severe depression, he took prescribed medication and slept mostly, he took other drugs – sleeping tablets he bought on the street and “dabbled in other drugs”, but he never used needles.
He discussed the services and supports he had engaged with in order to be reunified with Children C and D and how it had been difficult to juggle everything. He told the court that the foster mother was “a bully and a racist”, she would not let children A and B use his surname which was a Traveller surname and would punish them if they did so.
He told the court she had said to his children: “I don’t want anyone to know you’re Travellers, you’re barred from saying it, you’ll be punished if you say you’re from the Traveller Community. She[said she] had friends and neighbours coming in.”
His barrister went through the allegations with him.
Father’s barrister (FB): “Around the children being forced to eat poo, what is your response to that?”
Father: “No, that’s disgusting, that never happened.”
FB: “With regard to you inflicting injury on [A] and attempting to inflict injury on the other children by sticking a needle in them is that true?”
Father: “No, I’ve never handled a syringe in my life, I have a phobia of needles.”
FB: “With regard to the sexual abuse that is outlined on the DVD what was your response initially when you saw that?”
Father: “Disgusted, shocked, confused, like I was looking at my child but it wasn’t his words, I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, [A] doesn’t talk like that.”
FB: “What do you mean, he used words like bum, boobs, fanny.”
Father: “No way in this entire world, he would not come up with anything like that.”
FB: “Did those events like you licking those body parts on the children, did that type of action of committing that kind of sexual abuse happen?”
The father said he was disgusted, that it was implanted into his son’s brain and he had been watching Love/Hate on TV in the foster carer’s house which had “all kinds of weird stuff in it”.
FB: “Was any part of the disclosure made on the DVD true?”
Father: “Not one bit of it, that’s a hand on my heart and a cross around my neck.”
His barrister then went through the different incident reports with him in order to get his response to the allegations made in each one.
FB: “The first incident report says that children’s mother would throw them out onto the balcony and he would come out and hit them with a big wooden stick on the head, is that a true statement?”
Father: “No, the child would be dead if that happened.”
FB: “Mum and Dad used to burn their clothes. You gave them wee to drink in a glass and said it was pineapple juice.”
Father: “No, I never drank pineapple juice in my life or mentioned it.”
FB: “Did you observe [your partner] putting poo on bread and forcing the children to eat it?”
Father: “Jesus no, that’s fantasy talk.”
FB: “You put washing-up liquid in a cup and you forced the boys to drink it?”
Father: “No, that’d kill them.”
FB: “They had to eat dog food, did you ever give your children dog food?”
Father: “No, no, no! [A] had a small little puppy.” The father explained there was dog food in the flat for the puppy.
FB: “There’s reference to being put out onto the balcony in their nude, is that true?”
FB: “Dad would bend the boys over and grab them by the head and knee them in the face. Did you ever do that?”
Father: “Merciful Jesus, no.”
FB: “Dad would put the ring on the cooker and push A’s head into it and sometimes his hands? Did you ever do that?”
FB: “That you sprayed a spray into his eyes.”
FB: “Did you ever put his head into the washing machine?”
FB: “Did you ever threaten to turn on the washing machine and put [A] in it to kill him?”
Father: “No. It’s my child that’s meant to have said this?”
FB: “Can you confirm or deny this scenario, – his mum and dad would eat porridge in front of him and they would have to eat poo out of D’s nappy.”
Father: “All parts of that are a lie.” He also said they do not eat porridge.
FB: “Did you force [B] to take drugs?”
FB: “Did you force [B] to lick his mum’s body parts.”
FB: “Did you force [C] to lick your ‘willy’?”
The father’s barrister said he had not before being made aware of the allegations which was why she was going through them.
FB: “Did you get hold of [C’s] head and smash it through a glass picture?”
FB: “Did you ever try to run [C] over with your car?”
Father: “With my car? I didn’t have a car.” He said he had not had a car in four years.
FB: “The same allegations are made by [A] with regard to the food.”
FB: “[A] adds that you added drugs to the poo, is that correct?”
FB: “Are any of the allegations in relation to [A] true, to [B] that [A] made, to [C] or [D] by [A]?”
The father said that Child B was only living with them for six months before he went into care for the first time three years ago, prior to that he was living with his maternal grandparents.
FB: “With regard to the sexual abuse by you and their mother on all four children how do you respond to those allegations?”
Father: “That’s no such thing whatsoever.”
FB: “From the time that [A] went into care could [A] have been aware of the words used on the DVD?”
Father: “No, he had an accent like mine. The boy on the DVD looked like my son, looked like [A], [A] was a calm relaxed child, that child was jumping all over the place, it’s not something he’d even know, [A] didn’t have a clue what a syringe was.”
The father told the CFA solicitor A would have got that language from the foster family.
CFA solicitor: “Where do you think the statements and allegations came out of?”
Father: “Anger, the social worker told us he is really, really angry.”
The CFA solicitor asked the father if he remembered all of the period of time he was drinking and taking anti-depressants when the children lived at home, he said he did. He told the solicitor that he had accepted the allegation against the uncle of child sexual abuse when it had been found to be credible.
CFA solicitor: “What’s your view now regarding [the uncle]?”
Father: “I don’t know.”
The solicitor asked him what other mistakes he had made.
Father: “I could have been a better father in a fatherly way.” He said his son had wanted to join a football team but he had never brought him up to join it. He admitted to neglect. “I was rough and ready.”
Father: “I have to learn all this from scratch, I came from the side of the road, this is all normal to you. I have to learn all that.”
When asked if any of the allegations were true, the father responded they were all lies.
CFA solicitor: “Why were they saying them apart from anger?”
Father: “I haven’t the foggiest, they took two perfect children off me.”
The Guardian Two barrister then went through the “Why I’m Angry” letter with the father. Afterwards he read out the first line of the mother’s response: “I read your letter, it hurts but it’s true, when it comes to [uncle X] I’m sorry.” The Guardian Two barrister put it to the father that it appeared his partner was accepting it was true.
The father responded that the social worker had written it and used those words. He felt his son had gone on a trip to Old Trafford with the foster family and “got it into his head he was happier where he was and didn’t want to come home”.
The father felt the guardian had only spent eight minutes in the family home after the ICO had been applied for, that was all she knew of the children.
The CFA solicitor cross examined him again on whether he believed the disclosures made by A about the uncle.
Father: “What he’s disclosed about me and her we know that’s lies, that’s lies, what to make of the [uncle] situation, I can’t say that was the truth and this is lies. I have my doubts now, yeah.”
CFA solicitor: “Uncle [X] and you and your partner are two separate things.”
Father: “A lot more people got mentioned.”
CFA solicitor: “The CFA have very reasonable grounds concerning the safety of your children and child sexual abuse. That doubt, that thought in your head is sufficient for the CFA to have reasonable concerns about whether you have capacity to protect your children from child sexual abuse.”
Garda specialist interviewer
The Garda told the court that she did not feel the children were coached and she discussed how she had followed good practice guidelines to interview the children. She had written her questions down in a non-leading way.
The mother swore to the court that none of the allegations were true, that she would never hurt her children or sexually abuse them. She said she “was in a bad way” when her children had gone into care for the first time: “I was depressed, I was buying unprescribed medications, taking drugs, I was drinking.”
When they had gone into care she wanted to be a mother to them and prove a lot to them. She signed herself into addiction counselling and went to relationship counselling, engaged with family support and gave urines. She cleaned up the family home as required by the social work department and painted it and bought new duvets, kitchen accessories and bathroom accessories from a grant. She took guidance from the social workers and took parenting courses.
The mother denied her son had seen her in bed unclothed with her half-brother – although this allegation had been found credible by St. Clare’s. She said it was lies and her denial of this would not impact on her relationship with him.
She felt sick when St. Clare’s told her that Children A and B were being abused by her half-brother, she “took it very bad”. She accepted the statements made by the boys in relation to this.
Her barrister asked her about finding out about A’s statements that she was involved in sexual activities in respect of her own children, particularly C and D, what was her response to that?
Mother: “To be honest I think it sick what the child has said. That is not going on, I am more protective of [C ]and [D] because of what happened with [A] and [B], we never sexually abuse any of our children and my children are in no risk of sexual abuse.”
Her barrister went through some of the CSA allegations on the DVD which the mother strenuously denied, she also denied the incident report allegations.
With regards to her response to the “Why I’m Angry” letter the mother explained that she was breaking the ice by writing back to her son, she was desperate to see him so she was not going to pick out lies and wanted to reply and she wanted to meet him. They needed to talk. She pointed out there was nothing in his letter about sexual abuse.
Her barrister asked her what her response to the letter was. The mother said she did not see why [A] was afraid of his Dad, she had not asked him to mind the younger siblings, he did not have to rob food, when she was in bed with her partner they locked the door, she watched soaps on TV in her bedroom with her munchies, but not all day – the children would be in the sitting room watching TV, A could not have brought D to school, it was not possible and she was not a bully. “I don’t know why he sees me as a bully.”
The hearing was then adjourned until the following week. When it resumed on day 21 of the inquiry, the mother’s barrister asked her again about the “Why I’m Angry” letter and about the sentence, “when it comes to Uncle [X] I’m sorry”. The mother told the court when she left her children with her family, she never thought he would do anything to the children. She had not seen him since she had heard about the allegations.
She told her barrister about the younger children’s routines under the Supervision Order (SO). She said the children had not seen them having sex. She wanted her children back, she was doing great as a mother for her children and had no problem with the court strengthening the SO.
Mother: “I have done my mistakes and I have tried and tried over the past two years to do my best. I love my children and I will never harm them.”
Mother’s barrister: “The CFA have a concern. They think there is a potential risk.”
Mother: “There is no risk.”
CFA solicitor: “You are [A’s] mum, why do you think they are saying those things?”
Mother: “My son has made it quite clear he is angry. I never got a chance to sit and talk to him. I was desperate writing to him “please…I love you and I care about you…you can see desperation, I wasn’t going to dispute it. I thought by writing this, it hurts but it is true’, I was trying to send a message saying come and see me and we will talk about this.”
CFA solr: “Do you accept that the exact wording are your words?”
Mother: “I was stuck a bit and the social worker guided me a bit.”
CFA solr: “Do you accept that is what you wanted to say?”
Mother: “There is nothing in that letter about child sexual abuse.”
She did not know why these things were in his head.
CFA solr: “Why do you think he doesn’t want to see you?”
Mother: “That does worry me. I have done everything. I have tried everything. Now he is making allegations that we have sexually abused him and made him eat poo. That worries me. Why is saying these things? I’m crying for help. I need to see my son. I don’t know why it is in his head. I need to see my son.”
CFA solr: “If you can put your mind back to before your children came into care…were you taking a lot of drugs?”
Mother: “I was drinking at weekends, drinking and drugs. Both.”
CFA solr: “Is it possible that your memory could be impaired by your level of intoxication?”
CFA solr: “Do you accept that there was neglect?”
Mother: “Neglect wasn’t intentional , [the psychologist] said it wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t drinking all week. I was going through a bit of depression and that is why I was put on medication for depression.”
CFA solr: “You are saying the [doctor] said you weren’t doing it intentionally?”
Mother: “My children were sent to my parents. [The solicitor] is trying to twist this.”
CFA solr: “You were taking a mix of antidepressants, non-prescribed drugs and alcohol and you are sure that you remember everything?”
Mother: “The antidepressants came later. I wasn’t drinking and taking the medication.”
The mother explained a little bit about the type of drugs she was taking.
Mother: “It was a ‘snow globe’. It means you can drink more. You don’t lose your memory. I stopped my drinking. It was when the Supervision Order was put in place. I was trying to get myself together. I was engaging with social workers and family support were coming out to me. I would get their PJs ready. I cut out all that while the Supervision Order was in place. That was when I was put on depression tablets.”
CFA solr: “I have to put it to you that in light of the disclosures on DVD, the reports that have been admitted, albeit contested, that have been made combined with drug and alcohol abuse, something of a sexual abuse nature happened to these children while in your care.”
Mother: “That was uncle [X].”
CFA solr: “They are naming you and your partner?”
Mother: “Me and my partner never did anything to them.”
The mother told the Guardian Two barrister that she did not know why the two younger children had sexualised behaviour when they came into care for the first time. She did admit to domestic violence in the house.
The guardian’s barrister asked her about the letter and why she had written “I read your letter, it hurts but it’s true”. She said it was because she wanted to see her son, she was breaking the ice, she was being the bigger person. The guardian’s barrister pointed out that she did not have to write that it was true, she did not have to lie to him.
Guardian Two barrister: “I have to put it to you that even on your own story there is a real concern that you were willing to lie to your child and to the social worker to get to see him and that you are a person who is willing to be untruthful to further your own ends. You get what you want and that means that you are unreliable in what you are saying because you are the kind of person that can lie to get what you want.”
“It’s not like that, I wanted to see my child,” replied the mother, “this letter was getting an insight in my child’s head. I thought as a parent that I wasn’t going to dispute it.”
She told the court that she never thought legal teams would be examining the words in court. In terms of Children C and D, she had loved having them back home.
The guardian for Children C and D
Guardian Two told the court about her second visit to the foster mother’s house during the fourth week of the inquiry, it gave her an opportunity to talk about the children’s sexualised behaviour when they had previously come into her care.
GAL: “[D] would have been two and she [the foster mother] said when she changed her nappy she would be thrusting her groin and making noises and she said: ‘What are you doing?’ and [C] said: ‘She is doing six. [C] would have been six and he was masturbating for 20 minutes with a lot of noise. She said [D] was a bit aggressive, biting a lot.”
During the visit Child C told the guardian that he wanted to go home and Child D told her she wanted to stay at the foster mother’s. Earlier in the visit Child C had told her spontaneously that he wanted to stay.
The guardian told the court that she had been under the impression that the family had a very comprehensive package of support in place, but when she looked into it further she would not consider it comprehensive. Family support services were only going in for one hour a week and OARS for 1.5 hours.
She felt alarm bells had been raised by the fact St. Clare’s had found it credible that the mother and her half-brother were seen in bed together and there was a reference to sexualised behaviour when the children went into care.
In relation to the new disclosures she said there was no non-offending partner in the home, she said she was aware it was only allegations but that in the absence of a non-offending partner in the home and so many family members having been referred to, Children C and D could be exposed to potential harm.
GAL Two barrister: “In terms of your position what are you recommending?”
GAL: “I feel the allegation and the children’s voices need to be heard and acted upon immediately. There is a need for assessment. The bottom line of my view is that the children need to be assessed. The reason why I don’t think they are safe to be assessed from home is that from the children’s allegations the family are involved. I feel there is too much risk that can’t be safeguarded against under a Supervision Order.”
She felt there was reasonable cause to believe the allegations. She wanted the CFA to do a forensic risk assessment of the parents: “That is something that is widely practiced. It comes back as low, medium or high. The risk level would inform you as to what safeguarding mechanism needs to be in place.”
Furthermore a credibility test needed to be done by an expert that worked with children who had experienced sexual abuse.
On cross examination by the mother’s barrister, the guardian told the court there was no sexualised behaviour from Children C and D “this time around”. There had been no behaviour in the foster home that suggested sexual abuse. The crèche and school were happy with the children. When she had seen the children in the family home before they had gone into voluntary care neither of the children had suggested they were not well cared for or safe.
The mother’s barrister asked her about St. Clare’s urging caution in terms of the matters stated by Child A, would it raise alarm bells with the guardian? The guardian said it would.
The mother’s barrister pointed out that at the strategy meeting which was held after the DVD interview, St. Clare’s had queried the boys’ motivation. Would the fact that Children C and D were not displaying sexualised behaviour at this time “go to some way to forming the view that they were not exposed to sexualised behaviour at home?” she asked.
GAL: “I couldn’t form the view that just because a child isn’t displaying sexualised behaviour doesn’t mean they aren’t exposed to sexualised behaviour.”
The mother’s barrister said that Children A and B had said they were exposed to porn.
Mother’s barrister: “Would the viewing of a porn movie, would that make a child more inclined to put a sexual context on an innocent thing?”
GAL: “I think it depends.”
Barrister: “Would it sexualise their understanding?”
GAL: “If a child was exposed to porn on a frequent basis it might impact on them. It may impact on a child’s view of the world.”
While the guardian felt the household was now less dysfunctional than it was, in her opinion the children could be exposed to harm at home and there was no non-offending partner, therefore an Interim Care Order was appropriate, she would not support a Supervision Order.
The following day the barrister for the father cross examined the guardian as to why two months had gone by and there “hadn’t been one iota of assessment as to credibility that could potentially remove two young children from a loving home until they are 18”?
The guardian, who had not been appointed until the inquiry began, told the barrister that her first concern was to “get the children to a place of safety so they could be assessed” and she felt there was an urgency in getting that expert assessment done by a clinical psychologist.
She had seen a social work report that talked about immediate risk, she was asking “the question how we are still here if gardaí felt there was enough risk?”
Referring to the issue of assessment, the father’s barrister put it to the guardian that St. Clare’s had said Children A and B had not made the disclosures to them that they had made in the DVD and therefore the unit could not assess those disclosures. Therefore if they were not able to assess Children A and B how could they assess Children C and D? “Is this not a long term strategy placing these children in care?” the barrister asked.
The father’s barrister thought “St. Clare’s would be able to look at the DVDs and then maybe comment on them”. If the assessment with regard to potential harm could not commence until they made allegations directly to St. Clare’s, would it not be a very open-ended process, she asked the guardian.
The guardian did not think so, she thought St. Clare’s would be involved or they could ask someone else to come in; there were other experts that did this work around assessment of credibility, she said.
In relation to professionals being involved with the family for three years and nobody corroborating the allegations, the guardian said professionals had concerns in relation to sex abuse.
Father’s barrister: “Concerns raised were not great enough to prevent reunification with the parents.”
GAL: “It doesn’t appear that those pieces where there were allegations that the parents were told [about] were investigated.”
FB: “The GAL at the time supported the reunification.”
GAL: “I’m dealing with the information available to me.”
FB: “It is a statement of fact that the reunification of these two children took place.”
The father’s barrister read from a report from a strategy meeting a month before the DVD was made. It said that the “social work department advised that they are also taking concern seriously but also need to take into account children’s motivation for disclosures and are angry towards parents and are concerned about the other two at home. [Children A and B] were doing well in therapy and had not disclosed anything. St. Clare’s queries motivation for disclosures.”
The barrister also read out there had been previous concerns about the foster mother leading the boys and her overall management regarding disclosures.
The guardian told the court that there was so much information in the file that added to and took away from a piece of information like this.
The father’s barrister said that all of the disclosures had come via the foster mother and that needed to be investigated before removing the children from their home. Although the guardian thought a lot of things needed to be investigated, she said it all needed to be done when the children were not at home.
Later in cross-examination the father’s barrister said the disclosures “are disclosures of an angry child where there is a possibility that he has been coached and they are totally uncorroborated and un-assessed”.
Gal: “I don’t see the evidence that they are being coached and the assertion that they were made because they are angry. I don’t think it’s safe to say that because they are angry they are making the disclosures.”
Barrister: “I’m saying because they are angry the disclosures require more careful scrutiny.”
The guardian told the CFA solicitor: “Sexual abuse can be invisible, that is what makes it so hard. Some kids disclose and they are so sexualised, it may be an indicator in combination. So much of the time we don’t have disclosures.”
Then the judge spoke to the guardian about the assessment process. There would be a parallel assessment, she confirmed; one assessment would be the assessment of the allegations that the older children had made and the consequent risk that may have or may not have on the two younger children who were the subject of the Interim Care Order application. The other assessment would be the forensic risk assessment of the parents.
Judge: “If we look at assessment of allegations and the parallel forensic risk assessment. [In relation to] the first part of the assessment, it has been suggested that this needs to occur at the children’s pace. Can you give me your views?”
GAL: “We have an immediate meeting with the likes of St. Clare’s. Can an assessment be done with the information we have, the DVD or should it be that another expert come in? Can they work on what we have already? I know St Clare’s looked at the DVD. If they did, do the children need to be interviewed again or is it that we have to credibility test the DVDs?
“A plan would have to be put in place in relation to [C and D’s] role. Are they interviewed? There is nothing worse than a clarifying interview being done first and then it is decided that wasn’t right thing to do. I think a meeting should happen immediately to plan the route this should take.”
The CFA solicitor addressed the judge: “I would urge you to put maximum weight to the information that has been put before the court. I think we have all watched it a number of times and it makes for serious viewing. It is not something that you address as ‘mere’. The voice of the children hasn’t been heard. I would urge the court to attribute a high level of weight to this.
“I can’t imagine what could be more compelling to the court than that type of disclosure of child sex abuse. It is a dark part of humanity.”
The judge delivered his decision on the 22nd day of the hearing. He granted the ICO stating that the assessments of Children C and D should be carried out in a timely manner.
Judge: “I suggest the correct approach is to consider the children’s pace to be that pace at which the children can be supported by the CFA through the assessment process.
“This assessment process will necessarily require a clinical and forensic assessment of credibility of the disclosures of [A] and [B]. I direct the CFA to convene a meeting of all relevant professionals including St Clare’s Unit to decide the proper strategy and timeframe for this assessment.
“Pursuant to S. 27 of the 1991 I will direct forensic risk assessment of the parents to be conducted to consider the assessment of risk of CSA and abuse and or neglect by each of the parents. I will list this matter for [a date] for the CFA to advise the Court of the agreed strategy and time-frame of the credibility assessment of [A] and [B]’s allegations and for an agreed letter of instruction by all parties to be furnished to the Court for approval.”
Extension of Interim Care Order – 28 days later
When the case returned to court 28 days later, Guardian Two told the court that the foster carer had told her that Child C had exhibited some sexualised behaviour on his initial return into care during the ICO inquiry, but that behaviour had now stopped.
The three assessments which had been agreed upon on a previous day in court were the following: a forensic risk assessment of the parents; a credibility assessment of Child A’s allegations; a credibility assessment of the information gathering process.
The extension of the ICO was consented to by the parents on a without-prejudice basis.
The social worker for Children C and D told the court that she was now in regular contact with the social worker for Children A and B, as previously directed by the judge. “It would be best practice that two social work teams communicate,” said the mother’s barrister.
Access was a contentious issue which the court was told would get a further airing at the upcoming Child in Care Review. One of the issues involved a particular access venue. The barristers for the parents said their clients were not happy with the suggestion of a room in St. Loman’s, a psychiatric hospital, as an access venue. Guardian Two said she was going to and see the access room but from what she already knew of the location she told the court: “It’s a psychiatric hospital. In the main it’s dull and grim.”