Access suspended following concerning disclosures from children – 2019vol1#30

An interim care order was extended in respect of two children where there were issues regarding the misuse of alcohol and violence in the home. While in care the children made concerning disclosures and were being interviewed by An Garda Siochana. Access had been suspended following the disclosures.

Both parents were represented and consented to the application, but were seeking access. The guardian ad litem (GAL) supported the application. Interviews had taken place with the children and an investigation was to take place following the concerning disclosures. There were also issues regarding the misuse of alcohol and violence in the home.

Counsel for the mother said: “The matter of the interim care order needed to be teased out. If the Garda is here, I want to hear from him as why there is no access while the investigation is going on. The issues are the interim care order and the access.”

Counsel said she wanted a timeline from the investigating Garda and was looking to find out what steps had been taken and what steps would be taken.

The Garda said: “The investigation is in its early course.  They [the children] have been interviewed by Garda specialists. We have the contents of one interview and are awaiting the second.”

Counsel for the mother asked: “You do not have the transcript?”

He replied: “No. It takes time for the contents of the interview to be available to us as it has to done through the specialist. I would be looking for three to six months as there will be the gathering [of information] from agencies to get the full file prepared.” The Garda said the interview with the parents would take place at the end.

The solicitor for the father: “There is the question of access. What is being withdrawn is supervised access. If the allegation is [one] of sexual impropriety, how can that happen when a social worker is in the room during supervised access? The access has been fractured and the core attachment will be irretrievable. The Child and Family Agency (CFA) is of the view that no access, under any circumstances, should take place.

“There is a report from the psychotherapist stating where there is work to be done, the underlying factors [alcohol and violence] have been resolved. The original cause of intervention is under control and none of that could preclude access in the presence of a social worker. The alternative is to abandon the project to see how the Gardaí get on. If there were negative findings, the social work department should reinstate access under supervision.”

The solicitor for the CFA said: “The problem here is the children have made allegations.  We are asking the children to present [themselves] before the people whom they accuse. It was a recommendation of a core group meeting that access should be suspended. It would be more satisfactory if the parents could be interviewed before [the children].”

Counsel for the mother said: “My client has not had access since November. One child has his first Holy Communion coming up and there are no plans in place to allow them [the parents] to attend.”

The judge said: “It is futile as there is no prospect of the case moving on for three months. Using the interim care order as leverage and as an access application, is that the proper use of the court’s time?”

The solicitor for the father said: “I understood a date was set for the access application.”

The GAL said: “Prior to disclosures, children have a normal family life and retain a relationship. Once a disclosure is made, they [children] feel guilty, feel fear and feel as though they have betrayed their parents. These children are confused about what may happen and they have to process what they have done. Once they make disclosures, they are very disjointed and they do not know if what they have done is right. It is difficult for parents to hear that children have made allegations.”

The GAL noted the non-verbal communication between the children and the parents. She said: “These parents have an inability to contain their emotions and prioritise the children. At the moment there is huge ambivalence and the children must be allowed to process it.”

The GAL held strong views that access should not take place while the investigation was ongoing. In the days leading up to access, the children were bed wetting and showing signs of withdrawal. They were very stressed going to access. They exhibited emotion-disordered behaviours after access. There was a misunderstanding where the social worker said he would facilitate access. One of the children understood it to mean access would take place with the parents and the child froze.

The GAL recommended a psychological assessment be available to the parents. She recommended therapeutic intervention for the children and said the children needed a place to work on their emotional difficulties. The children attended a psychotherapist last year and the psychotherapist stopped seeing the children. The GAL said: “The CFA must be clear that a new person can stay with these children regardless of their emotional needs.”

The judge extended the interim care order for a period of one month and suspended access for the time being. He said an access application could be brought if needed.

In another case on the same day an interim order was extended in respect of seven children. The mother, who was a member of the Traveller community, was represented and consented to the application. The father was not present.

The mother had been admitted to a psychiatric unit. In the weeks leading up to her admission, she presented with concerning behaviour. The mother was not engaging with the Traveller’s project and there had been ongoing problems with access.

The social worker said a mapping meeting was held with the GAL and the mother in attendance. The strengths and difficulties of access with the children were outlined at the meeting. Access was described as chaotic with all seven of the children together and it was suggested to separate accesses. The social worker said after the meeting, the mother was threatening to staff and intimidating. “The children picked up on the [mental] illness.” The mother was subsequently admitted [to the psychiatric unit] for 10 days.

The solicitor for the GAL asked: “What is the status of the independent assessment of kinship care?”

The social worker said: “We made contact with an independent social worker to undertake a viability assessment of a family member [in the United Kingdom]. It has not concluded yet.  It will not be viable for the children to go to the United Kingdom.”

The solicitor for the GAL asked: “[From] that assessment, it looks like the children will not be placed in United Kingdom, what is the position of the CFA?”

The social worker said: “We have made parallel planning.  The children are stable in the foster placements at the minute and there are no concerns. We will continue to seek hearing dates.” There were concerns about the family member and her ability to care for own children since she was known to child protection services.

The interim care order was extended for one month.

Other cases

Another interim care order was extended in respect of one child where the mother had a supported worker and the father was a minor and himself the subject of care proceedings. His solicitor said he needed his own GAL and one had been appointed for him in his own care proceedings.

The judge asked: “Can I appoint a GAL? I can appoint a GAL for a child, the subject of the proceedings, but I am not sure about another party. He [the father] is not the subject of these proceedings.”

The solicitor for the CFA suggested an advocate could be appointed to the father. The father was having access with the child and was engaging well.

The interim care order was extended for a period of two months. The matter of the appointment of a GAL to the father was to be addressed on the next occasion.

An application to vacate a foster placement was granted in circumstances where the child was missing. A full care order had been made in 2016 in respect of the child from a Roma family.

There were reports that the mother had returned to her country of origin and there was a fear that the child had left the jurisdiction.

The GAL previously filed a report with the hope that the mother would facilitate the return of the child. The GAL did not feel his appointment would assist the matter presently.

The solicitor for the CFA said there could be an application against the mother for contempt of court.

The judge granted the application for the suspension of the placement and said if there were an update, the matter could be brought back before the court.