A judge in a rural court re-listed an application for a supervision order for a date four weeks later to facilitate the appointment of an advocate for the child’s father, who felt overwhelmed by the case. The child, A, of primary school age, was living alone with him since the death of her mother, and historical allegations of sexual abuse had been made against him. The Child and Family Agency (CFA) expressed grave concerns that she was at home alone with her father as her mother had died.
A previous court order had sought a list of trusted adults that could be used to form a supportive network for the child. The father’s lawyer was critical of the way the CFA special investigation team had conducted the enquiry into the allegations. The judge decided that the father needed his own advocate to assist him as he was over-whelmed by the case.
The CFA lawyer reported the agency’s concerns about the child’s welfare. Allegations made some 30 years previously against the father had been deemed to be founded, following an investigation by the special CFA investigation team. The CFA’s concerns about A’s welfare had been compounded by the fact that she was not presently attending school, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, and was studying remotely at home alone with her father all day.
The father’s lawyer told the court that the finding made by the CFA, following the investigations it made into allegations against the father, was now the subject of an appeal and that the appeal should be determined prior to any supervision order being made. While A’s father had no legal representation or advice during the CFA’s investigation, he did co-operate with the enquiry team. The father’s lawyer said that the CFA special investigation team did not follow its own procedures in the investigation.
The father’s lawyer reported that A’s mother had been made aware of the allegations made against the father and she had become unwell. She said that the mother was too afraid to attend her GP in case she would need to be admitted to hospital and she subsequently died. The father’s lawyer told the judge that he was doing his best to care for his child.
The judge asked what progress had been made following the order by another judge in the case four months previously. The father had been required by the previous court order to provide names of a potential support network for the protection of the girl. When the father’s lawyer said there were difficulties because of the limited pool of suitable people available to the father, the judge asked why he had not come back into court in the intervening months to report his difficulties.
Judge: “Covid is not an excuse in child protection. I have to protect the child.”
The CFA lawyer said that the child was “very isolated” and that the historical allegations against her father were serious allegations. Also, she was now the same age as the person was who had made the allegations when the alleged incidents happened.
The CFA special investigation team leader told the court that the case came to her attention following a referral. Adult victims of alleged abuse had named A’s father as the perpetrator. They had made statements to the Gardaí but the direction of the DPP was not to prosecute. The evidence was sent to the father and he was advised to seek legal assistance and contact the CFA’s office. The father denied the allegations and suggested they may have been the result of a vendetta by the complainant.
The CFA lawyer said the complainant alleged that A’s father had brought her out for driving lessons and sexually abused her while she steered the car sitting on his knee. The complainant’s sister had also alleged inappropriate conduct by the father. She alleged that there had been an incident in the kitchen where he had kissed her on the lips and on another occasion when he had allegedly offered to wash her back in the bath. The CFA lawyer asked about additional allegations of forced oral sex and touching of the complainant’s genitals. The team leader reported that there were allegations made by the complainant of “grooming behaviour” where the father was alleged to have offered lollipops and demanded that the complainant keep the incident a secret.
The father’s lawyer pointed out that the CFA’s investigation procedure document from 2014 consisted of precise steps to be applied. The team leader replied that she saw the document “as a policy rather than a procedure”. The father’s lawyer said that adherence to fair procedures in this type of investigation was essential and when she asked the team leader if the father had been sent a copy of the allegations made against him, the team leader replied that she presumed this had been done.
The father’s lawyer enquired whether the first step of the procedure, which was to meet the complainant, had been complied with. The team leader replied that the Garda statement was sought first. When the father’s lawyer asked about the second step of the procedure, the listing of names of people who could provide information, the team leader said that the complainant had provided the list of names. The father’s lawyer suggested that the provision of names by the complainant would not have been an objective exercise.
Team leader: “We spoke to the sister.”
Father’s lawyer: “But was she in the house at the time? Were there other adults in the house at the time? Were they identified and asked? Were her parents there?”
Team leader: “I don’t know.”
The father’s lawyer enquired about the next step of the investigation procedure, which consisted of consulting the complainant’s therapist and asked if there had been notes made of the consultation. She also asked if the team leader had consulted the Gardaí and the team leader replied that there was always liaison with the Gardaí.
The CFA lawyer asked where this questioning was leading and the judge reminded the father’s lawyer that the application being sought was for a supervision order and hoped she was soon going to get to the point.
Judge: “I have no jurisdiction to conduct an appeal. That’s not relevant to a supervision order. I am not an appellate court. Why didn’t [A’s father] obey the previous court order?”
A’s father described his family situation to the court to explain his difficulties in providing names of a network of support people. He had no siblings and other family members had health issues, which made them vulnerable to Covid-19 prior to their vaccinations. He told the judge that A had received bereavement counselling at her school following the death of her mother. The father became emotional at speaking about his late wife and said she was not present to speak for herself.
Lawyer for CFA: “All my client wants is a safety network of supportive adults that your child trusts and can talk with.”
The CFA lawyer made suggestions to A’s father about various potential people who might be available for the safety network but he replied that he was reluctant to give names and contact details of people for a variety of reasons. The CFA lawyer said that for every person who was suggested, the father seemed to “put up barriers”.
A’s father: “I’m not trying to put up barriers. I know I’m innocent. [A] is 100% safe.”
Lawyer for CFA: “You’re not fully co-operating. It’s disguised compliance.”
The father told the court that he was feeling under pressure and that the CFA was “dragging” him back to court because it was not getting its own way. The CFA lawyer said that what the school was providing was not bereavement counselling and that [A’s father] would have to provide a support network of people who were available to talk to the CFA.
A’s father: “I can’t provide what’s not there.”
Judge: “You appear to me to be overwhelmed. That is how you come across to the court. These are things you need help with. You need assistance to look after [A]. This is not a trial of you. You need an advocate.”
The father was unsure of the meaning of “advocate” and the judge explained that this was like a “middleman”. The judge told the father that she was going to appoint an advocate for him and that the court would pay. The advocate’s responsibility was to explain to [the father] what he needed to have in place.
The judge decided to list the matter on a date four weeks later. The progress on the safety network would be discussed at the next court date. During the interim period, the judge ordered that A’s father, the advocate and the social workers were to meet and have a discussion about the progress. This would assist the court to put a plan in place for the benefit of A and her father.