Allegations of sexual assault at the heart of care order hearing for three children – 2017vol2#4

See follow up Vol 1 of 2018: Judgment awaited three months after care order hearing concludes

See also Vol 1 of 2017: Interim Care Orders extended for three children due to sex abuse allegations

See also Vol 2 of 2016: Parental access visits denied amid allegations of sexual abuse

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) made an application to the court in a rural town for a care order in respect of the three siblings till they each reach the age of 18 years on the grounds of sexual and physical abuse and neglect. The case was heard over two weeks in late 2017 and has not yet concluded. A guardian ad litem (GAL) was appointed by the court for the three children and the GAL supported the CFA’s application.

To support their application, the CFA called 10 witnesses, a psychologist, a Garda, a paediatrician, six social workers and a foster carer and submitted Garda DVDs of interviews with the children into evidence. The CFA also commissioned an assessment from a social work expert, who was the same nationality as the parents. However, a serious health issue prevented this witness from testifying and as a consequence the report she prepared was not agreed nor accepted into evidence by the court.

The respondent parents called five witnesses – three relatives and two family friends. The parents commissioned a UK based independent expert to undertake a credibility assessment of the children’s allegations. However, the parents decided not to call this witness as they believed his report to be privileged. The GAL recommended that this assessment be placed on the children’s social worker file after the case concluded.

The family first came to the attention of social workers in 2009. In June 2014, two young children (Child A and Child B) entered care under a voluntary arrangement on the grounds of neglect linked to the parents’ misuse of alcohol. The social work team requested the parents to seek support from an addiction service. As the parents had failed to engage fully with such a service the social work department was not considering family reunification and met in October 2015 to plan for the long term care of the children.

The parents became “very upset and angry”, they claimed that their alcohol issue had been remedied to the satisfaction of CFA and a process of reunification had been under consideration. The parents sought to end the voluntary care arrangement. In response the CFA in November 2015 sought and secured interim care orders (under section 17 of the Child Care Act 1991) in respect of the two children, both of primary school age.

In December 2015, eighteen months after coming into care and after the children had been told of the interim care orders, Child A and Child B made allegations of child sexual abuse against 11 named individuals: their mother, their father, two male relatives, a female relative, three teenage girls and two other men and alleged that another female relative was present when they were abused.

As a consequence of these disclosures, in late June 2016, the youngest sibling (Child C), just two days old, was taken into care under an emergency care order.

Since entering care, the children had remained in the continuous care of the CFA under extensions of the interim care orders. Child A and Child B had been in care for three and a half years, during which time they were together in two foster placements, the first (Foster Carers A) from June 2014 to November 2016 and the second (Foster Carers B) from November 2016 onwards. Child C had been in care for eighteen months in a different placement from that of her siblings.

The CFA sought the care orders on a number of grounds and requested the court to make the following findings of fact: that both parents sexually abused Child A and Child B; both parents allowed Child A and Child B to be subjected to sexual abuse and did not protect them; that Child A and Child B were physically abused while in the care of their parents; that they were exposed to emotional trauma, fear and anxiety; that the children were neglected and unhappy in their parents’ care, including poor school attendance and exposure to alcohol abuse and domestic violence; the parents were untruthful; the children were insecurely attached to the parents; Child A and Child B did not wish to return to the care of their parents; if returned to the care of the parents all three children would be at risk of abuse, neglect, trauma and insecure attachment; and that the parents did not have insight into the children’s needs.

The CFA was not seeking findings of fact regarding other named individuals, their relevance to this case was that the parents knew their children were being sexually abuse by each other and by others.

Respondent Parents
Both parents were nationals of another European jurisdiction. The mother came to Ireland when her eldest child, Child A, was an infant. The court was informed that Child A was not the child of the respondent father, who was the father of Child B and Child C. A’s biological father had played no role in the child’s life to date. The CFA were not aware of the identity or residence of the father. During the hearing, a relative provided the court with the father’s name and country of residence. The CFA understood that Child A had not been told by her parents that the respondent father was not her biological father. However, Foster Carer A said she overheard the children discussing this issue.

The parents were present in court at each sitting, provided with separate legal representation and supported by separate interpreters. The parents opposed the care order applications. They admitted to historical alcohol misuse which led to the children missing days at school and to the voluntary care admission. However, the parents categorically denied the allegations of physical and sexual abuse made against them and any history of domestic violence.

In December 2016 in an interview with a psychologist, the parents were questioned on the children’s health and educational history and any history of trauma. The parents gave no alternative explanation for the children’s disclosures and behaviour. They asserted that either the abuse did not happen or “someone from Tusla or another person put words into [their] mouth”.

An Embassy representative for the parent’s home country made an application to attend court on the day the judge provides his final determination, to provide support to the parents. This was agreed to on condition that the Embassy staff respected the in camera rule.

Section 23 Application
The CFA applied under section 23 of Children Act 1997 to admit the hearsay statements of Child A and Child B. The CFA argued that although Child A and Child B were capable of giving evidence by virtue of age it would not be in the welfare of the children to come to court or participate through video link.

The parents’ legal representatives objected to this application, arguing that insufficient notice was given in relation to the specific hearsay statements being applied for. Counsel for the CFA rejected this argument and noted that no rules of court had been laid down for the provision of notice: the legislation merely says it must be “reasonable and practicable”. He said summaries of evidence were supplied on an ongoing basis throughout the proceedings and it was through these summaries that the CFA’s case was made known to the parents. As the CFA did not necessarily know the issues in dispute (the parents’ case) till the evidence was provided in court, the CFA provided extensive and unedited summaries of evidence. He also said that by the time the CFA received the parent’s objection it would have been difficult to address the matter in another way.

Counsel for the father noted that the foster carer to whom the disclosures were made was not listed as a witness to be called by the CFA. Counsel for the CFA explained that the CFA did not intend to call the foster carer as the disclosures were also made to social workers and the Gardaí as recorded on DVD. He said the foster carer’s evidence was not the best evidence as the evidence of professionals was likely to be more accurate and of a higher quality. He also said there were “very good policy reasons” for the CFA not asking foster carers to give evidence, including that it could damage efforts to recruit foster carers and lead to placement instability. The CFA later changed its position and called the foster carer as a witness.

Counsel for the mother took issue with the particularisation of the section 23 notice, pointing out that the twelve finding of fact statements contained no dates or level of detail. Counsel for the CFA responded that any particularities available were included in the summaries of evidence. He said disclosures by children tended to be less clear than those given by adults, and that when describing repeated incidents of abuse children did not give a huge degree of particularities.

The judge noted that there was no application before him for an adjournment on this issue. He found that there was sufficient notice given in relation to the section 23 application.

The CFA called two witnesses to support their section 23 application, the current social worker for the three children, Social Worker F, and the GAL. The social worker said the children should not be “subject to this arena”, which risked unsettling the children and they would not make good witnesses as they would be scared and clam up.

The GAL said if Child A or Child B were required to give evidence it could be potentially “very detrimental” to their recovery and was likely to negatively affect their foster placement, which was already at risk. She said: “Their levels of anxiety were far too high to tell them about this hearing which will decide their futures.” She said: “A GAL’s role is to make a judgment as to the level of information that the children are ready to hear.”

She said they were aware of the roles and responsibility of adults and were crying out for adults to meet those responsibilities, to protect them from distress and harm. She said these proceedings were entirely about legal issues and while the children giving evidence might serve the legal proceedings and the rights of the parents, it would not serve the children’s interests. Under cross examination the GAL stated that: “There is clear evidence in the therapeutic world that these children have been sexually abused but the therapeutic standard is not the legal standard.”

The CFA application under Article 23 was opposed by the parents. Their legal representatives argued that for it to be a fair hearing and proportionate, the parents needed to be able to cross examine the children as the parents’ case was that the abuse never took place. Counsel for the father argued that this would provide the court with the best evidence available given that a care order till 18 years was “the most serious thing a District Court judge can do.” She said the court could put in place a creative solution of protective factors to limit the cross examination. Counsel for the mother argued that the findings of fact sought rested on children’s hearsay. The solicitor for the GAL questioned how a child could be cross examined “gently” when the line of questioning was that the parents contend that what the children say did not happen.

While the judge acknowledged the concerns of the parents, he said the only evidence before the court was from the social worker and GAL who stated that giving evidence would not be in the child’s best interest and so he granted the section 23 application.

Garda Interviews
The Gardaí opened a criminal investigation into the sexual assaults disclosed by Child A and Child B. A file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). However, the DPP decided not to proceed with prosecutions. Counsel for the CFA noted that this was not unusual in such cases as a different evidential standard applies.

CFA access to DVDs: As part of the criminal investigation the children were interviewed by a Garda specialist interviewer in early 2016 which were recorded on DVDs. In an effort to avoid interviewing the children in relation to the disclosures again and beginning the interview from scratch, the CFA applied to gain access to the DVDs. Counsel for the CFA said: “When a case straddles the criminal and the child care fields there can be complications,” and securing access to the DVDs caused some considerable delay in this case.

The Gardaí were concerned that sharing the DVDs with the CFA might prejudice a potential criminal prosecution. After initial correspondence failed to resolve the issue, in September 2016 the CFA made a formal application and secured access to the DVDs under a court order in January 2017. The DVDs were reviewed by a psychologist and a social worker. The DVDs were disclosed to the parents in spring 2017. The DVDs were played in full in court as evidence.

Child A was interviewed twice, initially in January and then again in February 2016. Child B was interviewed once in January 2016. The same Garda conducted all three interviews in a specialist interview room, which each lasted approximately 40 minutes. Each interview began with the Garda setting out ground rules, giving them permission to say they don’t know the answer to a question, checking the child’s understanding of court and testing through scenarios the child’s understanding of the difference between something being true or being false. The Garda ended the interview by switching to child related topics of conversation.

Interviews with Child A
At the time of the first interview Child A was eight years of age. During the interview, the child disclosed that she had been forced to have oral sex with multiple people who she identified by name, she described the act as “sucking pee pee”.

When asked an open ‘tell me’ style question about living with her parents the child said: “People were coming in and out of the house” and she identified six people by name. She was then asked to tell the interviewer what happened when they came in, to which she replied “we had to suck their pee pees and all”. The interviewer sought to clarify the meaning of term ‘pee pee’.

Interviewer: “Who has one?”

Child A: “Boys”

Interviewer: “What they use it for?”

Child A: “Toilet, number ones”

Interviewer: “What does it look like?”

Child A: “Hairy”

Interviewer: “How do you suck the pee pee?”

Child A: “Go under”

Interviewer: “What do you use?”

Child A: “My mouth, it was disgusting”

Interviewer: “What does it taste like or feel like?”

Child A: “It was disgusting, if feels disgusting”.

In response to being asked where this happened, the child replied “at home, upstairs in our bedroom”. She said it was “my mummy’s house” and described the neighbourhood the house was in, the rooms and furniture. She said the parents slept in the sitting room.

The child said that she had to suck “mum and daddy’s pee pees” and described it as “disgusting”.

She said her mother’s pee pee as “up here [pointing to her groin area], where she does her number ones” she described that her mother would be standing up when she performed this act.

Child A: “Me and [Child B] had to do it, they would say ‘come on keep going’.”

Interviewer: “Did you see Child B do that?”

Child A: “No.”

She used the phrase “suck pee pees and all”. The interviewer checked what the phrase “and all” meant, but the child did not disclose anything further.

The child named three men who she said she had to have oral sex with, she said they were friends of her parents. The interviewer checked if they were adults or children and she confirmed they were adults. Child A said they came to the house “loads of time”. The interviewed asked her to describe the men. She said Man Y was from a different jurisdiction, not Irish and not from the same country as her parents. She said Man X was from this area (rural town). She described Man Y as “really mean, really weird”, she said he made faces at her, called her names, and said mean things to her. She could not remember what he said to her.

In response to a question when did this happen, she replied “a long time ago”. She did not know what age she was but said it was before she was at school. She said the abuse happened “lots of times” and took place “during the day”.

She said her mother and father would look at her while she was performing these acts. She said some of the people’s clothes would be off, she could see their bum and her clothes would be on.

Child A also made disclosures in relation to physical abuse and neglect. The interviewer asked: “Were they [parents] nice to you?” The child did not go with this suggestive question and instead replied: “No” and disclosed that they had hit her. She said her parents “hit me for no reason” with a belt on her back, she did not like it. It made her “sad”, she said they were drunk and she could tell when they were drunk. She said some of her clothes were dirty and did not fit her, they fed her rotten food.

On foot of a further disclosure to the foster carer, Child A was interviewed for a second time in late February 2016, when she was nine years of age.

At the beginning of this interview in response to a question “Anything else to tell me?” the child disclosed she had been subjected to penetrative sex. She named the same three men as her abusers. She described Man X, giving his hair colour and body markings, with similar details for Man Y. She named the third man to be a male relative.

Child A: “They put their pee pee into me”. She described the experience of being raped by multiple men one after another.

Child A: When Man X was finished dipping his pee pee into me then Man Y came in” and “when he was finished then another one came in and then another one”.

On being asked where he put his pee pee, the child said he “put their pee pee somewhere around here [gesturing to her groin area]. She said she “didn’t like it, it was very sore.”
Interviewer: “Where was it sore?”

Child A: “Somewhere around there” and gestured to her lower private parts.

When asked to explain her ‘pee pee’ she said she uses it for “going to the toilet for number ones”. She said: “He had to stick his pee pee into me, he just came into the room and done it.” She described that she was lying down on the bed, she forgot where he was. She again said the abuse took place in her bedroom and described the room and the furniture in it. She said it was a “single bed, lying on my back, only wearing a top, his clothes were off, he was kneeling on top of the bed, when he left [Man Y] came in and did the same thing.” She described what people were wearing and if their clothes were on or off.

Interviewer: “Did it last a long or short time?”

Child A: “Lasted a long time”.

Child A: “When I went to toilet, I was cleaning my bum, I saw dripples of blood on the tissue, it happened a few days”

Interviewer: “Who was in the house?”

Child: “Mummy and Daddy were standing at the door looking, didn’t say anything, [Man X] was saying bad words, saying the F word. He was lying outside the covers. [Man Y] came in and done the exact same thing, said bad words, really sore.”

The child made two references to seeing blood on her body. “I saw little bits of blood when I went to the toilet”.

The interviewer asked her what position her legs were in. The child replied that she put her legs up and bent them. She gestured to show the position she meant. She said she was “in the middle of the bed, he came up a bit closer, he was kneeling when he put his pee pee into her.”

Child A: “When [Man Y] was finished, think it was daddy who was next, did the same thing…then [male relative Y] did the same thing…”.

She said her “daddy” was inside her for a “long time”.

She said her “mummy was standing there watching” while this happened.

The interviewer asked what the men did after they put the pee pee into her, the child said they finished and left.

Child A said it happened a few times, but she did not remember how often. She said people were drinking downstairs when this was happening. She said she thought it happened before she was six or seven.

Child A said: “Mum and Dad would be looking at me”. She gave specific details of her mother saying “come on keep going.” The Garda asked were the mother and father present “all of the time” and the child replied “no, only sometimes”.

Interview with Child B
Child B was seven years of age when he was interviewed. During the interview, Child B disclosed being forced to perform oral sex on his parents and seven other named individuals. Child B provided the same names and descriptive details for these individuals as Child A.

Child B: “[I] sucked everybody’s pee pees.”

Child B: “[The females] and all of them, they sucked our pee pee and we had to suck theirs”

He said “we had to take off our clothes.” He said “Mum and Dad done it” and also named Man X and Man Y.

He described being “pushed” and it being “hairy” and it being “very, very hard, he bited it.”

He said the people would be “drunk and all of that”. He tried to say something else but did not know the English word but knew the word in his parent’s mother tongue.

He was asked a general question: “What were Mummy and Daddy like when drinking?”

He replied “shit, so rude, no money, one day drop us at school, sad, no clothes or anything for us, guards came and took us to [foster carer’s] house.
He described his father as “so stupid, so weird”.

He said: “They had to make us do it [suck their pepe], they had to pull us out of bed… our bed was pissy and all of our clothes,” he “screamed and punched people,” “I was afraid”.

Interviewer: “What is a pee pee?”

Child B: “Boys have it,”

Interviewer: “How do you suck a female’s pee pee?”

Child B said: “You had to go in”, you had to “lick it, in the middle”. When trying to describe female private parts he said “do you know the thing in the middle of it?”

Interviewer: “Who took you out of bed?”

Child B: “My dad and my mum took my sister to a big room with no windows in my mum and dad’s house, stinky”.

He said his father penis was “massive with hair”. He said the people took their clothes off.

Child B: “They would suck ours, they bite it with their teeth, sad and it hurt so much, lying down on the floor, all the people who drinks would be in the room, they would see what was going on”.

He could not remember exactly when the abuse took place but said it happened “even when I was a baby” and when he was five. He said it happened “more than two times, lots and lots and lots and lots and lots more”. He said the abuse happened in his house, “at different times a long time ago”. He said the family kept getting new houses and gave the number and colour on the front door.

Child B described Child A being physical assaulted by Man Y. He said he had a hiding place so never got caught.

He said his parents had watched us and said “get down” and they pushed us.

Evidence from Psychologist
A senior clinical psychologist was commissioned by the CFA to review the DVDs to provide her expert opinion on the credibility of the disclosures made by Child A and Child B. As part of this review she spoke with the parents, the children and both sets of foster carers and she also reviewed the contemporaneous social work notes. Counsel for the mother cross examined the psychologist on the veracity of the information sources and on hearsay evidence. The psychologist said she had no concerns about the suggestibility of the questioning of Garda interviewer or the initial question from the foster carer that led to Child A’s disclosure.

The psychologist was also cross examined by counsel for the father on her qualifications and experience. The psychologist had trained in investigative and forensic interviewing of children and had worked in a team that conducted approximately 70 child sexual abuse credibility assessments over ten years. She said the team found in less than half of those referrals that the disclosure was not credible.

The psychologist said a disclosure might be deemed to not credible or unsubstantiated for a number of reasons, including that it was accepted the child told the truth but the touch was deemed not to be a bad touch; the child made an allegation which was not truthful; the child made no allegation during the interview; or the behaviour was between children and deemed not sexually harmful. She also said a lack of coherence when describing the event, poor recall of the incident and lack of details would raise concern regarding credibility.

The court was informed that since February 2017 the psychologist had been engaged, on behalf of the CFA, in therapeutic work with Child A and Child B and in supporting the foster carers to manage the children’s behaviour. This was a separate role to the role of credibility assessor. She said, if care orders were granted, this therapeutic work would continue into the future including work to address issues that might arise during puberty and when receiving sex education.

The psychologist analysed the DVDs. She set out that there were four stages to the interviews with the children, phase one: establishing rapport; phase two: free narrative account; phase three: questioning and phase four: closing the interview.

Presentation: The psychologist said in relation to both of Child A’s interviews, there was a change in her presentation at the start and end of the interview compared to how she presented in the middle section of the interview when discussing the disclosures. At the beginning and end of the interview, her demeanour was more open and “she was lighter”. In this middle section, her child’s demeanour, facial expression, body language and tone of voice changed, indicating she was hesitant and more reluctant to engage. The psychologist said this showed this topic was difficult for the child to talk about. The psychologist said this change in demeanour was an indicator that the child had experienced what she had described. If the child was coached you would not expect this change in presentation as the experience would have no meaning for the child so it would not impact on their non-verbal communication. The psychologist said: “I don’t think she was enjoying the disclosures, it doesn’t have a sense of attention-seeking behaviour”.

In phase one (rapport building) of Child B’s interview, his style of response was to give sparse answers with little detail. He was reluctant. When he makes his disclosure he gave a free narrative and got core details out, although these were not very coherent or well organised in terms of a beginning, middle and end. The psychologist said it was not until a child was about 10 years of age that they can recall events in a logical way. Child B tried to bring the interview to an end and take mastery of the interview. In doing this, he demonstrated he was uncomfortable. The psychologist said she had no sense that he was making these allegations for attention.

Acquiescence: Both children demonstrated that they were comfortable to admit they did not know the answers to a question asked and that they had forgotten something. The children also demonstrated that they were comfortable to answer in the negative, to disagree with a suggestion (or suggestive question) from the interview and on several occasions to correct the interviewer. The psychologist said this was significant as it showed that there was no acquiescence on behalf of the children. They were not making up an answer or agreeing with the question to please the interviewer. The psychologist said from their answers to scenarios put forward by the Garda, both children demonstrated that they knew the difference between truth and lies.

Age Appropriate Language: The psychologist said the children described the experience of oral and penetrative sex from a child’s view point. They did not use adult terminology such as ‘sex’ or ‘abuse’ when describing this behaviour. In the course of the interviews, both children used the term “pee pee” to refer to male and female genitalia. They described its toiletry function and indicated by gesture where the genitalia were located on the body. It was not clear from what source, if any, the children learnt the term ‘pee pee’. In exploring the meaning of the phrase “sucking pee pee”, Child A said she had to “go under” and elaborated on this by saying she needed to kneel under the person before engaging in this act. Child B said: “I bited the pee pee”. The psychologist said this language did not seem coached, it was from the child’s viewpoint and that without having the experience of oral sex a child would not use the word ‘bited’. The psychologist said the phrases used by the children for oral and penetrative sex “suck their pee pee and all”, “dipping his pee pee into me”, “sticking his pee pee into me” were age appropriate and were a child’s account.

Sensory Information: Both children provided sensory information in response to open questions. They expressed emotions and feelings and attributed these to what had occurred to them. Child B described pee pees as “feels like all so hairy” and spoke of being afraid and “sad, so, so sad”. In relation to oral sex, Child A said: “It was disgusting, if feels disgusting” and in relation to female oral sex she said: “It felt weird, it was all wet and all”. The psychologist said these answers indicated sexual knowledge beyond what one would expect for a child of her age. Child A described being gang raped and of feeling sore. The psychologist said the child would not have feelings or emotions about the behaviour if it was something they had merely viewed and not experienced themselves. In her opinion, this made the interviews credible.

Gestures: The psychologist said the use of gestures by the children to aid their verbal descriptions added to credibility as this action indicated that the children experienced it rather than been told to say it.

Rape: The psychologist was crossed examined on the point of whether Child A’s allegation were or vaginal or anal rape. Counsel for the father raised the issue of whether the child’s account was credible as the child appeared not to know the difference between her vagina and her anus. She pointed out that the paediatrician’s report did not support vaginal penetration. Child A alleged a person “stuck their pee pee into me”. The psychologist said the phrase ‘into me’ could refer to both her vagina and her anus. The child did not name the orifice in which the pee pee was put.

The psychologist said while the child demonstrated she knew the toiletry functions of male and female body parts, she might not have an awareness of her vagina being a bodily opening and would have no understanding of the other sexual functions. She said children did not know the sexual use of parts of the body nor the concept of penetration unless they had either experienced it or viewed pornography. Without a knowledge of normal adult sexual activity it would have been very confusing that a part of someone else went into her body.

The psychologist said the position of her legs (as described by the child) would make her anus and vagina accessible for someone to perform sexual acts on her. The psychologist also said the position the child was in meant she would not be able to see where their pee pee was being put. The psychologist did not accept that vaginal penetration was the only interpretation of the child’s disclosure. She said only one of the two blood reference include a reference to the term “bum” and commented that: “Whether or not there was penetration she was sexually abused; it might have been that a penis was brought to her vagina and her anus”. Counsel for the father drew attention to the fact the Garda had not sought to clarify with the child her understanding of the term ‘bum’ and where the blood was coming from. Counsel said if there was a problem with the Garda interview there was a problem with the evidence.

Context: Both children gave a context for the alleged sexual behaviour, they described the location and perpetrators. The psychologist said the children gave core details of the experience, which remained consistent and were repeated. The children also gave peripheral details such as information about whether or not people were clothed, where and when it happened, who was present, and the location of the house. The psychologist said children would generally be consistent in the core details but one would expect inconsistencies in peripheral details.

There was consistency in the interviews provided by the two children, both said the assaults took place at home, both named the same people as perpetrators and gave consistent descriptions of them. In the interviews, confusion arose in relation to the descriptions of Man X and Man Y and Child A corrected the Garda, who had mixed them up their identities.

Recall: The psychologist said if there was a single experience or incident of child sexual abuse you would expect a clear account from beginning to end. However, where there was multiple incidents and multiple perpetrators it was harder to recall specific details. She also said a young child (of their ages) would not be able to give an exact number of times they were assaulted or identify dates and times but might be able to say what year they were in at school or who their teacher was when the incident happened.

The Garda sought to establish what age Child A was when this happened, she asked: “Did it happen when you were nine, eight, seven?” The child said: “No” in relation to these ages and said the abuse happened “maybe before I was six or something”, thus she established that it took place before she entered care. The psychologist said given his age she would not expect Child B to have a clear timeline. He said the incidents took place “a long time ago”, he could not remember when exactly but his answer indicated that it happened over a period of time.

Alleged Perpetrators: Counsel for the father asked if the psychologist knew that some of the alleged perpetrators were teenagers at the time of the alleged behaviour and some were in the care of the CFA at the time. The psychologist replied that she had no knowledge of these individuals or their care history. She noted that it was not unusual for allegations to be made against another minor and it was not part of her credibility assessment to interview the alleged perpetrators. She said the parents were interviewed primarily in their role as the children’s parents.

I Love You Letter: During an access visit in 2015, Child A wrote a letter which said: “I love you very much, you’re the best mother in the world”. Counsel for the mother asked the psychologist would it be possible for the child to write this if she had been abused by the mother. The psychologist replied that the letter did not negate credibility. A child can still like and love the people who abused them, this was not unusual as people were not inherently good or bad.

Nature of Disclosure: Child A made her first disclosure of sexual abuse after being in care for 18 months. The psychologist said most likely she felt in a safe place, she trusted the foster carer to tell her and might indeed had thought the foster carer already knew. Child B made his allegations after he overheard his older sister discussing her disclosure. The psychologist said this was typical of how allegations come to light. The psychologist was cross examined about the fact that no further disclosures had been made to Foster Carers B. She said it was not abnormal. The children had said they did not want to talk about that “bad stuff” anymore.

Further Disclosure: The psychologist was asked about the fact that Child A said at the end of her first interview that there was nothing else but later made a further disclosure of penetrative rape. The psychologist explained: “Disclosure of abuse is a process, it is not an event. So information can come out at various points of time and it is not unusual for more to come out later.” She said an individual would “often start with tentative disclosures, if that is enough to protect them, they won’t make any more or they will see what the response is to that disclosure”. She said the child might be looking to see if she would be believed. She said that for Child A rape was the “most traumatic experience for her to recount.” In her evidence, Social Worker F said a child might be inhibited from making a disclosure by feelings of fear, concern they would not be believed, loyalty to family, and shame.

Tests: The psychologist carried out a puppet exercise with the children on their feelings about the disclosures they had made to the Gardaí. Child A wrote she felt “sad, scared, frighten and worried.” She also wrote she was “happy” because it was not happening anymore. Child B wrote that he felt “scared, sad, happy”. He was scared “whenever they done all that stuff to us”, he felt sad leaving his parents.

The psychologist also conducted psychometric tests on the children, parents and foster carers. The parents’ scores were deemed invalid as they were defensive in answering the questions. Child A was found to have scored lower than average in ‘self-concept’ (self-esteem and feelings about herself) and she was in the clinical range in relation to externalising behaviour (temper/aggression).

Foster Carers A gave Child A a maximum score for sexual behaviour. Child B was found to be under-reporting, implying he was defensive or avoidant. He scored as critical on four items – not trusting people because they might want sex, getting into fights, feeling afraid someone would kill him and feeling like hurting himself. Foster Carers A scored him as having post-traumatic stress and in the clinical range regarding sexual behaviour.

The psychologist was asked about the inconsistency in the test results from the two sets of foster carers – Foster Carers A found there were issues of clinical significant while Foster Carers B did not. The psychologist said this was “not unusual” given that the children had only recently moved to live with Foster Carers B. She would expect a different result from Foster Carers B if she conducted the test now as they had since reported that behavioural difficulties had arisen. The psychologist was criticised for conducting a psychometric test in January 2017 with Foster Carer A who not had contact with the children since November 2016, which was not in accordance with the recommended one month time period.

In her opinion, there were three hypotheses to explain the children’s statements if it was not something the children had experienced. The first was coaching. She said the children did not present as being coached and noted that it was very difficult to coach children, it must be done straight beforehand and the child needs to be rehearsed over and over again and might need prompts from the wings. The second hypothesis was the children viewed pornographic material. She said the children described behaviour and attributed emotions to it that you would not expect if these were behaviours they had not experienced themselves. The third hypothesis was lies. She said the children demonstrated the understood the difference between truth and lies and there was no indication that they were motivated by secondary gain.

Conclusion: The psychologist made two conclusions. First, that both children had suffered trauma, she based this conclusion in part on the psychometric testing. Her second conclusion was that the children gave a credible account of having been sexual abused. The psychologist said she did not use the other child’s interview to collaborate their sibling’s interview. She said they did collaborate each other but she did not take that into account. She assessed each interview on its own merits and found both to be credible in their own right. She said the children exhibited externalising and relationship difficulties. The psychologist did not make a finding on the credibility of the children’s allegations of physical abuse as her remit was solely related to child sexual abuse.

Consultant Paediatrician
The CFA commissioned a consultant paediatrician to undertake a forensic medical examination of Child A and Child B. Social Worker F said such an examination was initially considered after the December 2015 disclosures but was not deemed necessary at that time. She noted that: “It was an ongoing Garda matter, there was a lot we could not follow up on because of that.” After new information came to light and the Garda interviewers were completed the department decided to proceed with an examination. The parents objected to the examination so in June 2016 the CFA secured a court order to dispense with parental consent.

The paediatrician explained that a general examination focused on health while a forensic examination focused on the gathering of forensic evidence for court. He noted that while the examination concerned child sexual abuse he would normally also check for signs of physical abuse.

In relation to Child A, the paediatrician said she was “generally healthy and a bit smaller than the average child.” She had bruises on her legs. The paediatrician considered bruises over bony prominences to be accidental and not abusive. There was a large bruise on the inside of her right thigh between the knee and the groin which was an unusual location for a bruise. He said: “One single bruise is hard to draw any single conclusion from and I couldn’t determine the timing of the bruise.”

He said there was a bump on the edge of her hymen. The paediatrician said: “It is normal to have a bump on the hymen and it is not a sign of trauma.” There were no signs of penetration to the hymen and he said that where there had been penetration, signs were expected to persist. “In terms of little penetration there might be very little damage depending on the age of the child. That damage can heal and very minor injuries should heal up,” he said. He noted flattening of the skin in the anal area and said on “the outer area a more central anal fold was present and it was symmetrical.” The area of flattened skin was a non-traumatic normal variant and it was a birth defect that the children had around the anus.

The paediatrician observed widening of the internal and external sphincter muscle of Child A and said it was opening and closing intermittently. He explained that dynamic anal dilatation was often found in children who would have suffered alleged abuse and dynamic anal dilatation did not last forever and settled within a couple of months.

Counsel for the father said Child A made disclosures in the transcript of multiple penetration by adult men and asked would that leave physical signs. The paediatrician answered “yes, [signs] of the vagina and maybe of the anus”. Counsel for the father said Child A had said: “She suffered pain in the transcript and she described vaginal penetration. If it was very sore would there be signs of vaginal penetration?” He replied: “No, as she was pre-pubertal and the hymen was very thin”.

The judge asked: “If the hymen was partially damaged, in the space of time when the child was seven and when you saw her aged nine, could the hymen have regrown?” The paediatrician replied: “Yes, but it [the hymen] does not regrow but rather smoothes out and the cut is no longer visible”.

The paediatrician concluded based on the history and examination of Child A, there was a concern of Child A having been exposed to child sexual abuse. He said the examination did not support penetration of vagina and dynamic anal dilatation was supportive of Child A having experienced anal abuse but did not conclude it. The paediatrician concluded the “absence of a finding does not preclude that child sexual abuse happened.”

In relation to the examination result showing no signs of vaginal rape, Social Worker F said: “It was not very often that the medical evidence is clear.” Counsel for the CFA said: “It could corroborate a history or anal penetration”.

In respect of Child B, the paediatrician observed one large bruise on the inside of the upper thigh. He said: “It was an unusual location as the bruises a child has are usually caused by accident and are over bony prominences such as the elbow or knee.” It was explained that the bruise was caused when Child B crashed his bike. The paediatrician said the “examination did not support evidence of recent or past penetration of his anus” but the absence of injury did not negate the possibility that abuse happened.

Child B said “they bited it and it was real sore”. Counsel for the father asked was there anything to support a genital scar which related to a bite. The paediatrician answered “no”. He said: “Based on information and history from the social workers and foster carers as well as the examination I felt the history was an accurate reflection of what had happened and that Child B would be at risk of child sexual abuse.” He said the behaviour of Child B required further assessment and intervention.

Evidence from Garda
The CFA called a Garda to give evidence in relation to two incidents which took place in 2010 and in 2013. Prior to the witness being heard, counsel for the mother objected to the Garda giving evidence on the 2010 incident on the grounds that it had not been previously disclosed, the children were not at issue and it was highly prejudicial. The Garda did not have her notebook with her in court so would be relying on a Pulse record. The barrister argued that a Pulse record was not considered a contemporaneous note, only a note book was acceptable. Her position was supported by counsel for the father who argued it would be a breach of fair procedures to allow the evidence to be given. She said if anything, under the balance of probabilities standard in this civil case “the rules have to be even stricter”.

In response, counsel for the CFA informed the court that he only became aware of the 2010 incident this morning. The Garda remembered a previous incident and went to the Pulse system to find it. Her notebook had not been located as of yet. He said the print out from Pulse handed into court was regarded as a contemporaneous note and the incident did not concern a conviction. He argued that the parents’ representatives were trying to impose a criminal standard in a civil case, where the balance of probabilities apply. He said the incident went to the relationship between the parents, corroborated the children’s account of their home life and the credibility of the parents who had asserted there was no domestic violence.

The judge dismissed the objection and noted that the barristers for the parents could cross exam the witness, make submissions on weight and their clients could give evidence.

The Garda gave evidence in relation to an incident that occurred during the afternoon in September 2010 at the family home. The mother reported to the Gardaí that the father assaulted her, the Garda stated that: “Both were intoxicated and aggressive towards each other, he was arrested and brought to the Garda station, where he was charged and released. There was no record of whether the children were present.” She said when the Gardaí arrived at the house both parents were outside the house shouting, “we were trying to separate the two of them,” she could not recall if she went into the house. The case was recorded on Pulse as being struck out in October 2010 as the mother withdrew her complaint. The Garda was cross examined on the details of the 2010 incident.

The Garda also gave evidence that in October 2013 she received a call to go to a domestic incident at the family home at night. She observed both parents shouting at each other. She organised for an interpreter on the phone to assist her. The father reported that the mother had taken his social welfare card and he wanted it back. The social welfare card was given back. The Gardaí advised the father to leave the house for the night, which he did. On foot of this incident, the Garda made a child protection referral on the grounds of child neglect as she had observed that both parents were “intoxicated and were aggressive towards each other and both children were present in the house” and one parent had to be removed from the house.

Evidence of CFA Social Workers
To support their application, the CFA called six social workers to give evidence to the court. Social Worker A was involved with the family when the children entered care in June 2014, Social Worker B was the allocated social worker for Child A and Child B in 2014. Social Worker C undertook some work with Child A and Child B after the disclosures of neglect. Social Worker D was the allocated social worker for Child C and was appointed in January 2016, six months before the child’s birth. Social Worker E was the children’s allocated social worker from May 2015 to February 2017 and finally Social Worker F was the children’s allocated social worker from February 2017 onwards.

Social Worker A: Social Worker A was involved with the family when the children entered care in June 2014. She said the CFA received a referral regarding alcohol misuse and a lot of people being at the house. The Gardaí were contacted and a joint home visit took place. The parents presented as dishevelled and it was clear the father was under the influence. “The parents were dismayed as to why we were there,” she said.

Gardaí found an unknown male asleep upstairs next to the Child A’s bedroom. She said the unknown male came downstairs and asked to speak to Child A. Child A said she did not know who he was. In his testimony to the court, Man Y confirmed that he, along with Man X, were in the house on the day the children were taken into care. He denied asking to speak to Child A. He also denied he was ever upstairs in the house. The social worker said Man Y became abusive when his identity was made known to the social workers.

The house was described as “noisy, chaotic and dirty with empty food cartons, bags of beer cans and empty vodka bottles”. The curtains were closed and there was a strong smell of alcohol and cigarettes. She said the room was dull, dreary and sparely furnished, with dirty pots and pans and little food. There were two single beds although there were four people in the home and the parents slept in the sitting room. The children’s clothes were not age appropriate, being too small for the children. The toys were dirty and not age appropriate.

The social worker concluded it was unsafe for the children to remain in the house due to neglect and the parents’ presentation. The parents consented to the children entering care on a voluntary basis. Child A was brought to the social work office. Child B was not in the house at the time of the home visit. When the social worker requested the child be brought back to the house the mother became distressed, irate and abusive.

Child B was later brought to the social work offices accompanied by two Gardaí. She said Child A did not react when she came into care, she was sullen and blank and Child B did not appear to be afraid at being taken into care. Neither child asked for their parents. A medical examination by a GP was arranged for the children. The examination found the children were underweight, Child A had a mark on her lip and Child B had an issue with one of his leg and walking.

The social worker said she and a colleague conducted an unannounced home visit the following day. The house was in the same state and the parents presented as untidy and tired. The parents said that they had not consumed alcohol but the social worker did not believe them as “they presented as under the influence and looked worse than the day before.”

The social worker carried out two further unannounced home visits and on those occasions the house was “clean and significantly different and the parents were coherent.” She recommended domestic abuse services to the parents. She said the parents gave undertakings to stop drinking but it had not stopped.

Counsel for the CFA asked the social worker if she was concerned about child sexual abuse. She replied that: “My concern was the unknown man in house when I had arrived and the level of access he had to the children. That was a risk factor but there was nothing to suggest the children had been abused at that stage.”

The social worker explained that access was arranged for three days a week. The parents were generous at access and brought treats for the children but they were unable to meet the needs of the children, such as providing them with enough to eat. She concluded the parents “lacked insight and did not understand the gravity of how it felt for the children to experience alcohol misuse and domestic violence”. The social worker reported that Child A said things were “horrible at home and the parents drank all the time”.

Social Worker B: Social Worker B was the allocated social worker for the two children during 2014. She conducted a home visit with a colleague while the children were on an access visit. Initially no one answered the knock on the door and she has to telephone the parents to get a response. She reported the kitchen to be clean and the mother appeared well. She noticed the living room door was open, the curtains were closed and the father was on the floor.

It was explained that the father had taken an early bus that morning and was sleeping. The father’s eyes were bloodshot and she suspected he was hungover. There was an unknown male was in the house and “his eyes were glazed and bloodshot”. He appeared to be under the influence of a substance but the social worker could not smell alcohol. The social worker said she could smell alcohol but could not say if it was coming from one or both parents.

She also described another home visit [this is also referenced by the foster care below]. The mother was at home and explained that the father had to make an urgent call to a local shop. She observed empty litre bottles of vodka and beer cans. The mother said these items were in the house since the children went into care and a friend was helping her clean up the house. The social worker saw an empty pizza box and bottles of beer in a shopping bag with a receipt. The receipt post-dated the date the children came into care.

The social worker asked to view upstairs and the mother agreed but said she needed to use the bathroom first. From the foot of the stairs the social worker had a view of the bathroom and noticed that the mother did not enter the bathroom. She could hear voices and went upstairs. She saw four doors, all open except for one room. She asked the mother to open the door and found the father asleep in bed. The social worker said given her own observations it was clear that the parents were not refraining from alcohol use. After this incident, access reverted to being fully supervised, but remained subject to review.

The parents were evicted from their home and were reported to be homeless. Neither parent presented for access. The social worker sought unsuccessfully to arrange to meet with the parents. The following week, the mother presented at access alone and explained they had problems and moved into new accommodation but had been evicted again. At the following access, the social worker asked the parents to present an hour beforehand so she could assess their presentation. The social worker could smell alcohol but the mother denied this saying she had consumed red bull and used vinegar to remove a stain. The social worker did not believe this explanation.

The social worker said: “Given alcohol was the primary issue, in my view for a parenting assessment to be successful, alcohol needed to be addressed in the first instance.” Counsel for the CFA asked: “Did you get a sense of acceptance by the parents of the effects of their lifestyle on the children?” She replied: “Neither the mother nor father identified that they had a problem with alcohol and they had no insight into how it impacted on themselves”.

The parents stated that they did not need an addiction service and they did not meaningfully engage with the addiction counsellor. She said the parents had not made any positive progress and the primary child protection concern, the alcohol misuse of parents, had not been resolved.

The social worker said on her first meeting with the children, despite not knowing her, Child A told her about the parents drinking and how she would care for her brother when they were drinking.

Social Worker C: Social Worker C, the social care leader, undertook some therapeutic work with Child A and Child B to explore with them what their home life had been like. As part of this she carried out the ‘A day in the life’ exercise, which used art to bring a child through a typical day in their life. Child A (who was seven when she entered care) described that when she lived at home she had to get herself up, find and put on her uniform, which wasn’t clean. She said it was clean when the mother wasn’t drinking. She had to prepare her own breakfast as her parents would be in bed. She said the mother prepared lunch once and the father would do it sometimes and she made her own lunch when the parents did not make it.

Child A said she always walked to school with the mother and was sometimes late to school. She liked school and loved art. The mother walked her home from school. She would do her homework after school on her own as no one would help her. She said female relative X would cook dinner if she were there and if she wasn’t there she would have sweets, marshmallows and cereal for dinner. Child A told her that she would go on her own to the park and there were no family activities.

She thought bedtime was at 9pm and she said she did not like to go to sleep as the bed was too small. She would go to bed herself and put on her own pyjamas. She neither brushed her teeth nor washed herself before going to bed. She would keep the light on all night. She said she did not need the light on in the foster carers’ house. She said it was not peaceful at night, there was noise and female Y used to sleep in her bed. She said she would have numb dreams and wake up because something annoyed her in the night but she would not say what used to annoy her.

She said her biggest fear was that bad people would kill her brother. She said she had no nice dresses and the mother only bought “yuck dresses because she drinks too much”. She remembered Christmas 2013 that her parents drank and fell asleep and she had to call female Y to take care of her. She said she had no worries about female Y as she looked after her when the mother and father were drinking. She said two men would come to the house to drink and it annoyed her. She said the parents smoked hard stuff and they used to hide it from the Gardaí but she did not explain what hard stuff was. Child A said she felt confused because she wanted to stay with the foster carers.

In the same exercise, Child B said he and his sister fought at home and he said no one stopped the fights. He said his parents hit him and made him cry. He said his parents did not wake him for school or help him put on his uniform. He thought his father was responsible for his uniform being clean. He brushed his teeth himself. He said the father made breakfast and he had toast and ham. He got to school walking and the father walked with him. He did not know what time school started and was always late. He said he had lunch and the father would make his lunch. His favourite time of day was after school and his least favourite was bedtime.

The social worker noted Child B was unsure about his relationship with his mother. She said he “didn’t want to attribute any basic care giving skills to the mother as he would say the father did those things”. He worried about going to sleep as people came to the house and he did not like one of the men in particular. He worried about the parents’ drinking and wanted them to stop drinking vodka. He wanted to live with the foster carers unless the mother and father stopped drinking. He liked farm work with the foster carers and said he was not happy at school and hated it. He spoke about himself as being unlovable. He retold one occasion when his parents locked him in the house and went to McDonalds with his sister. He was confused as to why that had happened. The social worker reported that Child B engaged in masturbation including in front of other children.

The children had been told their mother was expecting a baby. The social worker recalled that on one occasion Child A, thinking the baby had already born, asked if the parents would be allowed to keep the baby. She said “they would kill the baby if they keep it,” and Child B nodded his head in agreement.

Social Worker D: In January 2016, Social Worker D was assigned to the case of Child C, who was due to be born in summer 2016, and she conducted a pre-birth assessment. The social worker conducted a home visit with the parents and female relative X in March 2016. She described the parents’ house as “clean, tidy, smelling fresh with food in the freezer”. The room had been recently decorated and father told her he “had done that himself and would be doing more”. She said neither parent appeared under the influence, they presented as sober and responsible. She discussed the experiences of Child A and Child B while in the parents’ care. She said the parents admitted they were drinking previously but said “the children liked the lack of supervision”, Child B liked to play computer games and Child A liked to change her clothes.

The father said when he and the mother had been drinking “the children could shit on our head and cover it with paper and no one would notice”. The parents said they could parent effectively when they were sober. The mother said she smoked 26 cigarettes per day but had cut down to 10 while pregnant. The parents were keen to have the children back. The social worker said: “They never spoke of the child’s needs, they spoke of how they needed their family back and the children around them. It showed a lack of insight into the child’s needs.”

Following this visit, the social worker completed her assessment and concluded that the risk to the child outweighed the protective factor. She said her prevailing concerns were the allegations of abuse, including child sexual abuse, against the parents by Child A and Child B, domestic violence and despite interventions the parents lacked the capacity to meet the needs of the child and to keep the child safe. She said: “The emotional impact of the children’s upbringing was evident”. A child protection case conference was held, after which a decision was made to take the baby into care upon her birth. The parents did not agree with this decision. The social worker continued her visits to monitor the health of mother.

When the baby was born she was admitted to a special care unit for medical reasons. The social worker contacted the hospital to make them aware that they would be applying to receive the child into care and that the parents should have supervised access with the child while she was in hospital and that they be treated with dignity. In late June 2016, an emergency care order was granted for the infant. The social worker acknowledged that having a new born baby taken into care was difficult for the parents. She said: “I did everything to make it as gentle as possible, it was devastating for the mother and she was very upset as was the father.”

She said there were a lot of tears at the first access visit after the child entered care and the parents took pictures of themselves with the baby. At later access visits, there was a lot of anger and the mother was upset and agitated and the parents wanted information including the address of the foster carers. The social worker reported that the mother said: “If we wanted to hurt our baby we would have gone to [home country].” She said she never took the social workers seriously and if they had realised the social workers were serious, they would have skipped the country. In early July 2016, an interim care order was granted in respect of Child C.

The social worker said there was some positive and appropriate contact between the parents and the baby, with the mother referring to the child by a term of endearment and the parents marvelling over the infant. However, there were other incidents of poor engagement between the parents and the child, including not making eye contact and failing to notice the baby’s cues. The social worker also observed four incidents were the parents were shouting during access. On one of these occasions, the father had his hand on the wrist of the mother and the social worker was worried for the mother’s welfare and her own.

At these early access visits the social workers were concerned at the father’s behaviours, he was observed taking pictures of the baby when she was being changed and had taken a video of the baby being bathed in the hospital. In one incident the father took a photo of the child while she was having her nappy changed and the mother was putting cream on her genital area. The father said he did this so “the court would see that the baby wasn’t being sexually abused.” The social worker said it was highly inappropriate for a person facing child sexual abuse allegation to be taking pictures of a child’s genitalia unless they were a professional. She threatened to call the Gardaí if the image was not deleted.

The social work offered to make a life story book for the child, which would include photos of the child’s parents and carers. The parents were not open to this suggestion. They said they would make their own life story book once the Embassy became involved and the baby would be returned.

In her conclusion the social worker said the parents showed no insight into the effect of access with Child C. They demonstrated a lack of self-control and of their emotions and the social worker was afraid the verbal aggression would become physical. The parents did not recognise the effect of their previous lifestyle on their older children. She said: “The parents presented as cooperative in order to avoid raising suspicions, but their opinions and motivations have not changed”.

The social worker said she understood the father had suffered an alcohol related health scare which prompted him to stop drinking. During 2016, the social worker department accepted that the parents had stopped drinking alcohol. In a December 2016 interview with the psychologist, the parents stated they realised that the children did not like it when they were drunk.

Social Worker E: Social Worker E was the allocated social worker for the children from May 2015 to February 2017. She heard disclosures directly from the children and reviewed the DVDs. She also conducted a credibility assessment alongside the psychologist. The social worker was challenged on whether she was an appropriately qualified person to conduct a credibility assessment, she rebutted this by setting out for the court her relevant qualifications and experience.

Parents’ allegations against a teenage foster child: Social Worker E requested a meeting with the parents in December 2015 but they did not attend. She arranged to meet them in January 2016, along with the GAL, to discuss the allegations made by the children against them. The parents denied the allegations and put forward the hypothesis that a teenage foster child in the same foster home could have told the children that if they did not want to go home they should make allegations against their parents. Social Worker E was also the social worker for the teenager, so knew his file, there was never a concern reported about him. She said the parents offered no basis for their concern about the teenager. She said she did not believe the allegation so did not pursue this theory and she did not speak to the teenager about the allegation. Child A and Child B never alleged that they were abused while in care, never made an allegation against the teenager and had not retracted their allegation against their parents.

Apology Letter: In November 2016, the parents wrote a letter to the children. It contains phrases: “[I] want to apologise to you for mistakes I’ve made in my life”, “You will be safe with us” and “Never give up”. The letter was partially read to the children who were happy with it and said they wanted to see the parents again. Social Worker E said the letter was of concern as it was ambiguous as to what the parents were apologising for.

Social Worker F: Social Worker F was the current allocated social worker for the children, she was allocated the case in February 2017. However, she had come into contact with the family before the children entered care in 2014, having called to the house on foot of a referral.

She said the children had a “honeymoon period” after moving to Foster Carers B but they had now started to display some of the behaviours, including sexualised behaviours, witnessed by Foster Carer A.

Child A had struggled at home and at school. The psychologist said Child A had specific learning difficulties, she had not achieved to the level of her cognitive ability for her age so needs additional supports in school. She was experiencing outbursts and calling her foster mother names “over nothing”. She could go into a rage which might last 10 mins to a couple of hours. However, Child A was slowly beginning to develop a relationship with the foster carers. The social worker said that Child A had formed an attachment to Foster Mother A, that was a loss to her when she moved placement so she was more cautious to make a connection to the new foster carer family.

Child B was very settled and content in the placement, he was getting on well with the foster father and the older male foster siblings were “good role models for him”. Child B was thriving on the praise he was getting for his academic work. He had approached the social worker and foster carers for support to manage anxieties and sexualised behaviour. The social worker said this was a “huge step” as he had identified his own behaviour and was trying to manage it himself, and asking for help.

The children were constant fighting with each other and were described as having a “very intense sibling rivalry”, that at times could be “vindictive”. The social work expert (who was unable to provide evidence due to ill health) recommended that the children should be placed separately. This recommendation was not known until after the move to Foster Carers B. The social worker said they try to keep siblings together as much as we can but they might need to separate the children in the future.

The foster carers
Foster Carer A: The foster carer for Child A and Child B from June 2014 to November 2016 gave evidence. The foster home comprised a couple and their four children. In June 2014, the foster carer was asked to take two children on an emergency basis for the weekend. She collected the children from the social work office and commented that they “didn’t look scared for two children who had just come into care, they looked small for their ages, unkempt and their clothes didn’t fit properly”. She said: “They didn’t look upset but looked excited like they were going on an adventure”. She noticed a “bad smell of urine and smoky smell, like an open fire”. The children never cried for their parents. She said Child B’s understanding of English was better than his verbal ability. Within a few months he was able to speak English. Child A could speak English well.

Basic Care: The foster carer said: “Their personal hygiene was not what it should have been at their age in my opinion as a mum”. She said the children did not how to use the toilet and toilet paper appropriately and were fearful of the bath and shower. The foster carer said the children could not tie their shoe laces or brush their teeth when they arrived into care. She said Child A’s teeth were in “very bad condition” and she had to have a lot of dental work. They both had speech and language delay. The foster carer said the children “never stopped eating, they continuously eat”. She said they had a fear that they would not get a meal again. It became a joke within the house as Child B would say: “There’s no house like this house, I get so many dinners”.

Boundaries: Foster Carer A said when Child A first arrived into care she did not understand boundaries. On the route home from collecting the children from the social worker department, Child A told her that Child B said he loved the foster carer. The foster carer said: “I found it [the comment] strange as I never met them before.” From the first day Child A wanted to call her “mummy”, the foster carer said this had not happened before with other foster children.

Child A would throw her hands around the inner leg or thigh of men, including the foster father and a male at her afterschool club. The foster carer described incidents in which Child A was observed to be seeking attention from boys at school and teenage boys in the local area. The foster carer said it appeared she was flirting but she was too young for this behaviour. Foster Carer A said Child B was continuously “rubbing his genitalia”.

The foster carer described an incident that took place two or three weeks after the children entered care. She brought the children to a handover for an unsupervised access visit with their parents. The mother was at the meeting stop (a car park) accompanied by two men. The foster carer said the adults appeared to be drunk, she smelt alcohol, she described one of the adults as “dishevelled” and that he was only wearing only shoe. The foster carer said that one of the men took Child A’s hand and that the child looked back at her as the group walked away together. The foster carer said the child “was terrified, she looked petrified.”

The foster carer subsequently contacted the social worker to express her concern. The children later identified the two men to be Man Y and Man X, the same men they described in their disclosures. The father was not present and the foster carer was told he was in Dublin. However, the children said the father was at home and was unwell. This was confirmed by a social worker who did a home visit the same day. The foster carer told the court that when the children at a later date saw Man Y locally, the children got quite upset and started screaming. She said Child A said: “Please tell us does he know where we live, please don’t let him find us”.

In his testimony to the court, Man Y confirmed he was with the mother and Man X at the car park. He denied he had been drinking and said they were all sober. He did not accept that Child A was frightened.

Hospital visit: Following an access visit, Child A had to be brought to hospital and was admitted overnight as she was bleeding from her anus. The hospital said there was nothing wrong with the child. Counsel for the mother criticised the foster carer for failing to report this incident to the paediatrician. The foster carer said she assumed he would be told as he worked in the same hospital.

Sexual Behaviour: In August 2015, the foster family were on holidays. Foster Carer A said she witnessed Child A and Child B in a bedroom together. They were both naked and were lying on each other, smiling and said “Let’s do the doggie do do”. This was the first time she witnessed the children engaged in such behaviour. In a later incident she witnessed the children outdoors dancing provocatively while partially naked and saying to her to “come get it, you know you want to”. She said the children appeared to be having fun, laughing and joking with each other but these incidents worried her. She said the children’s language was very bad towards each other and other children and she needed to keep them separate in the house.

First Disclosure: The foster carer said the first disclosure of sexual abuse was made by Child A on a morning in late November 2015. The children were playing and shouting at each other. The foster carer observed Child A rubbing a teddy bear in between her legs around her genital area and sticking her tongue against her the inside cheek of her mouth repetitively in a way that looked very adult. The foster carer had seen her do this before and did not like this behaviour so asked to speak to the child alone in the child’s bedroom. She asked her why she behaved like that towards her brother. She recalled that Child A stared at her “for ages”. The foster carer reassured her that she would not get into trouble.

Child A said when her parents got drunk, they would be naked and would ask to her to practice what they did on the teddy bear and she would have to practice with Child B. She described the parents having oral sex and said that the children had to perform oral sex on each other and on other people. She said: “I didn’t want to do it but I had to do it”. The foster carer said she “felt physically sick, I had to smile as I thought my reaction would frighten her”.

The following day, in the car she asked Child A if she was okay after their conversation the day before. Child B overheard what they were taking about and disclosed that: “I had to suck your pee pee and you’d have to suck mine, I had to suck Daddy’s, it was hard and hairy and I didn’t like the stuff that came out of it, isn’t that right [Child A]?” He also said: “All the [Females], always kissing us with their tongue”. Child B said: “big and hard and hairy and stuff came out” daddy would say “suck harder, suck harder.” “You know the boy we talk about [Man Y], he used to lie on top of us and he used to stick his pee pee into us” and he pointed down below. He said Man Y would be on top of him and the mother and father needed to clean the poo. He said: “It was really sore, it hurt.” The foster carer got emotional while giving testimony to the court.

Delay in reporting: The foster carer admitted she delayed for a number of days in reporting the disclosures to the social worker and that when she did report the disclosures she gave incorrect dates for the disclosures. She said: “I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know if it was right, I didn’t know if what I was hearing was real or to get my attention, then I knew what was going to happen in my house, everything was going to be different, the whole dynamics of our house was going to change.”

After the disclosure was made but before she reported it to the social worker, the children had an access visit with their parents. The foster carer was criticised by counsel for the mother for these delays. The foster carer said she did not want to believe it, she was scared. “I have no idea why it took me so long, I had no idea how to deal with that situation.” She said: “I can’t apologise enough for not making that phone call earlier.” She admitted that she was not aware of the protocol and timescale required of her regarding reporting. She did not make contemporaneous notes of the disclosures. On her next working day, the social worker visited the foster carer. Over the coming weeks social workers and the Gardaí meet with the children who repeated the disclosures to them. The children were also formally interviewed by the Gardaí.

Second Disclosure: The second set of disclosures took place in February after the children had been interviewed by the Gardaí. The foster carer said Child A said: “I didn’t tell you everything… I was afraid and that is why I didn’t tell everything.” The child described being sexually assaulted, including penetrative rape, by multiple people one after another. The foster carer said: “She was still, she didn’t cry, she showed no emotion, she didn’t blink, she didn’t move, she just told me what happened, I couldn’t help it I started to get really upset, she [Child A] put her hand onto my shoulder and looked straight into my face and she started to cry, she cried for the first time – she had tears coming down her face, she was so sad.” The foster carer admitted that after the child had made her disclosure she got upset, “went hysterical” and had to leave the room. Her husband came into the room, and took the child out to play with the other children. “I never saw her so happy as I did that night”, said the foster carer. Social Worker F called to the foster home a few days after this disclosure.

While giving evidence the foster carer provided the court with new details of the children’s behaviour at the time of the disclosures, including a mention of kissing with tongue. In addition, the foster carer’s evidence was that Child B disclosed penetrative rape, while the social work report recorded attempted penetrative sex. Counsel for the CFA said the reference to faeces implied there was some element of penetration. Counsel for the mother said to the foster carer: “It strikes me as odd but you added extra things in now than what she told the social worker at the time [two years ago].” The foster carer denied that she was embellishing her evidence, she said she had not spoken with the social worker for long and she was crying during the call.

Pornography: In late 2014, the children received two computer tablets as a present from their parents. In May 2016, the foster carer discovered Child B had accessed adult pornographic material on his tablet and had made a video of the children in the foster home without them being aware. It was noted that the tablet’s settings and some of the text were in the language of the parents. The tablets were given to the Gardaí.

Towards the end of 2016, Child A disclosed they “would watch people naked on the telly, they would watch bad stuff and we would take turns on each other.” She named her parents and Man Y and Man X. Counsel for the mother noted that this new disclosure occurred after the Garda interviews had been completed. Child A had previously told the psychologist her parents “made her watch bad stuff” on the tablet, like what she told the Gardaí.

Placement End: During summer 2016, the children became more difficult and sexualised. The foster carer noted two incidents. When the foster carer left the children in a car to do an errand, her children reported that Child A and Child B had undressed and one child reportedly asked the other to “suck my pee pee.” In the second incident, the school principal reported to the foster carer that Child B had exposed himself to three girls in the classroom. The children’s behaviour deteriorated and was “out of control” and included a key incident in which one of the children threatened to violently injure one of her children.

The foster carer said the placement ended as “I couldn’t do it anymore, I became ill, it was hard to listen to the constant fighting” between the children. The foster carer said she needed to end the placement to protect her children who had started to get upset and scared by the behaviour. Social Worker F agreed that the placement ended as the children were extremely difficult to manage and the foster carer felt there was not the correct support for her to keep the children in the placement.

She had not resumed fostering since the end of the children’s placement. She said the social workers knew she was upset and had not requested her to foster any new child. The foster carer requested respite care and the children moved to Foster Carers B with whom they had previously had respite care. The foster carer described Child A as a “lovely, funny” child who wanted to be a kid that everyone loved and Child B as a “bright, funny, chatty” child who wanted to impress and be praised. She said she did not regret the children coming to her home and that she sees them all the time in the local area, “you miss them, I hope they get the help that they need and they deserve”.

Allegations against foster care: The foster carer had fostered over twenty children in the past five years. During Child A and Child B’s placement with her she has fostered other children, but this stopped after the disclosures of sexual abuse. In response to cross examination, the foster carer told the court that there was never any allegation of child sexual abuse against her nor any allegation of child sexual abuse made by any child she fostered against her or anyone else. Child A and Child B were the first children she fostered who displayed sexualised behaviour. The foster carer said she did not coach the children to make the disclosures. The judge clarified that there was no allegation made and no instructions at this point on any such matter.

Throughout the hearing the legal representatives cross examined witnesses on inconsistencies in the children’s disclosures. During one of these cross examinations, counsel for the CFA objected to the use of the term “inconsistency” and said it was a matter for submission. Counsel for the mother, while cross examining Social Worker F, raised discrepancies between what was reported by the foster carer and recorded on the social worker contact sheets and what the children said to the Garda (in the DVDs).

For example, the children disclosed perpetrating acts of abuse on each other and of witnessing parents engaged in sex and mimicking these actions but these were not disclosed to the Garda. In response Social Worker F said the Garda recorded interview would have been stressful and it would be difficult for a child to remember all of their points. Another issue raised was that Child A reported that she did not have oral sex with Man X, just that he put it into her, but later said she did have oral sex with him. Another issue was that children were not able to give a clear answer to the question of how often the abuse occurred answering “every day” but also “a few times”. The psychologist said the child might be confused given that there were multiple perpetrators and incidents.

Child A was asked “Did you see [Child B] do that?” to which Child A replied: “No”. This was raised by counsels for the respondents as an alleged inconsistency as Child B disclosed to the foster carer that she had to perform oral sex on Child B. Counsel for the CFA put forward the argument that the word “that” might have been interpreted by Child A to mean either oral sex or ejaculation as the child had just provided a description of it being “like it was all wet and all”. Counsel for the mother noted that in the Garda interview Child A did not list Child B as one of her abusers. It was also noted that the Gardaí had no interest in child on child abuse.

Access with Child C
When Child C was taken into care the court directed access take place five days a week. This access was supervised and a translator was present. The CFA was not recommending that the child be returned to her parents. The CFA commissioned an assessment of the access arrangements from an independent expert. The expert said the frequency of access (five days a week) would lead to the child (from nine months of age) building an attachment to her parents. If access was reduced at later point the child would experience a significant loss. On foot of this assessment, the CFA secured a court order to reduce the frequency of the access between Child C and the parents. This District Court decision was subsequently upheld on appeal to the Circuit Court. The frequency of access was gradually reduced to once a fortnight. The foster carers reported the child to be more settled since the frequency of access was reduced.

The social worker said if a care order was granted in respect of Child C and access was left to the discretion of the CFA, they intended to reduce access to once every two months and to keep it under review. The frequency of once every two months was considered sufficient for identity purposes. The social worker said Child C was a “very happy child with no health or behavioural concerns”. She said the CFA is happy with the foster carers: “They are very attentive to her needs, include her in all family activities and family life and she has a strong attachment with the foster carer.” If a care order was granted the foster carers were willing to foster the child long term.

The CFA organised regular supervised sibling access between Child A and Child B and Child C. The social worker said that if care orders were made sibling access would continue as it was important that the children know each other. Given the children’s ages, the frequency might be reduced to every month to six weeks and would be continuously reviewed. A decision was made not to place the children together when Child C entered care as Foster Carer A’s home was not suitable because there were too many children. There was also a concern about the potential impact of the behaviour of Child A and Child on Child C.

The CFA had continually recommended that the parents learn to speak English to facilitate better communication. The CFA continues to provide a translation service at access once a fortnight with Child C and at court hearings. When the children first came into care they spoke their mother tongue but this ability has ebbed away and a translator was required for any access. Counsel for the father criticised the CFA for failing to support the children to maintain their cultural identity and mother tongue while in care. When they entered care they could both speak their mother tongue. The social worker said she was putting in place a cultural plan for Child A and Child B (and Child C in the future) to support them to learn their mother tongue, as part of this she had sourced a tutor to start within the year.

Access with Parents
Social Worker F said in November 2015 after the interim care order was secured both children told her they were happy with the decision and happy in their placement and that they did not want to return home. After the December 2015 disclosures, both children expressed a wish not to see their parents. There was limited access visits during 2016. In one visit in May 2016, the social worker observed that the children were not relaxed and did not spontaneously hug their parents.

At Child’s B First Communion in May 2017 the parents did not stick to the plan agreed in advance by the social worker to manage the event safely “and without causing a scene”. The children were observed as being hesitant when greeting their parents, uncomfortable when standing for family photos and seeking reassurance from the social worker and foster carer. A number of relatives arrived (unplanned) at the church and the social worker said: “The children were quite overwhelmed with all the family members, all trying to speak to them through the interpreter, they weren’t expecting them.”

A decision was made after the Communion that there would be no further access between the parents and Child A and Child B but the decision would be kept under review. The social worker acknowledged that it was “hard circumstances for [the parents]” but she felt the best interest of the child was not in the forefront of their thinking. The children had never asked to see parents, except for Child B who asked if he would see them on his birthday and if they would buy him a present.

In November 2017, during a sibling access visit Child A asked the social worker about the parents’ access with Child C (she asked the previous month as well). The social worker explained that the access visits was supervised and the Child A said: “That’s okay, I just want to make sure she is safe.” She added in a firm tone that: “I told you I don’t want to see my parents coz… I don’t feel safe”. Child B also said: “I don’t want to see them”. Child A said when she was living at home her dad would get mad and threatened to kill her, her brother and her mother and then himself. She said when the parents “were full of vodka I’d ring [female Y] from her mummy’s phone and she’d come look after us”.

The barrister for the mother crossed examined the Social Worker F on family reunification. The CFA had an obligation when they undertook a child in care review to consider family reunification. The most recent child in care review for Child A and Child B was in September 2017. The social worker said they took into account that the parents were no longer abusing alcohol, however, the parents had received no professional support so there could be a relapse. One of the original concerns was in relation to suitability of the home, but this was no longer of concern to social workers. While there were no reported domestic violence incidents, the social workers had observed incidents that raised concern for them.

The substantial concern was the allegation of child sexual abuse against both parents. There was no suggestion that either parent adopted a protective role so there was no consideration of returning the children to one parent. The social worker reiterated the CFA view the allegations as credible and so would be “very concerned” if the children were returned home. The parents were deemed to not have insight into the children’s needs and how to manage their behaviours. The CFA concluded that family reunification was not appropriate at this time. If things change a care order could be discharged.

The social worker noted that no risk assessment of the parents had been carried out as the parents had denied the allegations of physical or sexual abuse made against them. The social worker said if the children were returned home they would offer the parents support but would be concerned that they might not engage. The solicitor for the GAL noted that if the parents admitted to the abuse and acknowledged the impact on the children it would be a protective factor. She questioned if the children were returned home: “Why would the parents agree to bring them to therapy if they deny the abuse ever happened?” Social Worker F said that the impact of the parents denying the abuse resulted in the children believing they would not be listened to.

Respondents’ Case
The Respondent Parents called five witnesses, three family members (a young female Y, an older female relative X and a male relative Z) and two friends (Man Y and Female Z, a friend of Y). The witnesses were from either one of two jurisdictions and had come to Ireland sometime within the last fifteen years. They each acknowledged that the parents used to drink and that their drinking had an impact on the upkeep of the house.

All the witnesses denied the children were neglected and that there were incidents of domestic violence between the parents and spoke positively of the relationships between the parents and the children and between themselves and the children. The witnesses each denied the sexual assault allegations made against them by the children (and in the case of female relative X of being present while they were being abused). They each said the allegations were a fabrication. They also denied witnessing the children being physically or sexual abused or neglected.

Through the testimony of the witnesses it was established that the identities of the nine individuals named by the children in their disclosures were accurate – their name, nationality, physical appearance and relationships. Some of the witnesses initially denied knowing Man X. The witnesses’ testimony varied as to how often they and the other named people visited in the house but it was established through their testimonies that each of the nine named individuals regularly visited the house during the period the children lived at home.

Female X
Social Worker B said that when Child A and Child B came into care in 2014, female X, a close relative, made an application to care for B. The mother opposed this application on the grounds that the relative also abused alcohol. The CFA were also concerned about allegations of domestic abuse involving this relative and her partner, Z. In June 2016, when Child C entered care, this relative asked Social Worker D if she could be considered as a foster carer for the baby but she was deemed by social workers not to be an appropriate carer for the infant.

Female X said she was concerned about the impact of the parents’ drinking on the children, including school non-attendance. In her testimony, female X initially denied her ex-partner has been violent towards her but admitted this was true after counsel for the CFA entered into evidence a copy of a barring order which she secured against him. She admitted she was a heavy drinker in the past.

Counsel for the CFA handed into court as evidence a copy of a local newspaper article which detailed that the witness had been summonsed to court on foot of an incident of public disorder at a party. The relative said she “couldn’t really recall what happened”. Counsel for the CFA said “Yes, because you were so drunk” and said: “The children don’t say you witnessed them being sexually abused, they say you were in the house when it happened at a party with alcohol.” He continued: “Isn’t it possible you were so drunk you could not remember just like the night [described in the newspaper article]?” The relative denied these suggestions. Counsel for the CFA said the witness lied in her evidence that day and said the judge “could not rely on anything you say.”

Male Z
Male Z was the former partner of female relative X. He acknowledged that in the past he had been violent towards his ex-partner. His ex-partner secured a barring order against him for a period of three years.

Man Y
Man Y had the body mark as described by the children. He said he often visited the parents’ home, “maybe eight to ten times a month”, and would stay overnight in the living room. He said never went up to children’s bedroom during his visits, however a social worker had given evidence of seeing him upstairs. He said there were parties at the house and the focus of his visits to the house was to drink. He would not get very drunk as he “remembered everything.” He would drink for a “couple of hours and overnight sometimes.”

He said Man X was aged in his early twenties. They met through the parents and became friends. He said Man X had a history of being in trouble for violence and was currently in prison.

Female Z
Female Z was a teenager at the time the children lived at home and knew Female Y through mutual school friends. She initially said did not know Man X “in person” but under cross examination the court learned that she commented on Man X’s Facebook page and he was the boyfriend of her friend for a period.

Under cross examination she changed her testimony on several issues, including how often she was in the house and how often she saw Man Y in the house. She also acknowledged that Man Y was the boyfriend of another of the group of friends for a period. She denied an allegation made by Child A and B that the parents gave her alcohol. Counsel for the CFA said her evidence to the court was untruthful and should not be relied upon.

Female Z’s siblings (who were the same age as Child A and Child B) were taken into care for a period but were back living at home at this time. While the reason for their admission had nothing to do with this case, the allegation made by Child A and Child B against her resulted in her not being able to see her siblings over the Christmas holidays.

Female Z acknowledged that when the parents were drinking she and Y would look after the children, feed them, play with them and they would clean and tidy the house. She said: “I did it voluntarily, I didn’t want to get paid, I love them, I was a child myself”. She was cross examined by the solicitor for the GAL as to the reason she, as a teenager, would “go visit an adult man in his 40s, his girlfriend and two children? Why not stay at home with her own siblings?” The solicitor asked: “What was the reward?” Female Z replied: “No reward, I loved them, I wanted to keep them company” and “I didn’t want them to see their parents drinking.”

Female Y
When Child A and Child B came into care initially Female Y made contact with the CFA as she was concerned about the children. Female Y said she did not look for access as she said: “I was afraid I was not going to get it… if it didn’t work it would make me feel more sad”. Child A said this relative looked after her when she lived at home and the child sometimes contacted her for help. Child B described her as “the best”.

Child A did not disclose about the presence of female Y during the sexual abuse in her first Garda interview but did in the second interview. Child B named the female Y in his interview. In February 2016, after the Garda interview, the foster carer reported that the children had had an argument about female Y. In May 2017, the children met this relative at the First Communion and after which both children and the relative expressed an interest to see each other again. The social worker said they would explore access with female Y in early 2018. Female Y and female X see Child C at parental access from time to time.

Child B said female Y “was nice to them when the parents were full of vodka.” Child A said she “didn’t do bad things”. The social worker tried to get Child A to elaborate on her meaning but she would not. Counsel for the parents asked: “Is that a retraction?” Social Worker F said the phrase “didn’t do bad things” could mean a multitude of things. The girl had not seen the relative in a long time and was now asking to see her. The child may have thought she needed to say that in order to see her relative.

Counsel for the parents criticised the fact that the phrase was not explored further with the child by the social worker. Social Worker F said: “It didn’t strike me as a retraction at the time” in the context of how it was said “but when preparing this report I thought it was relevant.” Counsel said as a fair procedures point it should have been disclosed to the parents and it should have been explored with the psychologist, who had already concluded her evidence.

The question was raised if the psychologist needed to be recalled. Counsel retained their position on this issue. Social Worker E said she expected that Child A found it more difficult to talk about the abuse perpetrated by this relative as she remembered the nice and protective things she did for her, the child had a genuine warmth and connection for her. However, there was no reason to think that the abuse did not happen.

In her testimony, Female Y said she lived in a nearby town and visited the family home regularly. She was about 16 when the children taken into care. She denied all the allegations of physical abuse and sexual assault. She said: “When they [the parents] did drink, there were bottles all over the house, it was a mess, cigarettes everywhere, dishes everywhere, it was a bad state when they used to drink… When [the mother] was drunk she wasn’t a good mother.” She acknowledged the children missed a lot of school due to their parents drinking.

She said the worst state she saw the mother in was when she would have had to “help her to go into bed.” The father “was always fine to go to bed himself.” She said she did not witness the parents going unconscious after drinking. She said before the children went into care when the parents were drinking, “sometimes they would drink for the full weekend but sometimes they would drink for a week or maybe two.” It was normal for her to stay over.

The female Y said she and some of the other girls would mind the children while the parents were drinking. She said if she could not come over to the house (as she was in school or had a transport problem) the other girls would come over and take care of the children. She said she felt she needed to take care of the children and that she knew they did not like it when the parents were drinking.

She said: “Life was hard for them, when they see their parents drinking, I went through that so I totally understand.” She said she provided care for the children, including making lunches and dinner, sometimes walking them to school, taking them to the park or shops and putting them to bed. Counsel for the CFA said the CFA accepted that she cared for the children and that the children care for her.

She said she had a good relationship with the children and got emotional when describing them. She described the house and said the parents “often slept downstairs because they had TV down there,” adding that this was a cultural thing that people may sleep in the living room. She said when she stayed over she slept in the same bedroom as Child A as she had a TV in her room.

She acknowledged she was the girlfriend of Man X during 2012 and that he would have come to the house on occasion. She said female Z, and sometimes another friend, visited the house most days for lunch as the school was nearby. This contradicted female Z’s evidence to the court.

She said that since the parents stopped drinking they were “totally different people”. The mother’s behaviour and attitudes had changed in a good way, she was a much stronger person than before, she could see what she was doing wrong, she didn’t realise the mistakes she was making. She said the mother stopped drinking when she lost her children.

Counsel for the CFA said the witness’s testimony was prejudicial. He informed the court that the female Y had previously made a referral to the CFA in which she said she found the parents unconscious, the children opened the door, they were starving and dirty, she had to clean the house. Female Y said: “I don’t remember any of these words that are written here, I swear I never said any of this, I am completely shocked”. Counsel for the CFA put to the witness that she made a further referral to the CFA in 2014, in which she said the parents were not contactable, they were “probably drunk”, they had been fighting and broke their phone. The witness said she remembered talking to social workers but she didn’t remember what she talked to them about. Counsel for the CFA said the witness lied in evidence and so was an unreliable witness.

The case was adjourned.