Application renewed and further adjourned to lift in camera rule to refer CFA Signs of Safety policy to Ombudsman for Children – 2024vol1#62

See also Report 34 of 2023 Vol 2:


The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) for a young child renewed her Section 47 application to lift the in camera rule to allow her to send the GAL report to the Ombudsman for Children, in order to allow him to carry out a review of the CFA’s signs of Safety policy.

An earlier application had been adjourned to permit the CFA to carry out its own internal review. The CFA solicitor told the court that this review could take a further number of months to complete.

The solicitor for the GAL argued that the Ombudsman for Children was a totally separate function and that the desktop review was now not to start until a month later than planned. The internal review being conducted by the CFA had no bearing on a referral to the Ombudsman for Children and both could happen simultaneously.

The CFA solicitor said that there was ongoing correspondence regarding the matter and that the Terms of Reference were being finalised and had been provided. The judge asked if there was a timeline and the CFA solicitor said no, similar type reviews took three to six months.

The GAL’s solicitor argued that the CFA were objecting as it was a Signs of Safety review. She said the Ombudsman had completed other reviews regarding scoliosis and the Traveller community. She said she was seeking permission to send a letter to the Ombudsman and to include certain documents.

The solicitor for the GAL said the concerns were grounded in the children they represented, and it was not a “theoretical review.”

The judge said he would keep the matter before the court and he adjourned the GAL’s section 47 application. He said he required a further update on the internal review on the adjourned date.

Subsequent hearing

When the matter came back before the court, the CFA solicitor said that the internal review was underway and was scheduled to be completed within three months and was on track. He said the solicitor for the GAL was to meet CFA management.

Again the solicitor for the GAL said she was renewing her application to make a referral to the Ombudsman for Children. She said she was also exploring other cases.

The CFA solicitor said the matter had been aired before the court a number of times and he was asking that the CFA be allowed to do their own review and he asked for that to be honoured.

The solicitor for the GAL said she was making similar applications in other District Courts around the country. She said another judge had asked for submissions on her questions and that these were due to be submitted in April. The solicitor said that there was a general consensus that there was a problem with the system being used. She also referred to the affidavit previously sworn by the GAL herself.

The CFA solicitor asked for the case to go back and said the review had commenced. It was confirmed that a written report would be provided to the GAL and her solicitor. The application was adjourned for two months

Further hearing

When the adjourned hearing began the court heard the report of the review had been made available the morning of the court date. The author of the report was not present in court. A solicitor was present on behalf of the CFA and the GAL was in court represented by a solicitor.

The solicitor for the GAL said that she had only briefly had time to read the report, but her initial impression was that she was disappointed. She said this child, a toddler, had been found in a room covered in dog faeces, with an unguarded pit bull terrier next to their dead mother. She said the detective garda who had witnessed the scene, who was a very experienced garda, had said it was the most shocking scene he had come across.

The toddler had such bad dental decay that 17 teeth had to be removed. When this toddler had been placed with a foster family, the toddler did not know what toys were. The child was terrified of the foster father and brother. She said that while the toddler had begun to reach developmental milestones and use words, there were no words to describe the level of trauma this toddler had been subjected to which may remain with the toddler for the rest of their life.

She said the Signs of Safety plan had recommended two extra people be appointed to the safety network and they were never appointed. She said there had been insufficient emphasis placed on the family history from which this toddler had come. This history had included that the mother’s other children had been taken into care, and that there had been a national alert in the United Kingdom in relation to the toddler’s sibling.

She said that the best predictor of future behaviour was past behaviour and given the past history, the harm this toddler had suffered was reasonably foreseeable, but the CFA closed the case. She said it was only luck that had this toddler not been subjected to worse.

She said the Signs of Safety policy started with where the family were at in the present moment, the moment they presented to the CFA. There was not sufficient importance placed on the protection this toddler needed. There had been no recognition of the risks and dangers. She said the United Kingdom had started to move away from the Signs of Safety programme because it was not sufficiently protective of children.

The CFA had made two visits in 2020 to the toddler and no visits in 2021 and had closed the case in November 2021. She said the CFA had relied on reports from other professionals and information from other sources. The internal independent review had noted that at times forms had not been completed correctly.

She said there had been numerous cases where judges had of their own motion directed that reports from GALs or social workers be forwarded to the Ombudsman for Children. She said the Ombudsman had a separate statutory role to investigate welfare concerns of children. The Ombudsman had conducted systematic reviews of children from the Traveller community, with scoliosis and children who were refugees. She said it was within the remit of the Ombudsman to conduct a review of this policy and it was her instructions from the GAL to seek that.

The solicitor for the CFA said that he wanted the court to adjourn the matter, as the report had only been published the morning of the hearing. He said it was necessary to fully review the report and he wanted to take instructions from his clients.

The judge said that she would adjourn the matter for one week for all parties to carefully review the report.