Care order for abused 15-year-old girl – 2013vol3#5

A care order was made for a 15 year-old-girl who claimed she had been physically and verbally abused by her mother for as long as she could remember. The HSE sought the care order at a District Court hearing in a rural town after the girl had complained at school that her mother had hit her with a coat hanger. Following the complaint, the HSE contacted the guards who interviewed the girl at her school. The guards did not believe the disclosures made by her to them were serious enough to require the use of section 12 of the Child Care Act which empowers them to take children into care in emergencies, but the mother did agree with the HSE that her daughter could reside with a relative on a temporary basis.

A senior social worker with the HSE had attended the school on the day of the complaint. She described to the court how the girl was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably. The girl was worried that she would be sent home to her mother. She said she was not allowed to talk during dinner and was made to clean the house. She was verbally abused and her mother called her “a bastard” which was very upsetting for her. She said her mother regularly slapped her and threw shoes at her. The violence had been going on for as long as she could remember and she would have bruises on her arms and back but these would heal very quickly. The social worker said her complaints were “very credible”. She was crying and distressed and had a fear of what would happen to her if she was sent home.

The girl had been in foster care with her relative since last year and the HSE were now seeking a full care order which would mean that she would remain with her relative foster carers until she reached the age of 18. Her allocated social worker gave evidence that she wanted to stay with her relative and didn’t want to have any access with her mother. “We always encourage access but the child doesn’t want to have access and wants to make it clear that she doesn’t want to return home,” she said. She was very anxious about the care order application and feared she might be forced to return home.

Since going into foster care, she had made similar disclosures about verbal and physical abuse which the mother continued to deny. If the care order was made, the HSE would work on getting the girl’s agreement to have access with her mother but at present she was “a 15-year-old who doesn’t want to return or have access and is adamant she wants to stay where she is.” She wanted access with her younger brother but not with her mother. The social worker said there were no safety concerns about the brother.

The mother’s barrister suggested the HSE had not done enough to persuade the girl to agree to access but the social worker said the child’s wishes had to be listened to. “We cannot enforce anything that she doesn’t want,” she added. When the barrister asked her if the mother had been given a chance to apologise, the social worker said the mother had attended a child-in-care review meeting last year where she had accused her daughter of lying and the daughter left the meeting because she was upset. The barrister said she had not been able to see her daughter since then and she wanted to say sorry.

The mother gave evidence about the incident which led to her daughter being place in foster care. On the previous night her daughter was downstairs with her boyfriend and the mother told her to make sure the front door was locked before she went to bed. When the mother wore up on the following morning, she discovered that the front door was open. “I was erratic and behaved badly,” she said. “In no circumstances did I lift a hanger and beat her.”

She said she flung clothes which included some hangers at her daughter because her room was untidy and one of the hangers hit her daughter on the arm. She agreed that she should have apologised at the time. She then sent her daughter to the shop to get change for her school lunch and she came back with a can of coke and a breakfast roll having spent the lunch money. “I kicked the coke out of her hand and I shouldn’t have.”

She said that she had been continuously ringing the HSE social work department to find out what was happening and claimed she was ignored to the point where her health was being jeopardised. The HSE had given a lot of support to the fostering relative but she had been shunned and given no support. “I have no confidence in the social workers.” She denied that she had been beating up her daughter but admitted that she could be hot-tempered.

She told the HSE solicitor that she had been advised by them to agree to the care order and that she could always go back to court to get it changed later. Asked why she had not attended a child-in-care review meeting a few months previously, she said she did not see the point in going if her daughter was not going to be there. “I want to be able to meet her and say sorry but the social workers aren’t helping that.”

The guardian ad litem supported the HSE application for a full care order. He said the child would not go home even if the mother apologised and if the care order was not granted, she still would not return to her home. She had previously left home and the abuse started again when she returned. She had outlined physical and emotional mistreatment to him, the social staff, teachers and gardai and he had no reason to doubt the veracity of what she was saying. Serious consideration had to be given to her wishes and views.

He said a Care Order might provide an opportunity for bridges to be mended and it was incumbent on the HSE to try to restore the relationship. Once the Care Order was made the mother would have all the internal procedures through which she could raise issues in the context of mending her relationship with her daughter and she could bring the matter back to court

The judge made the care order stating that there could only be one outcome as far as he was concerned. He was completely satisfied he must make the order in the child’s best interest and in the interest of her re-establishing her relationship with her mother. He said the care plan must address the issue of access. That had been accepted by the HSE and he hoped that this would resolve it. “Certainty and finality here today is what will help,” he said.