Care order granted for girl who had made “remarkable progress” despite “extraordinarily difficult” childhood – 2021vol2#8

A care order was granted by a court in a rural town for a teenage girl where allegations of neglect and sexual abuse had been made.

Adjourned hearing

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) made an application for a care order for two siblings – a boy and girl – until they reached the age of 18. Both children were in care under interim care orders. The mother opposed the CFA’s application for care orders in respect of both children.

The hearing of the two applications began but following evidence being heard from the first witness it emerged that the mother had legal representation in relation to her son child A, but not her daughter. The solicitor for the mother in relation to the boy informed the court that she was not on record for the girl. The legal aid application had not got to the point where they were able to issue a certificate. As a result, the application case in relation to the girl, child B, was not ready to proceed.

The solicitor for the CFA said they had made it clear to the mother that she needed to secure legal representation and the actions of the mother in relation to the Legal Aid Board were described as “ducking and diving”. The judge adjourned the case for three months and directed that all efforts be made to ensure the mother had secured legal representation and the hearing was ready to proceed. She said it was “unacceptable that the case was in here today for hearing and there is someone here today with no legal representation”.

The judge requested that the GAL inform the child of the delay and that it was based on a “technical issue” and to assure her that her case was receiving attention. The following day the GAL reported back to the court on her conversation with the girl. She said the child was “quite upset” but thanked them for letting her know and would like the case to be finished as quickly as possible. The GAL said the child had a sense of abandonment and was disappointed that she was second. She came into care after her brother, left at home when he was in care and “she has a lot of question about that”.

Resumed hearing

At the resumed hearing the mother was legally represented by a solicitor and a barrister but she was not in court. The father was not legally represented and was not in court, and the CFA solicitor said he was due to have a medical procedure that day. Evidence was heard from two social workers and a guardian ad litem(GAL).

The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said that both parents had been properly served with notice of the application and he wanted to continue despite neither parent being in court. The mother’s barrister said that the lift the mother had arranged to bring her to court had fallen through. The solicitor for the CFA said they had arranged a taxi service for the mother to attend but she had declined this.

The judge said she was satisfied that the parents knew of the application and would allow the application to be heard as it was in the teenager’s interest.

Evidence of the previous social worker

The social worker confirmed her report and stated she had been involved with the family from the summer of 2018 until spring of 2020. She said there had been increasing concerns regarding the girl since the summer of 2018. The girl had been left in the care of her older siblings when her father had been in respite care.

In late 2018 there had been concerns about the mother’s drug use and the school raised concerns regarding the girl’s personal hygiene and general presentation at school. The school had started to provide, books, clothes, food and also showering facilities. A child protection conference was held before Christmas 2018 and a safety plan was put in place. A family support package was implemented in the early spring of 2019 at 20 hours per week. This package was withdrawn because of a lack of engagement by the parents and the assistance the school had provided was also stopped at the direction of the mother.

The social worker said in late spring of 2019 the girl made disclosures of sexual abuse. The girl entered care under a voluntary agreement in 2019. She said at the child protection conferences all efforts were made for the girl to stay at home and a family reunification package was established but the parents were unable to follow through and meet any of the girl’s needs.

She said the girl had written a letter which had stated how she felt, she absolutely wished to stay in care and made it explicitly clear that she did not want to return home. In late 2019 the girl made further disclosures of sexual abuse and a further safety order was put in place. The care of the girl was transferred to another social worker at the beginning of 2020.

The barrister for the mother stated that the instructions the mother had given was to say: “She did not agree with what was going on but what could she do.” The barrister said she had no further instructions.

Evidence of the current social worker

The current social worker said that in very early 2020 it was confirmed that the mother had begun to use drugs again and this was of significant concern. She said that it also came to light that the mother had been coaching the girl, had instructed her to lie to the social workers and to Gardai and because of these concerns an application for an interim care order was made and granted in 2020.

The girl made further disclosures of sexual abuse in late spring 2020. She said the girl had been interviewed twice by specialised Gardai and the investigation was ongoing. The girl may have to be interviewed a third time. She had contacted the Gardai prior to the application but was told only that the investigation was ongoing.

There had been a child in care review and the girl remained in the same foster placement and was doing exceptionally well. The foster carers have gone back to basics with teaching the girl all normal teenage hygiene and personal care routines and it was a very positive placement for the girl. The girl had changed schools because she had been ostracised at her previous school due to personal care issues and now she had started to thrive. She had repeated the school year and had done very well in her exams scoring really well in all subjects. The social worker commented this was remarkable given how disjointed her education had been to date.

An application to change schools had been made in the courts because the parents would not consent to the school change. She told the court the girl was most anxious her parents did not know where her new school was.

She told the court a short order was not appropriate as the parents had not addressed any of the issues or concerns the social worker had identified. The mother had stopped all contact with any professional service and continued to prioritise her needs over those of the girl. The father had rejected the claims the girl had made and stated that she [the girl] had not been mistreated. The social worker said that neither parent had the capacity to care for the girl nor had they demonstrated any willingness to change. The girl needed the order until she was 18 to meet her health and welfare needs.

The social worker said access would have to be carefully monitored and managed and must move at the girl’s pace. She told the court at present the girl did not want contact with her family and contact with her mother was stopped at the girl’s request. She said the girl had received a letter from her mother which had caused her significant upset as it reinforced feelings of neglect, rejection and of being unwanted and unloved. She was concerned about the impact access caused for the girl, this needed to be carefully monitored, and the girl needed to be supported with regards to access.

The girl had become exceptionally upset when her brother had been granted a full care order three months previously and she saw this as her being further neglected.

The girl had made her wishes and views clear. She was adamant that she wanted to stay in care and said: “The foster carers care for me the way my parents should.” This placement had met all her needs and her parents were either not capable or not willing to meet her needs.

The girl had attended monthly psychotherapy sessions for the last six months, and this was to continue for at least a further 12 sessions. She said the girl had struggled and she was emotionally younger than her peers, but the foster carers were really guiding and facilitating her development. The girl needed an updated educational psychological assessment and on-going consistent therapy.

In cross examination, the mother’s barrister repeated the instruction she had received from the mother and stated that the mother wanted to have face-to face access. The barrister said the mother had been told that she could not have access and that was why she had not contacted the girl. The social worker disputed this and said that the mother was not able to have face-to-face access but that she could have sent letters, cards or presents. The mother’s barrister said the mother had sent four letters, the social worker said she was only aware of one letter that had been sent, the content of which was inappropriate and had greatly upset the girl. She said the mother was welcome to send letters, but the content of those letters must not attempt to coerce or influence the girl.

The social worker confirmed her adult siblings had had no contact with the girl.

Evidence of the GAL

The GAL was in support of the care order until 18 as this was in the girl’s best interests. She informed the court that the foster placement was a long-term placement and all parties were in agreement, but formal confirmation of that was still outstanding.

She told the court the girl had made it explicitly clear in her conversations that she did not want to return to the care of her parents and wanted to break free and remain in care. She said that she did not want her mother to have control over her and she was sick of fighting with her parents. The girl told the GAL: “Tell the court [she] does not want the court to fall for her mother’s sob story.” She said she wanted to stay in care because her parents do not love her and the foster carers care for her the way that her parents should have. She said that the girl had ambitions and wanted to achieve things in life. She wanted to go to college, get a job and have a career and a family of her own.

The girl said her mother’s letter was manipulation and she did not want her parents to know where she was living or where she was going to school. The girl said she did not want contact with her older siblings but would like to have contact with her brother in care but was very wary of this because of the influence that her parents had over him. She said that once the care order was granted she would write to her brother and set the ground rules for contact with him, and if he agreed to those she would have contact with him but otherwise she would not. She did not want to be put under pressure by him as she felt he would do what her mother said or told him to do.

The GAL also shared concerns regarding access the girl had had with the mother and how this would be managed and told the court it should be directed by the girl. The judge said she remembered clearly when the mother was in court on the previous occasion, she had asked the mother directly and the mother had said that she was prevented from having contact by the CFA. The judge said that the mother was told she could have contact on the conditions set by the CFA.

The GAL said to date the girl’s education had been ad hoc and thwarted by her parents. When the school had stepped in to help the girl the parents had stopped it, but she was now doing exceptionally well given her starting point. She said at her previous school she was ostracised because of hygiene, clothes and lack of school supplies but she had thrived at the new school. She said that an educational psychological assessment should be done to ensure that the girl was given the best possible chance to achieve academic success. She had made remarkable progress, but this assessment would ascertain any extra help or support she might need that would further enhance all her opportunities.

The GAL said the girl was emotionally stunted and had a long road ahead of her and was likely to need therapy on and off for the rest of her life to deal with the effects of her childhood. She said that the girl trusted the social worker and the GAL, and she believed they would act in her best interests. She said the girl was an impressive young woman and she really did need this care order. She had come from this background of adversity but was compassionate and empathetic.

The GAL said the mother had demonstrated no insight into how her behaviour affected the girl. She said: “At best the mother just had no insight, at worst it was malevolent.”

The judge gave her decision and said that the parents were properly informed of the hearing, this date had been set when they were last in court and they had chosen not to attend. She had directed that the mother be appointed legal representation which had happened and accepted the instructions that the mother had given had effectively tied her legal representatives’ hands behind their back. She accepted that the mother was not consenting to the application.

The judge said she heard evidence from two social workers, the girl’s previous social worker and current social worker, and the GAL and accepted that the GAL and current social worker had developed a lovely bond of professional affection for the girl. She said despite the obstructions which had been placed in the way of the social workers and GAL they had ploughed on and gone above and beyond their duty to try to secure the best possible outcome for the girl.

She had considered findings of fact and heard the views of the professionals involved. She said the threshold in section 18(1) (a) and(b) of the Child Care Act 1991 had been met and made a full care order for the girl until she was 18. Her reasons for this were the following: the lack of capacity of either parent; the findings of factual evidence; the inability of the parents to place the needs and interests of the girl above their own; their inability to attune themselves to the needs of the girl; the mother’s unwillingness to co-operate with any service; the mother’s conscious and deliberate obstruction of any plan to meet the girl’s needs; the inability of the father health-wise to care for the girl, and the girl’s own wishes to stay in care given in evidence to court by the social worker and the GAL. She said she was satisfied that the order was proportionate and approved the current plan. She directed that the GAL was to remain appointed to the girl until the review date which was set for one year. She said that access was to be at the discretion of the CFA and in accordance with the wishes of the girl.

She then asked the following to be relayed to the girl: that she hoped the order would bring her peace of mind and security. She had demonstrated that she is a bright girl and developing her own talents despite the extraordinarily difficult circumstances she had already endured and wished her the very best of luck.