The Child and Family Agency (CFA) failed in an application for a Care Order for a very young child whose father had been jailed in another country as a teenager more than 20 years ago for sex offences with a child. The district court in a rural town was told the man had also served two terms in prison for failing to provide information to the police about his movements.
The father was in a relationship with the child’s mother for five years and had voluntarily left the family home in Ireland last year under the terms of an agreed Supervision Order. He had daily access to the child, who lived with her mother, from 8 am to 10 pm. He was not permitted to have one-to-one unsupervised access with her. The mother supervised his access.
The judge was told that the father had not committed any sexual offences since his imprisonment more than 20 years ago. He had a transient lifestyle in Ireland and had been forced to move house on several occasions when his criminal record became known to neighbours. He had, according to the judge, “been reticent in notifying Gardai of his movements.”
The judge said that the father had been a very young man when he committed the offences and there was no such thing as a Rehabilitation of Offenders Act here – it was a case of “once a paedophile, always a paedophile.” He said the father’s transient lifestyle might have been due to what he described as “loose talk” that he was a convicted paedophile. “People take a certain view of people like that,” he said. The judge suggested that neighbours might have been alerted about his previous convictions either by the Gardai or by the social workers.
The court was told that the father was willing to participate in a special programme for sexual offenders and he was due to have a preliminary assessment meeting on the following week. The father’s barrister said a psychologist had recommended last year that the CFA would source a treatment programme for him but nothing had been done.
This programme would require his attendance for 18 months and the CFA would receive regular reports on his progress. The CFA was seeking a Care Order for 18 months which meant the child would be taken from the family home and access for the mother and father would take place on CFA premises.
The judge was critical of the absence of research into re-offending by paedophiles who “had done their time” and had entered in relationships. “Do they go back to reoffend on their own children, what happens in other jurisdictions?” he asked. “They appear to be good parents and I would like to know the propensity of paedophiles to re-offend when there is no evidence of repeat offences. I still have to make a decision.”
When the judge asked the father’s barrister how long would the father’s name be on the sex offenders’ register, he was told it was indefinite. The judge said: “I think it’s very unfair.”
The barrister said it was 23 years since his client had committed the offence and he had complied with all the conditions of the Supervision Order which had been in place since last year. He had moved out of the house and he and the mother, who were still in a relationship, were now forced to maintain two separate residences.
The CFA solicitor said orders had been made in the Circuit Court which mirrored orders made in the father’s country of origin that he was not to have unsupervised access with children. The order did not apply to his daughter.
Judge: “At the moment he has access to his child as supervised by the mother.”
Solicitor: “We are not happy with that.”
Judge: “Has anything untoward happened?”
Solicitor: “We are concerned about what might happen.”
The CFA solicitor said the father posed a medium to high risk and a psychologist would give evidence that risk was always there. The CFA was not critical of the mother’s day-to-day care and love of her child but “we do not accept she is able to protect her child.” He said the mother minimised “the known offending” of the father.
Judge: “No, she will contradict you on the propensity of offenders to reoffend again. She has had him in her life for five years. Surely she would put her child first rather than her relationship and would have expressed some level of concern about his propensity to reoffend. The position you have taken up is – ‘once a paedophile, always a paedophile’.”
The court heard evidence from a psychologist who was engaged by the CFA to assess the risk posed by the father of harming his daughter in view of his previous offending. He said the father had minimised his responsibility and should have shown greater insight into the harm he had done. His abuse of the child had started when she was eight years old and he was 16. “He was remorseful and guilty about what he had done but lacked the insight to know what harm he had done because of her age,” he said.
The psychologist said he was quite sympathetic to his position and believed his risk of reoffending would decrease with treatment. He had not taken any responsibility for two children which he had from two previous relationships in his home country. He came from a close family and was very disappointed about the shame he had brought to his family. He had dyslexia and attended a special school. He had been cooperative during the assessment. After serving his prison sentence he had a number of different jobs and lost one when details of his conviction became known.
Judge: “A lot of these paedophiles find it hard to have permanency in employment and residency. How can he be responsible for the fact that he lost his job? Do you accept there is an unfairness?” The judge said being on the sex offenders’ list meant going to the local Garda station and telling them who you were. “They (the Gardai) had no interest in who you were other than that you were an additional risk ‘on their hands’.” He said there was “a propensity for policemen spilling the beans about who is in their area” and the offender was “branded for life. If I was in his position I would be concerned about people taking advantage of my previous misdeeds.”
The judge said the father was trying to get on with his life and by disclosing he was on the sex offender list “puts him back to nought again.”
The psychologist said the percentage of recidivism for sex offenders with minors was between 66-70 per cent and there was not enough evidence to answer the judge’s questions about recidivism. He had concerns about the fact that the father had breached conditions. He had failed to notify changes of address and had a conviction for associating with a known paedophile. The father’s barrister said this person was not a paedophile but had a conviction for the rape of an adult woman and his client had been unaware of this conviction at the time he was associating with him.
The psychologist said he regarded him as being at a high risk of re-offending. He had two children in another jurisdiction from two previous relationships and he had no contact with either child. One of the relationships ended when the mother discovered the detail of his previous conviction. He said the father interacted a lot less with people in the community. His offence appeared opportunistic, which was a plus.
He had Asperger’s Syndrome which could contribute to his lack of insight. He loved his partner and denied any intention to sexually harm his daughter. He wanted full access to her but lacked a degree of insight about how to ensure he would not sexually abuse her. He took very little responsibility for the breakdown of the other relationships. “It was always the woman’s fault,” the psychologist said. He said the risk of reoffending could be negated if he had treatment and any access should be supervised outside the home. The treatment programme would last from 12 to 18 months.
“What magic pill do they receive in treatment?” the judge asked.
The psychologist said the nature of the work would be cognitive behavioural therapy for the purpose of getting the offender to take responsibility and have insight as to what the child would have thought and what the world would have thought of it (the abuse). The father had three convictions, two of which were for breaches of court orders. The sex offences had happened 23 years ago.
He said the father wanted to parent his child and he had a healthy relationship with his partner. He had not reoffended since he was 16 years old and there was a commitment on his part to comply with the requirements of the social services.
The judge said the mother was very attentive. She was aware of his background and was seeking to get him help. Could that not negative his risk to zero? he asked. “The risk is never going to be zero,” the psychologist replied. “He has been opportunistic in the past.” “When he was 16,” the judge responded. “He’s not going around the highways seeking to drag someone into a hedge.”
The psychologist said he could not say what the father was doing but the majority of sex offences happened within the home. He said he would be happy to review the father in 12 to 18 months after he had received treatment.
The judge said the father had moved into rented accommodation and was satisfied to have daylight access four times a week and was prepared to participate in a treatment programme. He suggested to the psychologist that a Supervision Order would further reduce the risk. The psychologist said he was unsure if the mother was robust enough to protect the child. He wondered what would happen if the mother had to leave the room because the kettle was boiling. “The child can’t speak yet”. He believed the access had to be supervised by an independent individual.
“You’re talking about a perfect world,” the judge said.
When he asked under what conditions he believed the child could reside at home, the psychologist said the access could take place inside or outside the family home, with an independent professional witnessing the access and the father attending his treatment sessions every week.
In answer to a question from the father’s barrister, the psychologist confirmed that there had been no reports of the child having been harmed by the father. He agreed with the barrister that the court had given the father an opportunity last year and he had complied with the conditions. The psychologist said he was very positive about the father but he needed time in order to get treatment. He agreed it was an exceptional case in that he had not offended against a person for 23 years but “there is always an exception to the rule”.
A social worker gave evidence that the father was visiting the child two to three times a week. He was being monitored by the Gardai who visit him at his home in order to establish his whereabouts. When the judge asked why they were visiting him when he had not committed an offence in over 20 years, the CFA solicitor said it was a statutory obligation.
The social worker said the mother had complied fully with requests from social services and she was deemed capable of protecting her children but the father needed to have insight in relation to the possibility of his reoffending. The CFA was seeking a Care Order for the child for 18 months until the father completed the course. The social worker said the mother had a history of depression but had been well for two years.
The judge asked her how the mother’s mental health would be affected if her relationship with the father was broken up by the CFA Care Order application.
Social worker: “I think she loves her daughter very much and I think she would ensure her mental health by getting support from the mental health service.”
Judge: “Fill her with meds, is that it?”
Social Worker: “She certainly knows of the supports that are there.”
The judge said this was a case where he was being asked, “in my limited knowledge,” to make a speculative decision in a vacuum about the father’s propensity to reoffend and “to change the status of the child to being in the care of the HSE.” He said he understood why, after a number of years, the father had failed to notify the Gardai of his movements. “A man who sinned in the past when he was a youth, how long does he have to be penalised for?” he asked. “He is living under a set of circumstances which makes it impossible for him to move on.”
The judge said the mother was paying a huge price in continuing to have a relationship with the child’s father. She had taken a huge risk because of the social burden she was taking on. “She is a very brave woman unless she lacks insight and it’s a big price to pay to continue this relationship.” He referred to the difficulties which the parents had in settling in different parts of the country and said: “It’s a fact of life but it’s very unfair.”
When asked by the judge about the possibility of total reunification with the family, the social worker said it would be reviewed and they were looking at a time frame of 18 months for the Care Order. When the judge asked her if she accepted “once a paedo always a paedo,” the social worker said she thought the father would always be a moderate risk and that had to be borne in mind. The CFA solicitor reminded the court that the psychologist had stated he was at a high risk of offending against his daughter. The social worker told the judge that the child would be removed from her mother and placed in foster care if he made a Care Order. She said the father would be starting his course the following week. It would commence with a meeting and assessment and would last for 18 months. It would be funded by the HSE.
The mother’s barrister reminded the social worker that the expert who carried out an assessment of the mother found her to be a capable parent and the judge said the mother was aware of the father’s history.
“Here we have a paedophile living with a mother who is fully alert, who has greater insights into his propensities. Aren’t there a lot of safeguards within this family now that she is aware?”
Social worker: “It can still happen.”
Judge: “Listen, you can be hit by a meteorite going outside this door.”
The social worker confirmed to the mother’s barrister that there had been no concerns about the mother’s care for her daughter during the 14 month period she (the mother) had supervised the access with the father. The barrister said there was no reason why the CFA would want to move from the present situation to one of increased intervention into that family.
The father gave evidence that, when he was 16, he abused a girl who was eight years old. He lived in another country and he described his actions as disgusting and embarrassing. He said he admitted the offences as soon as the police called to his house. He pleaded guilty in court and served time in prison. On his release he attended a course for sex offenders and he said he had not committed any further sex offences. He said he had no compulsion or desire to abuse his daughter or any other children.
He said the CFA had contacted him and his partner shortly before their daughter was born and he moved to separate accommodation while she was being assessed by the CFA. He said she moved into a refuge while the assessment was taking place because she was told, he said, that the child would be taken from her by the CFA if she did not consent. He said he had never been on his own with his daughter and had never tried to manipulate his partner to allow him to be alone with the child. He said he loved his daughter and hoped that he and his partner would have more children.
When the judge asked him if doing a course for a year and a half would be a waste of time, he replied: “I said from the start I would do it. I will do anything to prove to people I want a normal relationship with my daughter and be a family. It feels like I have been divorced from my family.”
He was asked about his breach of an order not to associate with known sex offenders and explained that he had befriended a neighbour when he was living in a different location in Ireland who shared his interest in fishing. This individual had told him he had a conviction for manslaughter but it subsequently transpired that he had been convicted of raping an adult woman. He said he had no knowledge of this until the police came to the door.
The judge said the mother’s position was not in dispute. All parties regarded her as a competent person in every respect. It was beyond doubt that she was a caring and nurturing parent who was capable of minding her child. He said the consideration of the likelihood of abuse or harm had to be based on fact and not just on suspicion and he was taking into account the fact that the father had not committed any sexual offences in over 20 years.
He refused the CFA’s application for a Care Order. Having considered all the evidence, he believed the appropriate response to the CFA’s application was to make a Supervision Order. The decision was, he said, finely balanced. He said he was adopting an incremental, proportionate approach and ordered that access would take place in the family home for 4 hours every day with a further 2 hours’ access each day in a public place which was “not isolated”. The access would be supervised by the mother and it was implicit in the orders that the parents would live apart. The Supervision Order would remain in place for 12 months and the father was to attend the 18 month treatment course with the support of the mother.
“I’m taking a step-by-step approach,” the judge said.