A Care Order was refused and a Supervision Order granted in a case where the judge commented that the mother had demonstrated a certain amount of aggression and had also been charged with assault. The child had been injured and the mother and child had been living in a mother and child residential unit for 12 months.
The judge commented on the disparity of the strength of witnesses in the case, saying that the witnesses in the case from a mother and child unit were strong but that “equality of arms is a fundamental principle of justice.”
He said that one of the arguments put forward by the CFA, that the mother had a “lack of awareness” was, in his opinion, well-founded. The judge said that in relation to an allegation of physical assault (against the children), he took certain factors into account including the fact that the mother had not exhibited any aggression or frustration while resident in the mother and baby home except for one allegation that she shook the child, where she said she was “wiggling” the child.
He said, in relation to that incident: “There was no evidence to indicate that it was anything other than what she said”. The judge also said, in relation to the mother having admitted to one incident of having beaten the child that she was “convincing when reflecting on the memory of beating [X]”. The judge said that the mother’s evidence (of beating the child) was her only display of distress and therefore carried a “high degree of conviction”. He said that otherwise her evidence “was not interrupted by frequent proclamations of distress”.
In relation to evidence given of an anonymous phone call that the mother’s boyfriend had assaulted one of the children, the judge said that he accepted that the call was made but “whoever made it was under the mistaken impression that the boyfriend was beating the child when in fact it was the mother.” The judge said that the content of the phone call was consistent with the mother’s version of events (of hitting the child) and that the mother’s evidence was “volunteered by her and independently consistent with the phone call.”
The judge said that the beating of the child was not a “plea of desperation” but was “cold-blooded” and was in line with the same principle by which Irish people had tended to be educated. The judge noted that the mother had attacked the child but said that he found the likelihood of her repeating the assaults “extremely low” and that “she learns, although slowly.” He also said that she had been told and “appeared to have internalised the belief that it [the beating] was wrong”. The judge said that the evidence did not constitute grounds for a Care Order.
In relation to the second ground of the case, the judge said that the mother is “clearly missing an awareness of how to care for a child physically, emotionally and developmentally”. She thought a child could get dressed by himself at six months “demonstrating an ignorance of developmental stages.” The effects of the mother’s lack of skill were demonstrated by the improvements in the child since he was taken into care as his weight and communication had got better.
The judge said that the mother’s willingness to learn was accepted even though she did not accept the basis of the concerns about her parenting. The judge said that there was no doubt about the mother’s capacity to learn and a doctor had given evidence that he believed that the mother had learned skills from consultations with her solicitor in relation to giving evidence.
The judge said that he had regard to a number of other cases that he had dealt with where concerns over lack of responses arose. He said that he had been told that the mother would eventually learn and that the tone of the CFA arguments was “not without hope”. The judge refused the application for a Care Order for one year.
He said that he had not seen “the consequences which should follow the provision of adequate support” and he saw the prospects of her fulfilling the hope that she will improve enhanced by her having her child in her care. He said that the mother’s isolation was one issue and that her lack of awareness was also an issue. He said that he was concerned by the evidence and made a 12-month Supervision Order. He said that it was not clear to him that the child should go into care and it was an “unfortunate reality” that going into care damages children.
The CFA solicitor asked the judge whether he had a view on the injuries to the child and he replied that he found it “extremely concerning” that the mother had inflicted a serious injury on the child and that he accepted the mother’s evidence that she beat the child. He said that he accepted that the mother had certain difficulties and that within the 12-month period during which the Supervision Order would run, if things had not improved, he said he “would find it difficult not to make a Care Order”.
The judge himself suggested that a direction of the court might include a monthly medical inspection of the child and the mother’s solicitor replied that she would “consider all reasonable proposals”.
The CFA solicitor said that one of their concerns was the mother’s lack of social support. The same solicitor pointed out that, in a Garda interview, the mother gave conflicting accounts of how the child had received the injury. The solicitor said that the CFA was also concerned about the amount of times the mother moved and it was hoped that the mother and her child would stay in the same area.
The judge said that he did not think the mother had inflicted the majority of the child’s injuries but he did believe she had assaulted the child. He also said the mother had been in a mother and child unit for 12 months and had not displayed any aggression but also said that his decision might be wrong, “courts make decisions that are wrong”.