Care orders for four children who witnessed serious violence

Full care orders were made for four young children from one family, all of whom had experienced significant adverse childhood events, following a number of days’ hearing. The court heard of serious incidents involving the mother’s former partner. There was to be a review for the eldest child in three years at her request. All of the children had expressed a desire to return home, but the court decided the threshold for care orders had been met.

The court also said it would review the case in three months to consider access arrangements and progress with occupational therapy assessments. The mother’s access was to be increased, but this had not yet happened.

At an earlier hearing the court heard the mother and the children – A (eldest girl), B (elder boy), C (younger boy) and D (youngest girl) – had been known to the Child and Family Agency (CFA) for some time. The mother had been in receipt of extensive supports from the agency and a safety plan for the children had been in place. However, the safety plan had broken down on foot of a number of serious incidents, prompting Garda intervention, an emergency care order and the CFA making applications for full care orders for each of the four children.

The second day of the hearing heard evidence from two social workers who had been involved with the family for some years and from the clinical psychologist from the Child and Family Agency.

The children’s mother, father and the children’s guardian ad litem (GAL), along with their respective legal representatives, were present in court.

Garda evidence

A garda provided an outline of the various convictions recorded against the respondent father, Mr Y, and those recorded against the respondent mother’s ex-boyfriend, Mr X.

In respect of Mr Y, the garda told the court that he had had a number of convictions over the past 15 to 20 years. The types of convictions included criminal damage to property, theft, road traffic offences, dangerous driving, affray and possession of knives, an imitation firearm and other dangerous articles. Most recently he had been convicted of producing a dangerous article in the course of a dispute.

Mr X was also well known to the Gardaí. He also had a range of convictions including road traffic matters, possession of controlled drugs, theft and threatening to kill. He said that Mr X had been convicted of manslaughter and had been sentenced to 12 years in gaol. He had been released after nine years but was subject to a further sentence for three counts of using a mobile phone in prison. He said that this year, Mr X had received various sentences for assault, making threats to kill someone, production of a knife during a dispute and threatening to damage property.

In respect of the family, the garda said that they had received 15 notifications in relation to the children and various domestic disputes. One of these notifications was in 2020 where concerns had been raised about the children in the context of an incident between Mr X and the children’s mother. This was described later by a social worker.

Evidence of social worker one

The court heard evidence from two of the social workers who had been allocated to the family regarding the background and circumstances giving rise to the applications.

The first allocated social worker told the court that she had taken over the case in 2019. At that time, there had been some concerns about the condition of the home and also in respect of the behaviour of child B, the elder boy, whose behaviour had been highly dysregulated and who was at risk of causing physical harm.

The social worker said that A, the eldest girl, had been really worried and had been spending a lot of time in her room alone. A had been having outbursts in school, but these had stopped in or around summer 2019. However, the social worker had been very worried. There had been threats against the family because of the criminal activities of the children’s father, Mr Y. The social worker said that the mother had been in contact with the children’s father at the time but it was not clear whether or not she was in a relationship with him.

The mother had gone to a refuge and the youngest girl, D, who had just been born, had been discharged from the hospital to the refuge. Difficulties had continued during the summer of 2019, including an incident with a neighbour which required the presence of Gardaí, and which had resulted in the mother feeling not safe at home and that she could not keep the children safe. The CFA had arranged for them to stay for a period in a hotel. At the time, the mother had consented to placing the new baby, D, into care under a voluntary agreement.

In late 2019 the mother had a male come to visit her at her home. This individual had gone drinking resulting in a further incident which had also required the presence of the Gardai. The social worker said that she had been very worried by the fact that the mother had invited this man, whom she hardly knew, into her home.

Also at the time, there had been several referrals to the CFA reporting that the elder boy, B, had been seen riding an electric bike, without a helmet, on a busy main road. The social worker told the court that the mother had really struggled to see the dangers associated with B’s actions.

The social worker said that the mother had been really open to accepting the CFA’s support and that she had enjoyed working with her. She said the difficulty was that despite having these supports in place, there had been worrying spikes involving very difficult incidents. However, there had never been a time that the social worker felt the children could not be with their mother. She said she believed that the undercurrent of concerns at that time had been manageable with the supports that were being provided.

The social worker told the court that she had finished working with the family in October 2020. She was aware of the subsequent incident that had resulted in the granting of emergency care orders (ECOs) in respect of the children. She said that she had been quite shocked to hear of this. She said that there had been a drastic and quick decline in the family’s circumstances following the mother’s involvement with Mr X.

When questioned by the mother’s legal counsel whether there had been any specific concerns about the cleanliness of the home, the social worker replied that at times the house was very untidy and that dishes had piled up but it was not in a state that would have required it to be reported and it had never been at a level that would have required the CFA to apply for an ECO during her time with the family. She also said that the mother had worked very well with the family support worker assigned to support her in understanding and addressing child B’s specific difficulties and to assist with the other children, all of whom had some degree of need.

The social worker said that B had been the most dysregulated child that she had ever met and that his level of need was extremely high. She told the court that the mother was very resilient but that there were times when she couldn’t cope. She agreed with the mother’s legal counsel that the mother had made progress with B’s situation and that while she had required a high level of support, the situation had not required an ECO during her time with the family. She said that the children’s school attendance had been quite good.

In replying to questions from the mother’s legal counsel, the social worker clarified that it was not her position that B always rode his bike without a helmet, but the reports made to the CFA were that, on occasions, he did not have a helmet on. She said that these reports had been made by various professionals in the community but that she had not seen this herself. She said that their concern was that B had been cycling in an area with traffic and that it had been dangerous for him. She had been worried that B’s mother did not share their concerns. She said that B would have been about six years of age when he had been reported on the road on his bike.

She confirmed to the court that she had not had concerns about the children’s health and that they had always been well looked after physically. She added that the CFA’s concerns were not about basic needs and related more to the children’s needs for structure and safety. She also confirmed to the court that the issues of criminality and drug use pertained only to the children’s father, Mr Y, and not to their mother.

She said that B had been diagnosed with an unspecified impulse control disorder and that he had significant difficulties dealing with anxiety which included violent and aggressive behaviours. She added that he struggled to respond to boundaries. When B became disruptive, his mother responded by removing the boundary rather than by enforcing it. She said that B’s mother had benefitted from video-based interventions in which her interactions with B would be videoed and then the video reviewed with her in order to show her what was working and what was not working during her interactions with B. The mother had applied the learnings from these sessions when things were going well.

However, if any other pressure came into her world, then the learnings fell away and the mother had reverted to her previous way of functioning. She acknowledged that the mother had made some improvements. However, it had been very difficult for her during Covid. She had really struggled to cope during school holidays and when all of the kids were at home. When Covid happened, the CFA had immediately put a safety plan in place.

She also told the court that the youngest child, D, had been admitted on one occasion to hospital after a fall down the stairs and that on another occasion, B had travelled on a bus on his own and had gone to a shop but that his mother had not known he had been missing until he had come back home.

Evidence social worker two

The second social worker said that she had been allocated to two of the children since November 2020. She said that she came into the case at a point of crisis when the children’s mother had been involved in a car accident and that the children needed care. There were concerns around A and her withdrawn behaviour at the time. It was clear that her mother did not have the ability to meet her needs and so she was in care under a voluntary agreement and placed with her aunt who had taken care of her previously. The social worker said that Mr X was a prevalent figure in the home at that time.

The social worker said that the mother did have some family support, but that it was quite fractured. It had improved more recently but there had been no engagement with the extended family. At the time the social worker had taken over the case, the family support worker allocated to the family had concluded her work after a year of intensive support.

The social worker recounted a number of events that took place over the course of December 2020. She said that at that time, A had been in voluntary care with her aunt and had remained attending her school. The social worker said that she had been present in the children’s family home quite a lot at the time. Both B and C had been very dysregulated. On occasions, she had picked up some of the children from school. On one such occasion, B had tried to throttle A while in her car.

She also recounted a serious incident that had occurred in December 2020. The social team had been notified of the incident the following day by the family relative who was taking care of A. A member of the community had told the relative of the incident when she had come to collect A from the estate. The children’s mother, and two of the children, B and C, had been in a car with a friend of the mother when Mr X chased after them and rammed the car. A was not directly involved in the incident but had heard about it. When the brothers, B and C, met with A following the incident, B was shaking. He had been very scared and A comforted him by putting a blanket around him.

Early in 2021, on foot of established arrangements, the three older children went into the care of their relative for respite. The social worker said that they proceeded to put a safety plan in place with the children’s mother. They had consulted with the Gardaí regarding Mr X and had been informed that he had an extensive record including prior domestic violence incidents and that he had previously broken a barring order relating to a different relationship. A key part of the safety plan had been that Mr X could not be in the family home until the social team were satisfied that he was not a risk. The mother had signed the safety plan.

At that time the social worker used to facilitate visits home by A to see her mother. In early 2021, she had brought the girl to her mother’s house after school. On entering the home she found Mr X at the door. It had been clear to her that the safety plan was not being adhered to and that the children’s mother did not recognise the dangers posed by the presence of Mr X in the home.

The social worker immediately applied for an emergency care order for all four children to be placed in the care of the children’s aunt. The social worker recounted that the night in which the ECO was implemented had been very traumatic. The mother initially had encouraged the children to run away. Eventually, the mother had assisted with putting the children in the car. However, all four children had been highly distressed.

The social worker stated that A had initially been quite withdrawn in her aunt’s home. There had been some concerns that A had some physical health concerns which needed investigations.

She said that B had demonstrated avoidance behaviours and that he had not wanted to engage at all. However, his demeanour had changed quite quickly once in the calm of his aunt’s home and his aunt had not reported the high level of dysregulation with B in her home. He had settled in quite quickly. The social worker stated that in the placement with their aunt, there were very structured routines, a very warm demeanour and firm and clear boundaries and consequences. The children had also gone back to school.

The children’s mother had remained in a relationship with Mr X for a time but had told the social worker in February 2021 that she “was done” with him. She had assisted in getting a barring order against him. However, the social worker had been concerned that the barring order had been subsequently reduced to a safety order. There was another quite serious domestic violence incident after that, during which Mr X had been very violent and aggressive. Ultimately, Mr B had turned himself in to the Gardaí and he had been arrested. The social worker believed that he had been in garda custody since then.

Following Mr X’s arrest the social worker told the court that there had been a number of serious attacks at the mother’s home including one in which her car had been firebombed and another when a man in a balaclava had come to the house and threatened her. The local council had been forced to relocate her as her life had been at risk. Despite the threats, the children’s mother believed that Mr X had been “ok” and that it was only his associates that had been degenerate. She said that it had been her actions that had led to his arrest and that this had been the justification used by his associates for the violence against her.

The social worker said that it was always understood that the children’s placement with their aunt was not long-term. The aunt’s husband was self-employed and was working approximately 70 hours a week. It had been particularly difficult to manage with the foster children along with her own two children during the summer period when all of the children had been out of school.

In October 2021 a new placement had been found. The move had been very difficult for everyone and in particular for A. Quite quickly into the new placement there had been concerns. A had reported that the new foster carers had shouted at her and alleged that they had attempted to hit someone. However, the social worker did not know if the latter allegation was true. It subsequently emerged that the new foster carers had been in the process of separating and this fact had not been known to the social worker team in advance of the placement.

The team immediately began to source new placements. Their immediate priority had been to try to preserve the family unit. There had been a huge amount of discussion and they had exhausted all avenues. From discussions with the children’s aunt from their first foster placement, it was clear that it would be extremely difficult to meet the needs of all four children within one placement. The team had also been very concerned that the next placement needed to be the last move for the children and that there was a real risk that if all four children were place together that the new placement might also break down.

Consequently, it had been decided to look for two placements – one for A and C and another for B and D. In March 2021 the children had been moved into their respective placements. They had been very upset at first, especially A, who had been really distressed, but this had ultimately subsided and the social worker said that the moves to the new placements had gone as well as they might have gone.

Evidence of the clinical psychologist

Day Two of the hearing focused on the evidence of the clinical psychologist. She told the court that the three older children had been referred to the CFA’s psychological service in June 2021. The referral sought an assessment of the social, emotional, educational and childhood experiences of each of the three older children, along with recommendations for each child.

Assessment of child A

Child A, a young girl, was the eldest of the four children.

In conducting the assessment, the psychologist told the court that she had reviewed A’s case files and had spoken with A’s teacher, foster carer and with A herself.

She told the court that she was aware that A had been exposed to a range of adverse childhood experiences including a chaotic early environment and a lack of structural routines, and that she might have been exposed to incidences of domestic violence within her mother’s relationships. She also said that there had been a lot of school absences.

She had met with A’s teacher in the first instance in order to gather evidence about her social and emotional function, eating patterns, the presence of any behavioural concerns and to determine overall how the girl was doing. The teacher had told her that she had observed a significant improvement in A’s presentation since she had come into care.

Previously, there had been violence between the siblings, squabbling and arguing, but that over time the children, including A, had adapted well to the routines and boundaries of the foster household. This had resulted in an improvement in A’s sleep hygiene practices and that, while she was a fussy eater, guidance had been given to the foster carers to improve the variety of food she ate.

The psychologist’s report stated that A was quite an introverted child. This had been highlighted by her teacher who said that the girl used to wear dark clothing and that her introverted nature had also be seen in her art. However, the teacher had observed that A had become more outgoing, more confident and better able to express herself and her thoughts over a number of months (while in foster care) and that these changes could be seen her choice of lighter coloured clothing and in the themes of her art.

Her teacher had said that A was pleasant, friendly and sociable and was able to form friendships easily. However, she had struggled with literacy and mathematics at times and she had lost confidence in herself and her ability to apply herself in class. According to the teacher, A “became lost in thought daydreaming in class.”

The psychologist said that in her report she posed the question whether there had been gaps in A’s schooling which could have accounted for the girl’s difficulties in literacy and mathematics compared to her peers.

The psychologist went on to tell the court that she had conducted a play-based assessment with A which focused on arts and crafts. As part of that assessment she had explored A’s earlier experiences. She said that A had previously been exposed to some very frightening experiences and that she was afraid of her mother’s previous boyfriend, Mr X. A was also afraid of doors banging at night which had caused disrupted sleep. Her fear was of such an intensity that she had felt the need to barricade herself in her room.

The girl recounted an incident with a car in which her siblings had been involved. She had been quite distressed while recounting the incident, but had been able to express herself. Later in the proceedings, the lawyer for the children’s GAL informed the court that the car incident had involved the mother’s ex-boyfriend, Mr X, ramming a car in which two of the children had been present, along with their mother. A had not been in the car, but the incident had been recounted to her. In addition, the lawyer also said that A had barricaded her door to prevent Mr X from entering her room.

The psychologist said that this girl adored her mother. During the assessment, she had spoken of her mother in very positive terms and said that she longed to go back to her. She had said that she missed her mother, her friends and the area. The hope of returning home had been a live issue for her at the assessment.

A worried about her mother, who, she said, had a heart condition, particularly when her mother showed symptoms of fatigue.

The psychologist said that she had assessed A using the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment (ASEBA). She explained that ASEBA was a comprehensive approach to assessing adaptive and maladaptive functioning and that it was used to rule in or out the presence of common psychological difficulties such as anxiety, depression and other internalizing behaviours such as aggression, as well as other types of social difficulties.

Using ASEBA, A had presented in a borderline range for withdrawn and depressive behaviours. At times, A liked to spend a lot of time alone and playing solitarily. Her presentation had been just below the clinical range and that further investigation would be needed.

In summary, the psychologist said that A was young girl who was struggling to process a lot of emotions and who was dealing with a lot of conflicts of loyalty between her birth family and her foster family. She said that the girl was experiencing developmental trauma because of her earlier frightening experiences and that these psychological issues could become very difficult to resolve and very entrenched if not addressed early on.

The psychologist made the following recommendations to the court in respect of A:

Ensuring that A’s environment would be consistently safe and stable. She said children who have experienced developmental traumas needed a stable environment with clearly defined boundaries much more than children who have not had such experiences. There needed to be very clear routines for waking up, going to bed, going to school and around meals. There also needed to be clear rules around the management of various behaviours and misbehaviours, although these needed to be sensitively handled. This environment would help A to regulate her emotions and behaviours.

Ensuring that A would have access to one-to-one time with caregivers. Such access would provide naturalistic opportunities for A to talk about her experiences and to feel that she could be open and able to express what was going on for her.

Ensuring that A would be encouraged to engage in a range of patterned activities that incorporated routines and patterns. Such patterned activities were soothing and would help A feel safe. The activities should be geared to A’s own individual interests and should promote mastery and self-esteem, both of which were essential to A’s recovery from effects of her early traumas.

Ensuring that that A be helped to develop a life story to enable her explore and understand why she was in care.

A should not be told that she would be going home. The psychologist made this recommendation because she was worried that A was stuck in a state of limbo and that she was not very grounded in the present. She said that A was distracted by thinking about the future.

A should be helped to build relationships with peers and teachers and on helping her with emotional regulation.

A should have access to all of the necessary supports to help her recover any lost educational attainment in the areas of literacy and mathematics.

The psychologist told the court that the above interventions were required before the girl could move on to actual therapy. She said that the brain developed in a bottom-up approach and that therapy for a traumatised child also needed to be bottom-up “as a child’s focus is firstly on survival, structural stability is an essential first step before one can access the higher parts of the brain such as emotional regulation”.

The judge observed that A was quite creative and asked if arts and crafts activities would be well-suited to her needs to help her process her early traumatic experiences. The psychologist agreed and said that art therapy would help promote a better understanding by A of her life history. She emphasised that the trauma-informed approach should also be embedded in the classroom and around creating a structure and routine for the girl in school.

Assessment of child B

Child B, a young boy, was the second eldest of the four children.

In conducting the assessment, the psychologist told the court that she had reviewed B’s case files and had spoken with his teacher, his foster carer and conducted a clinical observation of, and interview with, the boy.

The foster carer had told her that B had been engaged in a lot of sibling-to-sibling aggression and violence, including physical lashing out at his elder sister, A. However, she said that his behavioural difficulties had been resolved by applying consistent routines in the household. The foster carer had described him as a kind, gentle young boy who was very in tune with his siblings. He was hypervigilant to any changes to the environment – physical or auditory – both at home and at school.

The psychologist said that B had shown a lot of avoidance symptoms – for example, he had avoided recollections or thoughts of his early environment and when engaging him in play, he would redirect conversations or change the task he was engaged in to avoid thinking about difficulties in his past. She said that he had been happy to discuss day to day events and that he had liked living with his foster carer. However, he had also said that he missed his mother.

He had been very polite and courteous with the psychologist and had responded well to boundaries. B had undergone an assessment of need in the school. The assessment had identified speech and language delays and sensory processing difficulties. B had been diagnosed with unspecified disruptive, impulse control and conduct disorders. The psychologist said that these behaviours could develop within a chaotic and stressful parenting environment.

However, the psychologist told the court that these behaviours had not been evident at her assessment. In fact, B had presented to her as an overcontrolled boy. However, she agreed with the judge’s observation that at the time she had assessed B, he had already been in care for six months and that there had been a significant degree of stabilisation in his situation at that stage. As a result, B was quite a different little boy when she observed him in clinics compared to the boy that had presented at the previous 2021 assessment. She agreed that there had been a significant transformation in B over a short period of time and that he continued to show gains.

When asked what B’s avoidance might have signified, the psychologist replied that it was a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. She said that he was struggling to process the events in his past and that the avoidance was a coping strategy for him.

She told the court that his teacher had described B in September 2021 as having been a very happy young boy but had often been distracted. He had also struggled with his reading and mathematics skills. He had previously been assessed at the lower end of intellectual capacity but the teacher had identified specific gaps in his intellectual attainment. The teacher had recounted to her a particular activity at school involving family trees. The teacher had told her that B did not talk about his family often, but during this activity it had been notable that he had been unable to place his family members on the tree. The teacher had said that as a result, he was very avoidant of class activities involving family and that these were very painful for him.

When the psychologist had met B, he had been very polite and courteous. He had been accompanied by his little sister (D) for whom he had demonstrated much joy and love.

She said that B had engaged with her and had participated in the session well but she had observed that he found it difficult to approach discussions about his past and family. They would talk about pastimes and interests freely but when the discussion had moved to family, he would seek to distract from the conversation by changing activity. She said that this type of deflection often reflected a need to control following trauma which caused a lack of control over their environment. His reaction had told her that B found it very difficult to think about these traumatic events and therefore avoided these discussions. She noted, however, that this was a maladaptive strategy for the long term and that it was difficult to resolve the trauma in such circumstances.

The psychologist said that she had assessed B using ASEBA. B had presented within the normal range on all of the subtests. However, she felt that the ASEBA subtests had not fully captured all of the flavours of B’s behaviours, although it had identified some stress-based behaviours and anxiety. She said that she did not find that B had exhibited any delay in language skills but he did appear to have sensory processing difficulties. In her opinion, B did not meet the threshold for diagnosing social and conduct emotional disorders and that his difficulties needed to be considered within the context of his very stressful living conditions.

She said that the boy had presented with hypervigilance. He was preoccupied about his future and that this was preventing him from focusing on the present. Also, B’s avoidance tactics were preventing him from fully recovering.

She told the court that this boy was finding access stressful. B became anxious leading up to and following family access visits. However, he was said to have been hopeful of an imminent return to the family.

The psychologist made the following recommendations to the court in respect of B:

Ensuring that B undergo an occupational therapy review with respect to his sensory difficulties and fine motor control.

Ensuring that safety and stability measures be embedded into all of his routines;

that conversations within his relationships would be promoted to facilitate and “give permission” to B to talk about his emotions.

Ensuring that B get high levels of nurture to support his emotional and behavioural regulation in the home.

Ensuring that patterned activities and other activities that have a rhythm would be incorporated into B’s routines in order to improve his calmness and to promote self-regulation of his emotions.

Ensuring that a range of trauma and attachment informed practices be used by his teachers in order to promote safety and predictability in his school environment.

Ensuring that B would have access to all the necessary supports to help him address any educational attainment gaps.

The psychologist told the court that the above and all of the proposed therapeutic supports needed to be implemented in a phased logical sequence. After the above had been implemented, she recommended that B would attend a creative play-based or art-therapy to help him develop a clear life story narrative. She indicated that this would need to be a long-term approach and that B would need time to develop a therapeutic relationship with his clinician. In particular, she recommended that B be given a consistent message that he could talk about his emotions and his early experiences. However, she said that his desire to go home had been preventing him from engaging in the here and now.

The psychologist told the court that there was currently no clear message about the permanency of B’s current care arrangements and that this needed to be addressed to provide him with a sense of safety and the highly structured and stable environment that he needed.

Assessment of child C

The psychologist said that child C was described to her by his teacher and foster carer as being a fun, bubbly and charismatic child. He had been quite open regarding past experiences and had quite openly reflected on how frightened he had been. She said that C was quite resilient in many ways, but that he was also reflective and ruminative on the past. C presented with nocturnal enuresis (bed wetting) which was a response to the stress in his environment.

According to his teacher, C was distracted in class and was often found drawing his family during class time.

The foster carer had told the psychologist about conversations C had had with her describing the events that had occurred which he had found very frightening. Some of the descriptions had suggested that the mother’s previous boyfriend had been violent. The foster carer had also informed her that C would wake up at night, that his drawings were focused on the family and that he was having intrusive and disruptive thoughts and recollections about the past events.

She said that when she had met C herself, he had also spoken willing to her about past events.

The psychologist had assessed C using ASEBA.

She said that C had presented in the normal range in all of the ASEBA subtests except the tests that assessed C’s response to stress, indicating that he was experiencing a lot of anxiety. The child was experiencing a lot of uncertainty around his placement. He had a lot of questions about how long the placement would last, what his future would be like and so on. He had been very preoccupied by these thoughts.

The psychologist said that C had presented with symptoms of developmental trauma. He appeared to have experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder including intrusive ruminating thoughts about the frightening events that he had experienced and worry about the future. He had shown a hypersensitivity with respect to his environment both at home and at school and was very aware of any noises or any other changes in his environment. He perceived non-threatening stimuli as threatening. She said that this was a reflection of C’s survival instinct. However overall, he had demonstrated great resilience.

She told the court that she had found C to be very sociable and ready to connect with peers. She said that this would help him to cope and recover from his early experiences. She said that it was imperative that he would have access to trauma-informed supports quickly, as otherwise his difficulties with intrusive ruminations and preoccupations would persist.

The psychologist made the following recommendations to the court in respect of C:

Ensuring that actions be taken to ensure that C felt secure, safe and loved in his environment and that clear boundaries would be put in place. She said that providing C with a consistent and stable environment was essential as he was currently hardwired to respond to threats in his environment and that this hypervigilance was preventing him from fully participating in school and in the relationships around him.

Ensuring that he receive a high level of nurture, including consistent, predictable, clear rules and boundaries.

Ensuring that he be encouraged to engage in patterned activities and activities with rhythm. She said that C had higher levels of energy than his two older siblings and so she recommended activities such as walking, running, listening to music with a beat that would help to calm his over-sensitised emotions. These should be embedded in his day to day routines.

Ensuring that C be encouraged to do life story work using creative therapies which would help to give him clarity as to the reasons that he was now in care.

Ensuring that he be referred for occupational therapy to assess his sensory processing challenges.

Ensuring that he be encouraged to pursue extracurricular activities that reflected his own personal interests in order to improve his self-esteem and to develop personal competencies. In particular, she recommended that one to one reading would be built into his routine to promote enjoyment of literacy and to encourage his early reading skills;

that trauma- and attachment-informed practices would be used by his teachers in order to promote safety and predictability in his school environment.

Ensuring that C had access to all the necessary supports to help him address any educational attainment gaps.

During her cross examination, the mother’s lawyer put it to the psychologist that her client would say that she could provide all that was necessary to provide the stability and emotional support that had been recommended by her. The psychologist stated that she was not in a position to gainsay this and that she had only been engaged to assess the children’s needs.

The psychologist told the court that she was somewhat surprised to hear that B did not require a full-time SNA any more and that there were glowing reports about him from his school, but that there had been a significant period of stabilisation in his life which would have facilitated this and that it confirmed that her assessment of B was correct.

She added that the mother’s view that her children’s difficulties were intrinsic to their personalities was a difficulty. She said that the mother could not see how her actions and choice of partners affected her children and that this had the consequence of invalidating the difficulties faced by the children – that their difficulties were because of some intrinsic aspect of their personalities rather than because of their chaotic environment. She confirmed that developmental trauma is not a personality-based issue.

During this cross examination it was revealed that, following their initial placement with a family member, all four children were subsequently placed with a couple who were first-time foster carers. It became apparent to the court that this placement had failed, leading to the requirement to source an alternative placement for the children. The CFA’s lawyer confirmed that subsequently the children had been split with A and C going to one foster placement and B and D going to another foster placement. She told the court that the children’s initial placement with a family member had always been a short-term solution. The psychologist informed the court that she had been consulted by the social worker about the children’s third and final placement and the decision to split them up. She had told the social worker to focus on the children’s care needs.

When questioned by the respondent father’s lawyer, the psychologist confirmed that the recent traumatic experience experienced by the children did not relate to events involving their father. She said that all of the children expressed love and affection for both parents. She had not made any recommendations in respect of their father, as the conversations with the children had all related to their hopes to return home to live with their mother. Therefore, her recommendations had only related to their mother.

The court granted full care orders for all four children. The case of the eldest child will be reviewed in three years, and meanwhile access arrangements will be reviewed by the court.