Care orders for Traveller children of parents who had been in care – 2020vol2#17

A District Court in a rural area granted a full care order in relation to three young children of parents from a Traveller background who were both in care as children. An Garda Síochána was doing a separate investigation into the parents’ alleged neglect of the children. O on the morning of the hearing the parents were arrested, charged and brought before the court to answer criminal charges of child neglect and were remanded on bail for their appearance at the child care hearing.

Both parents, who were legally represented, contested the care order and the father of the two youngest children, B and C who were pre-school age, told the court he was concerned the children would lose their identity, language and backgrounds as Travellers. The mother was recovering from heroin addiction and was on a methadone maintenance programme and attending an addiction treatment service. The father of the older child A, who was primary school age, was not involved in the proceedings.

The children had come into care over a year previously on an emergency basis as a result of concerns about domestic violence and serious neglect. The court heard evidence previously from a Child and Family Agency (CFA) social worker and a forensic psychologist. On this date the court heard a social care leader, a guardian ad litem (GAL), the father, a Garda, and a men’s support group facilitator. The guardian ad litem supported the CFA application and said it was proportionate.

The Garda gave evidence of being called to domestic violence incident where the mother had a cut on her lip and a tooth missing but did not wish to make a complaint. The Garda had called after the incident to offer support which was declined by the mother.

The court heard from the guardian ad litem that A disclosed witnessing domestic violence and, although happy in her foster placement, was anxious for her mother’s safety and had been referred to play therapy.

The guardian ad litem: “I can’t overstate the level of A’s anxiety about her mother’s safety and I explored with the mother and shared A’s concerns for her mother’s safety. Notwithstanding all the supports, domestic violence is very much an issue and there have been recent incidents and [the situation] is entrenched.”

The court heard supports were offered to the mother to move away from the father, but it was a difficult relationship and there was a pattern of separation and reconciliation.

Counsel for the mother told the court the mother grew up between the age of 11 and 18 years in foster and residential care. She did not have a network of support which was a key risk, however, she was attending her addiction service weekly and was on 30mls of methadone a day.

The father denied any involvement in domestic violence and alleged the mother’s sister made a crank call to the Garda Síochána regarding domestic violence allegations. When asked by the CFA solicitor if he accepted what A said, he told the court “her mind was mixed up and A is happy when she sees me”.

The father asked the court to put the case back a year and for the CFA to place the children with his sister as they had done so previously with his siblings.

CFA solicitor: “Do you accept this is very traumatic for a child? Do you not understand the effect [your] relationship with the mother has on the children?”

Father: “It is the social worker’s job and your job to hound me up on the box. If you could put back the case for a year. The age of [B] and [C], they are babies, to get them to understand I am their Dad. [This is] breaking my heart. [I want] the children to remain within my family. I would beg the judge not to give a full care order and to put [the case] back. I was treated badly in care, physically, mentally and attempted sexual abuse. I am afraid for the children.”

The father told the court about his own background and his experiences in care. He went on to say he attempted suicide and experienced beatings and what he described as torture from his stepdad. There were problems with shoes and clothes and although the social workers were involved with his family, they “never copped on” he said. He ran away and signed himself into care. “I knew it wasn’t right and I was worried for the younger ones,” the father told the court.

The court heard from a men’s support group facilitator on meeting the father who self-referred on three occasions. He had recommended the father attend counselling and anger-management treatment before he could meet the full criteria to join the group. He had arranged to meet the father with the CFA social worker involved as he thought the father had not been forthcoming with the full story, he said.

“One of the requirements is that men take responsibility for their actions. On meeting on a one to one basis [his] demeanour with the social worker was quite disrespectful. I had to end the meeting. He was deselected,” the facilitator told the court.

Judge: “In what way disrespectful?”

The men’s group facilitator: “His body language, aggressiveness, pointing the finger.”

When the father’s barrister put to the men’s group facilitator that the father grew up in bad circumstances and how this history might colour the father’s attitude, the facilitator said: “Taking into account [the] early childhood trauma, he was still not able [to join the group].”

The CFA access supervisor told the court access was mostly positive for the children and the youngest child held her hands up to be lifted by the parents and there was physical affection. The court heard that A told her foster carers her parents said they had had enough and wanted C to live with them. The access supervisor agreed with the mother’s barrister that the mother sought her advice when A asked at access about the future. She also agreed the mother took direction and followed through.

Access had been reduced from weekly to monthly and when asked by the mother’s barrister if this could be reviewed, the guardian ad litem told the court that access was important for the children’s identity and would be kept on the agenda at the statutory child care reviews.

When the father’s barrister asked what could be done to educate the children about their Traveller identity, the guardian ad litem said: “There was no reason this could not be addressed by life story work.”

The judge referred to the complex history of trauma for both parents which she said was evident in their capacity to parent their children. There were entrenched difficulties and she was unable to overcome the main issue where the mother had disclosed and retracted domestic violence allegations. She referred to the forensic psychologist who said the father was a high risk and having heard evidence from An Garda Síochána, she did not believe the father and mother whom she said were dishonest about domestic violence.

The mother had a heroin problem with C being a neonatal admission, but she was glad the mother had engaged with an addiction service. The children had been found in appalling neglect with the home littered with alcohol bottles and A had anxiety issues concerning her mother.

Both the CFA solicitor and the mother’s barrister brought up the possibility of a CFA application for a safety order on behalf of the mother as an aggrieved person. The judge said the mother would have to consent to the safety order.

The judge addressed the mother and said: “I hope you can extricate yourself from the father. The court can protect you. By all accounts you are a loving and caring mother and if you can put your children first there is a possibility for the children to go back to you.”

The judge made a care order until the children were 18 years with a review of the care order in two years and said it was open to the mother or the father to have the care order discharged.