Care orders for a period of two years were granted by the District Court in respect of three children on foot of concerns relating to neglect as well as drug and alcohol misuse by the parents. There was consent to the orders, and the parents were commended for engaging with the process and putting their children first.
A concern in relation to a breach of the in-camera rule arose at the beginning of the hearing and was dealt with as a preliminary issue. The mother’s solicitor indicated that they had been made aware that the father had posted information in relation to the case and various court appearances on a social media platform.
The judge said this was a very serious matter and the father would need to “explain himself.” He said, “I think we should get him up here and depending on what he says he may go to jail today.”
He told the father that the in-camera rule was absolute. He said a person could not publish or share details about court proceedings, so the breach was very serious. He said the father was required to give an undertaking to the court that he would not discuss the details of the proceedings with any person other than his legal team, or publish anything to do with the proceedings online or anywhere else.
Judge: “You are not to discuss the case with anyone, not your brother, your sister, your priest, no one other than your legal team. Are you willing to give this undertaking? And you should know I have sent people to jail for breaching the in-camera rule.”
The father apologised to the court, gave the undertaking and confirmed that he had removed the posts in question.
The father’s solicitor noted that as the children had been placed with their paternal grandparents, access would need to be discussed with them. The judge said he would allow discussion of the necessary details with the grandparents in these circumstances, but reiterated that if the father wilfully breached the sworn undertaking, he would be sent to prison.
The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) confirmed there was consent to the care orders for two years for each of the three children. She said both the father and mother were happy with the children’s placements. The eldest boy (Child A) was a teenager and had been placed with his paternal great aunt, while the two younger girls (B and C), both of primary school age, had been placed together with their paternal grandparents. The solicitor said there was regular contact and access in place with the mother and father in respect of all three children.
A second parenting capacity assessment was anticipated for the mother in respect of B and C, in circumstances where the mother was in a new relationship and she and her partner had three younger children of their own, who were currently in their custody. The solicitor said an assessment had taken place in relation to these children and the arrangement was deemed acceptable, so the plan was that a parenting capacity assessment would look at whether B and C might be able to go back their mother and half-siblings in the future.
The solicitor said that A had particular needs. He had an autism diagnosis, but a worrying issue had arisen in circumstances where he had been engaging with the HSE’s disability service, but had recently advised them that he no longer needed their services. On this basis, the HSE had revoked their service to A entirely.
The guardian ad-litem (GAL) had written to the HSE hoping to secure a meeting on how best to re-engage A with the service, but there was no date for the meeting as of yet. It was noted that despite A having an autism diagnosis, an assessment of needs had yet to be carried out.
Judge: “So you mean to tell me that a child that may have particular needs, but doesn’t understand or accept this, if he then decides he doesn’t want the service, the HSE can simply accept this and stop providing the service?”
The judge said that while he understood the HSE was “totally inundated” and needed to focus on those “willing and anxious” to get the service, it was nevertheless worrying in light of the needs of A and the lack of assessment to date.
Social worker evidence
The social worker for A, B and C said the CFA had become involved several years previously due to the mother and father’s substance abuse, as well as concerns relating to neglect and domestic abuse. She said the mother also had mental health difficulties and a history of self-harm.
She said there were several children in the family and a wide sibling network. Initially they had tried to put in place various supports to help the family and try to keep the children at home, but due to ongoing concerns it became necessary to seek interim care orders in respect of A, B and C.
In respect of the placements, the witness said A was currently residing with his great aunt, and he was happy with the arrangement. It was a quiet house and a quiet environment which suited him. He was very respectful to his aunt, and spent a lot of time in his room playing video games. The witness said A struggled with his emotional regulation and his temper “often gets the better of him.” This had caused difficulties in school as he was prone to violent outbursts, which had led to a number of suspensions, and on one occasion he had smashed a door.
The teenager was noted to be receiving additional supports in school, but over the last number of months he had been finding it particularly difficult to manage his anger. He had one friend in his mainstream class, but spent most of his time on his own or playing on the computer.
A referral to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) had been made on four previous occasions, but an assessment was still outstanding. The witness said the CFA had been “assured” that A would be brought to a referral meeting as soon as possible. In the meantime, a referral to Jigsaw had been made and the service had agreed to carry out block sessions with him.
The witness said B and C had settled in very well with their grandparents, but missed their parents a lot. B was seeing a psychologist as she had been quite unsettled when she first moved to her placement and had taken the separation from her mother very hard. The witness said that C had a very strong attachment to her grandparents. She was very young coming into care so she did not have the same issues as B. Life story work was due to be carried out with both B and C, and play therapy was anticipated for C.
In relation to access, the witness said that B had started weekly overnights with her mother two months earlier, which had been going really well and she also had additional midweek access. The plan was that access would be reviewed regularly, but it was a good sign that it had been steadily increasing. She said that access had also been going very well with C.
Witness: “I have to commend the parents for their engagement with us to date and I know that [the mother] is also undertaking counselling sessions and that’s going well, so it’s all positive developments and we hope that will continue.”
In cross-examination, the witness was asked whether she was still concerned about the mother’s mental health in light of the positive developments referred to.
Witness: “My concern is that when [the mother] has become overwhelmed in the past, the children have had to be removed from her care, but so long as I have been allocated they have not been in her care.”
Mother’s solicitor: “But you’ve said that this was in the past. The children were placed in care two years ago, and [the mother] has had another three children since then, and I think it’s the case that there have been no issues in relation these children?”
Witness: “Not that I know of.”
Guardian ad-litem evidence
The guardian ad-litem (GAL) said A was living with his grand-aunt who was a single parent in her sixties. She had an adult daughter living abroad so it was only herself, A and a dog.
She said that school had been a “difficult challenge” for A. He had settled in relatively quickly when he was first placed with his aunt but had since “regressed quite a bit.” She said they had a “rolling situation” of ongoing suspensions recently which meant that A was at home a lot more. This was difficult because his aunt worked, so A was often in the house alone, which meant he spent more time online. The GAL said she had spoken to A’s teachers who were concerned by his recent lack of motivation and engagement. She said it appeared a lot of his attention was being taken up with the online world and gaming which had led to more isolation.
Judge: “How do they know what he is looking at online?”
GAL: “Well, it’s mostly gaming.”
Judge: “But we don’t know that. I’m not suggesting he is doing anything inappropriate but it needs to be carefully monitored.”
The GAL went on to say that significant efforts were being made to engage CAHMS and to put in place other support services for A.
She said: “It has been so difficult trying to get the HSE to come on board, even just in terms of offering the most basic needs, but I find it almost unfathomable that after one meeting with [A] they dropped all of their services to him… It’s really making it very difficult for his aunt and it’s having an impact on his placement.”
Judge: “This is really frightening. The HSE are a very demotivated organisation.”
In relation to B, the GAL described her as a lovely girl who was doing very well overall. She was very close to her mother who lived close by. Although there were set access arrangements in place, access had naturally become quite flexible because of how close B lived to her mother. She said B was very bright, loved school and was doing really well there. She had benefited a lot from play therapy and counselling.
The GAL said C had come into care as a very young child and she still required life story work to be completed with her. She said it was important that she understood how and why she came into care. She said that play therapy was also needed.
In cross-examination, the mother’s solicitor asked whether the GAL had any concerns about the mother’s overall engagement.
GAL: “Absolutely none at all. She has been very open and honest with me in all of my engagements with her. She is a mother who is trying to do the best she can.”
The judge noted that the parents were not opposing the orders and commended them for putting their children’s interests ahead of their own. Having heard the evidence he was satisfied the threshold had been met and care orders were made for two years in respect of all three children. He said there was a particular issue in relation to the supports for the children, and he was acutely concerned about the lack of services for A.
He said: “This will need to be actively reviewed in three months’ time for a progress report as time is not on his side. If there is no progress on the next review date, I may need to consider taking money out of the pocket of the CFA for a private referral.”