Care orders granted for two children where CFA first alerted to issues in 2017; reviews sought of decisions made before and after care applications made – 2024vol1#31

See also volume 2 of 2023, report 11:

Full care orders until the age of 18 were made for two children, a boy, A and a girl, B, where concerns about the family had existed for decades, and where care order applications had first been considered in 2017. The guardian ad litem (GAL) for the children had sought an inquiry into the case, and the Child and Family Agency (CFA) was conducting an internal review of its handling of the case. Interim care orders were made in 2023.

When the case came up before the District Court the solicitor for the GAL, supported by the lawyer for the children’s grandmother and effective guardian, said there should be two parts to the review, one concerning the period before the children went into care and the other concerning the period afterwards, when one of the children, A, who was 12 at the time, was in a special emergency arrangement (SEA) placement deemed wholly unsuitable to his needs.

The judge agreed that what was missing in the CFA terms of reference for the review was a proper analysis of events after the children came into care.

When the case came back before the court for the purpose of extending the existing interim care order for the two children the CFA solicitor reminded the court that the children had been received into care in troubling circumstances, which included child sex abuse allegations.

The CFA solicitor updated the court on how both the children were doing at school and in general how they were getting on. He said that the boy was thriving at school and that the girl was on a reduced timetable but that it was increasing. He said she had been receiving trauma counselling.

The barrister for the grandmother confirmed that she had spoken with her client, who lived in a nursing home, and she was consenting to the extension of the ICO. She said that the grandmother had asked for some additional access over the Christmas period.

The solicitor for the GAL said that matters had stabilised somewhat since the children had been received into care. He agreed that the GAL application should be adjourned to allow the CFA to provide the outstanding report which should provide an analysis of the time since the children had been received into care. He said that the CFA solicitor had informed him that the report would be available before the full care order hearing, which was listed the following month.

Care Order hearing

The case came back before the court for the full care order hearing the following month. The CFA solicitor asked the court to make a care order for the two children until the age of majority with a review in six months’ time.

The CFA solicitor indicated that the grounds for the care order were issues of significant abuse including physical, sexual and emotional. The children’s grandmother was the only available legal guardian, she was living in a care home due to poor health. She consented to the care orders being made, subject to her having access with the children regularly. The children’s the mother was living in the UK, she was not present and not legally represented. She herself had previously made sexual abuse allegations against her own father.

The solicitor for the GAL said that the GAL was supporting the application for full care orders for the two children. He also referred to the GAL’s section 47 application made the previous year. He said the basis of that section 47 application was that child A had been put in a special emergency arrangement which was not an appropriate place for him. He said that the child’s progress had been significantly impaired because of it.

He said the court had previously indicated that they would conduct an inquiry into the case but that the CFA had been given time by the judge hearing the initial section 47 application to conduct their own inquiry first. He said that if the court was minded to make the care order, then he would be agreeing to a review taking place in six months’ time. He said that therapeutic planning had not commenced and that both the children were now in residential placements and that their needs were being met. He said that therapeutic planning was critical.

He said that whilst the GAL had taken issue with how the CFA had conducted the case it was not a reflection on the current social work team. He said it was a systemic problem across the country in relation to placements and that stability was needed for the children.

The social worker was called to give evidence.

Social worker evidence

The social worker had been allocated to the case for the last seven years. She said that the children’s mother had left Ireland in 2017 following allegations of sexual abuse against her own father. In addition, she had a medical condition and she had not been taking her medication prior to leaving.

The social worker said there had been ongoing difficulties and challenging behaviour. The children had no structure and the children had witnessed physical fights between their grandmother and their own mother.

She said the grandmother was realistically the main care giver to the children. There was a history of domestic violence, the children’s uncle had previously assaulted the grandmother and the children and there was evidence of neglect which was evident from their presentation at school.

There were also concerns regarding sexualised behaviour after the children reported that they had seen their grandfather watching porn. She said that the concerns were over a number of years.

The social worker said that despite loving the children the grandmother could not manage. She said that child B had been hospitalised previously over a possible psychotic episode, when the child was curled up in the foetal position.

She said the grandmother had suffered a stroke and was in bed and the children were alone until the grandfather called at the house and found her upstairs. She said the house had been very dirty. Initially the children had gone to live with an aunt but she had not been part of their lives previously, was not part of their network and there were concerns she would not be able to mind them and meet their basic needs. Her own home was in a poor condition.

She gave evidence that child B suffered with extreme anxiety, she would express herself by talking to her teddy. Her soiling worsened and she would run away distressed when she saw the social worker.

She said that the social work department had received a further referral from the school 12 months previous and said that images were being shared which were concerning. The aunt was advised to report the images and video to the gardaí. The video contained images of sexual exploitation of children. The GAL and the social worker believe the child in the video to be child A but he denied that.

The gardaí invoked section 12 of the Child Care Act, using their emergency powers. The social worker said that the gardaí could not identify who the male in the video was but said it was an older man in his 50’s.

The CFA solicitor asked the social worker if there were any diagnoses for the children. She said that they had high needs and they were extremely traumatised. The first placement for child A did not meet his needs and it had caused him to suffer with psycho-social trauma.

He had now made progress and had made some friends and he was clean and going to school. He was carrying issues but was currently managing them. A meeting had been arranged with an assessment centre who specialised in these types of trauma and they were discussing what therapy would suit child A. She said he had not made any disclosures to the social worker so far but had made disclosures when he was staying with his aunt.

The CFA solicitor asked about child A’s current placement. She said the first placement was wholly inappropriate but the current place was fully appropriate. The child gave it “10 out of 10”. He had integrated into school and into the community and was now involved in football. She said he struggled with maths but was positive with staff. It was necessary to be mindful of child A’s past and that he had denied that it was him in the video. She said both children were at the start of their therapeutic journey.

The four priorities regarding the children were: placements; education; settling in period; and increased therapeutic supports. The next step for child A would be a clinical psychology assessment. An assessor had been identified.

The social worker said child B had been placed in an approved foster placement initially but problems were encountered, she was not attending school and was soiling herself. The placement already had two other children with high needs.

Child B was moved to a residential unit closer to her sibling and the court was told they enjoyed weekend access. Her needs were being met and the team supporting her were a lovely team. She said child B struggled with anxiety but that she did go out with the staff, her main struggles were with unfamiliar situations and people and she used her teddy to express herself.

The social worker said that research showed that a child could use soiling as a defence mechanism if they had suffered sexual abuse in order to make themselves unattractive.

Child B was attending school but was on a reduced timetable. She said the child had not been at school that week as she had been suffering a bout of anxiety. She was behind academically and was in a lower class for her age. Her maths and literacy skills were particularly poor.

Child B would be undergoing a full psychological assessment and would also participate in the Safe and Sound programme in order to regulate her nervous system. The social worker said it had been an arduous task to identify a psychologist with the necessary skills to deal with both trauma and sexual abuse. She said child B had made a disclosure that she had been raped two years previously. The social worker said it was highly likely that the perpetrator was someone central to her life.

The children had access with their grandmother and it went well. She was a reassuring influence for the children. She said the plan was for access to continue. She said both she and the GAL had met with the grandfather and there were a lot of concerns. The children had been exposed to porn and sexual abuse allegations had been made by his daughter, the children’s mother.

Child A was anxious about any access with his grandfather. The children had received a lot of gifts from him.

Summarising what the children now needed, she said that they needed time to be children, they needed therapeutic supports, they needed a regular routine, they needed educational supports and they needed a normal life. It would be a long journey for the children before any additional access with wider family. She said no one else had been identified to look after the children and there were significant concerns regarding the aunt. She said that the CFA did consider receiving the children into care in 2022 but no appropriate placements had been available.

The barrister for the grandmother asked the social worker if was usual for a social worker to be allocated to a case for so long. This social worker had been allocated for seven years. The social worker said she had a number of children on a long-term basis.

She was asked if she was supported by management. She said she had a principal social worker and she herself had a lot of experience.

The barrister for the mother went through the statement of facts with the social worker. They included concerns having been raised a number of times, historical issues with the family and the fact that the social work team had been known to the family since 1989. There had been concerns of neglect and sexual abuse going back to when the children’s mother had been a child.

She went on to say that concerns had been established during 2015 and 2017 when another sibling had been taken into care. The social worker said that that case was dealt with by another team. She was asked if any allegations had been made against the grandmother and she said no disclosures had been made about the grandmother.

The social worker said that the children had been exposed to porn when in the care of the grandmother and that there was a strong family history of sexual abuse. There were concerns at the ability of the grandmother to follow a safety plan and concerns at her ability to manage the children and her capacity to keep them safe. The grandmother had been unable to keep them safe despite the fact that a number of supports had been provided.

The grandmother‘s barrister said the grandmother had made efforts and had reported her son (the children’s uncle). The social worker said that child A had disclosed things to the social worker and not the grandmother. She also said that the male in the video was an older male in their 50’s and that it was highly likely to be someone in the children’s lives.

In concluding her cross-examination the barrister for the grandmother said to the social worker that she should have acted sooner and that she should not still be on the case.

Guardian ad litem’s evidence

The GAL said that the historic social work files had red flags all over them and they made for stark reading. From her reading of the files as early as 2017 the current social worker notified senior management about her serious concerns and had recommended that the children be taken into care but that was not acted on until Spring 2023.

The solicitor for the GAL said that there was a live application before the court regarding the circumstances prior to the children being taken into care and also post coming into care.

The GAL said that if the court were minded to make the care order then a review in six months should be agreed. She said a key issue was that child A’s placement had not been a regulated placement and she could not stand over that placement.

The GAL commented on the journey that each child needed to undertake and said child A now needed psychotherapy and she said the social work team was committed to that being done. Child B was one of the “most damaged children” she had come across. She said that following child B’s recent disclosure she would be assessed by a child sex abuse unit. The children were in separate placements which were managed by the same provider. Residential care was the best place for them due to their complex needs. She said that they should be with a foster care family but a family would not be able to meet their needs.

The GAL said she was very happy with their placements, the staff were competent and committed and the houses were very homely. She said child B had settled very well, she was very difficult to care for, she had a reactive attachment disorder. She said she had done well but was anxious and was using her teddy to communicate 50 per cent of the time and the other fifty per cent face-to-face.

In relation to child B’s schooling she said that she was going to school reluctantly for a few hours each day. The school had huge concerns for her learning and that it was a major task to get her to school. She said child B had special arrangements in place in school – for instance, she did not wait in line due to her anxiety.

Child A was doing well but was troubled. He seemed to have blocked what had happened and she wondered what lay beneath. There was weekly contact between the siblings but that they would like to be nearer each other but placing them together was not in their best interests and that work was needed on the sibling relationship.

In relation to the grandmother, she said that the grandmother had great insights regarding the children, she cared about them and that they all enjoyed any access visits. There were concerns regarding the wider family and no rash decisions should be made. Perhaps a supervised access between the aunt and the cousins could occur. She reiterated that she would not be supporting access between the children and their grandfather.

With regard to the six-month review she said it was reasonable to see how things were going and there was a commitment from the CFA to provide the supports and to progress the therapies. She said the children had a long road ahead of them and she would bring any application she thought necessary back to the courts. She said it was a sad case but the children were now safe and that they needed to mend.

Asked about B’s education, she said that they had been having education meetings every two weeks but that these were now monthly. Child B needed to be socialised and not covered in cotton wool but that she was anxious. The child needed to mix and the priority was to get her to school. The school was also giving her worksheets to do at home. She was at a very basic reading level.


Granting the care orders to 18 for both children, the judge said he was satisfied that the social worker had done her best and the children were now in a safe place. He was satisfied that the threshold had been met and they had clearly had a traumatic upbringing. He said that there was evidence of a change in child A and he was hopeful child B would also have the same.

He adjourned the section 47 inquiry for six months to the review date. He noted that the therapeutic plan would evolve over time and also directed access per section 37. He said the GAL should remain appointed given the review.