Care orders to 18 for five neglected children who had been under supervision order; father sought short orders – 2024vol1#26

Care orders were made for five children where there were concerns about domestic violence, drug use, medical and educational neglect. Earlier the father had consented to an interim care order on a without-prejudice basis, while there were no instructions from the mother.

The matter had been before the court in relation to an alleged breach of the in-camera rule by the father, where he was allegedly sharing information with the children, which was having an impact on them. Access had been changed to supervised access as access had been cancelled by both the parents.

The Child Law Project was not present for some of the CFA evidence.

The GAL was supporting the application of the CFA for care orders until the age of 18 for all five children. The GAL had provided a report which was available to the court and a number of recommendations had been made by her in relation to the case. The solicitor for the GAL said that he had been corresponding with the CFA solicitor regarding the recommendations.

GAL evidence

The GAL said after her court appointment she had made an introductory visit to the family home in summer 2023. In advance, she had consulted with the allocated social worker and she had also spoken to the children’s father.

She said the initial visit was an early morning visit around 11 am and the children only seemed to be getting up. They were in their pyjamas and running about getting their breakfast. She said the environment was cluttered and it was hard to find a chair to sit on and hard to find somewhere to put down the information that she had brought with her. She said the youngest child was in a highchair in the kitchen.

She said the children came in one by one and were quiet and did not engage directly with her. She said they were polite. She was asked to describe the back garden and she said there was a dog in the garden which was dirty and had broken furniture. There was artificial grass. She said the father had told her he was planning a bar and an outdoor gym. She said in her opinion it did not look anything like an outdoor gym or bar area, it was dangerous, cluttered and dirty.

She was asked if she had any discussions with the parents regarding the background of the case. She said they were aware of the visit and were aware of the court proceedings and were happy for her to meet with the children.

Her solicitor asked her if she had any concerns about the children being present during the introductory meeting and she said the father had made derogatory comments about the allocated social worker and had discussed his interactions with the social worker. The GAL said she asked for the children to leave based on the comments the father was making.

She said when she met them there was a very strong odour from the father and the middle child. She said that the children were quiet but they engaged well and she met them one on one. The only boy did not want to engage and found it stressful and found answering questions difficult. The older girls had had enough of social work involvement. The younger child was eager to please and was doing a picture.

She was asked if they raised any issues and she said the older children knew why she was there, that she had been appointed by the court, that their parents had argued and that the whole situation was stressing their parents.

She said the eldest girls A and C (twins) had had a disrupted education but C was in her final year of education. C spoke more positively and was proud to be doing her Leaving Certificate and she had received confirmation for a course to start in the Autumn.

The GAL said that C had struggled emotionally and needed help with anger management and self-regulation. The girl had recently been in a relationship that had ended. The foster carer had been a great support at the time and was also supportive of the family and the parents and they had facilitated contact. The children were good children and no extreme behaviours were evident in the foster carer’s home. The GAL said C would benefit from and would welcome counselling once her Leaving Certificate was completed.

Child A had dealt with a lot in recent months, she had had a baby and was a young mother. She was based in TUSLA unit with four other mothers and she had been very lucky to get that placement. She was close to her twin sister. The GAL said she was a very competent mother. A plan was needed for A after she turned 18 as she needed support. She had not had any recent contact with her mother but saw the others at weekly access. She had received counselling, the staff monitored her and the GAL said her needs were being well managed. She had experienced periods of low moods.

The teenage boy B was the only boy in the family and the GAL found him harder to gauge. He found it hard to engage and his sisters usually jumped in and spoke for him. The GAL painted a picture of a bright, intelligent young teenager who had thrown himself into school and was starting to come out of himself. He was aware of the court proceedings but he did not give direct answers.

His placement was not a permanent one and there was a need for a plan so that he had certainty on an ongoing basis. She said discussions were ongoing with the social work team as a placement had been identified which was about 45 minutes’ drive away from where he was currently placed. The GAL said he would need a comprehensive psychological assessment which would need to be funded.

The second youngest child (D) was engaging and funny but she was stressed by big events. She wanted her family reunited and wanted to be back home. She had always known about the court proceedings and that her father was fighting for her.

She said she had a mobile phone but the GAL felt it was too much for her as she had a PIN number and if she lost it and could not get through she got upset. Her phone usage was now down to one evening per week for one hour. She had been referred to a service for assessment. She had also saved up some money so she could buy her brother a birthday card. The GAL said it was she who had answered the phone to the social worker the day the Gardai called. She was currently placed with experienced foster carers who had three other children. She was doing well at school and at scouts.

The youngest child had had an assessment of need. The child had had a lot of sickness and she had periods when she zoned out and had sleep disturbance. There were some issues of concern which were being looked at in conjunction with the hospital.

The GAL said that prior to the Section 12 being invoked that there had been concerns for a long period of time. There was neglect, the children had needed optical appointments, GP and dental appointments. The home environment was one where the children had very few belongings, their clothes were dirty, ill-fitting and smelly. Their clothes had to be replaced and they needed their hair washed.

She said the older girls had had boyfriends staying over. There did not appear to be any sense of concern despite the lifelong consequences of being a young mother. The children had exposure to domestic violence, drug use, alcohol and constant stress. She said they were not shielded from anything but had been aware of everything.

The GAL had had a number of conversations with the mother who had a barring order against the father. She was linking in with the Drugs Task Force and she was hopeful of getting a residential placement but that had not happened so far. She knew something had to change. She was due to do a pre-admission course when her samples were clear.

The GAL said the mother had some insight in relation to the children but the father never acknowledged any difficulties at all. The father’s view was that he had provided adequately and that the failure to get the children to school and the state of the house was all the mother’s fault.

Turning to the Gardai’s attendance at the house in July 2023, she said that was extremely distressing and traumatic for the children. She had wanted the father to have a psychological assessment as there was a disconnect with the state of the children and the house. The father opposed all of this strongly. He refused to engage in the assessment, it was impossible to progress.

Her solicitor referred to a counter offer by the father for a two-year care order. The GAL said there was no formulated plan as to what would happen in the two years, he had refused to address issues, it was hard to progress a meeting and engage with professionals. He had no insight and no willingness to change.

The GAL said the mother had ongoing issues but was more open to change but the children needed stability and certainty. She said the mother also had ongoing drug issues. The older children they needed to focus on their education and on the decisions for the future. It was not in the best interests of the children to have a short order.

There had been access once a week with the father and fortnightly with the mother but that had reduced due to her non engagement. The access with the father took place in the access centre and the father could not go away from there.

The father’s barrister asked the GAL about plans for the boy, who was in temporary foster care, and there were plans to move him to a long-term placement which would involve him moving schools away from his friends and having to build new relationships. The barrister said the GAL could not point to any assessment having been done for the teenage boy in relation to the placement move. The GAL agreed no formal assessment had been done.

The barrister for the father said his client had put forward a suggestion for two-year care order. The GAL said the father would need to understand the cumulative impact of the situation on his children, he would need to engage in a meaningful way and engage with any supports and understand the circumstances of his children and be proactive in relation to any psychological assessment. He had to be open and honest about his living arrangements.

The judge asked if boarding school was an alternative for consideration for the boy. The GAL said some consideration had been given, it was felt a supportive foster family was the best option but that they were considering everything in consultation with the psychologist. The judge said that they needed to think outside the box and that in a boarding school environment he would have a community of other children. He was about to start first year in secondary school.


In his submission the GAL solicitor said that the GAL was supporting the application for care orders to 18 for all five children, and considering the new definition of “best interests” it was in their best interests given their age, maturity, special characteristics and views.

The CFA solicitor said that consideration had to be given to the evidence that had been heard from the two Gardai, the year head and the three social workers. They were all consistent regarding the demeanour of the father, the demeanour of the children and the state of the home. The father maintained that there was never any aggression, there were never rows and that there was nothing wrong with the home.

The year head was clear that the difference in the children before coming into care and since care was very different. Their attendance had increased, their presentation had improved, they were now clean and cared for and had all their books. The CFA said the order to 18 was proportionate.

She said the family had been known to the CFA since 2020 and the agency had sought to engage and that there had been no improvement, though their attendance had marginally increased. She said there had been incremental steps in the intervention by the CFA, commencing with a supervision order. She said the date in May had been an appalling day.

In his closing submission the father’s barrister referred to Section 24 of the Children Act 1997 and referenced the weight the court should give to hearsay evidence and to multiple hearsays. He said across three schedules of statements there was multiple hearsay evidence. They had received no precis of evidence from the Garda in advance. The removal of the children from the home was a constitutional issue. It had not been done under either a court order or a section 12 and the social worker should not have removed the children from the home, it was neither lawful nor correct.

He said one of the strands of the CFA evidence was non-engagement by the father. His barrister said he engaged well at access and was consistent. He also raised issues regarding the possible move of the eldest boy’s schooling and he submitted it would have a detrimental effect on him and any move should only be if absolutely necessary.

The barrister also referred to the fact that two of the five children’s placements were not finalised and that a two-year order was more appropriate.

He said his client had a health condition and at the present time did not have secure accommodation, but he was liaising with the council about housing. In relation to any anger issues, he had made efforts and had been linking in with his GP. He said his client was willing to engage in services and he had demonstrated a constructive attitude and engaged respectfully.

Regarding a safety network, he said his client had identified four people. He said his client had conceded threshold and was willing to engage, had come to accept the difficulties and he felt two years was proportionate.

The solicitor for the mother said it was regrettable the mother had not attended the court proceedings. He said she had demonstrated insight at time but that she was immersed in her own issues. His client did not blame others and accepted that there were consequences for her behaviour and that she had certain challenges and work she needed to do.

The solicitor for the GAL said that there had been steps of stairs of interventions, from CPNS, to case conferences, to seeing some initial improvements, to a supervision order and again some improvement. He said any statements by the oldest two girls were made in the immediate aftermath of what had happened. They wanted everything to go away and they had no reason to lie. In relation to the second youngest, she had positive comments about her father and negative comments about her mother.

The solicitor for the GAL said that nothing had changed since the start of these proceedings and that there was nothing to suggest a change. The court had to consider what was best for the children and not what was best for the father. Orders to 18 were proportionate.

Judge’s decision

The judge rose to deliberate and when he returned, he reminded those in court that the in-camera rule still applied and no recording of the proceedings should be made public on Facebook or any other social media platform. He said to do so was a serious offence.

He said that this was a section 18 application to the age of majority for five siblings. He said that over the three-day hearing eight witnesses had been called, including two Gardai, a year head, the father, the GAL and three social workers.

This case was one of two halves. A supervision order had been granted for six months in late 2022 which both parents consented to. The respondent mother had not been involved in the section 18 proceedings. He said an interim care order had been granted in July 2023. At the time of the supervision order the mother “had committed to working with the agency”. The father had contested the care order to 18 and had countered a two-year care order but he had conceded the threshold.

The judge said that the court found consistency with the third party evidence particularly the Gardai and the year head, where the behaviour of the father, the accusatory manner he used and the deflecting by him over his house and the children was consistent with the third party evidence. The social worker, in her direct evidence, had said that there was no toilet paper or towels in the family bathroom which was used by five children and two adults. There had been a head lice infestation over a prolonged period.

He said that this was a case of two halves. He referred to the evidence that had been given in relation to the changes in the children since coming into care. He said that the teenage girls were now motivated and bubbly according to the year head teacher and he said that there were no complaints in relation to the middle boy.

The judge said there were two significant dates in the proceedings. The first was in mid-2022 which was a culmination of a process where the children and the family had been known to the agency since 2021, he said a six-month supervision order had been tried and was found wanting. The other significant date was in mid-2023 where the public order unit, two detectives and four Gardai had to attend at the house to exercise warrants, that could not be avoided as an interim care order had been made. He rejected the submissions of the father’s barrister where he said that there was an alleged breach of the father’s and the children’s constitutional rights.

The court said that he had had an opportunity to observe the witnesses and referred to the Garda witnesses. He said that the threshold had been conceded and it was both proportionate and necessary for the orders to be made. There was a need for the children to have certainty and safety.

Access should be pursuant to section 37 and any changes should be made when it was appropriate to do so. A review was required in eight weeks’ time in relation to the teenage boy’s placement particularly. The GAL was to continue until the end of that review.

He was making no finding in relation to the section 23 application (relating to hearsay evidence). The evidence was overwhelming and he made the care orders to the age of majority for all five children, with the review to take place in eight weeks’ time and a further review in June.