A District Court in a rural town made Care Orders until they were 18 for five young children. The eldest of was six and they included a baby born after the proceedings began. The court found that the two eldest had been subject to physical, emotional and sexual abuse, that the two middle children probably had been abused, and that the baby could well have been had she not been removed from her parents two days after birth.
During the hearing, which took place over more than 12 days during nine months, the court heard that the two oldest children, aged four and six, had made a number of disturbing allegations about being physically, sexually and emotionally abused, and had said they did not want to go home.
They made the allegations initially to their foster carers, a social worker and their guardian ad litem, who had been appointed by the court when they were first taken into care under Interim Care Orders. However while the case was going on the older boy told his guardian ad litem that the social worker “made him say things that were not true”. The parents’ barrister said this threw the CFA’s whole case into question and asked the court to order an independent psychologist’s assessment of the children’s allegations, including further questioning of the children.
This was opposed by the CFA and the GAL solicitor, who said that the children could be traumatised by further questioning, and who proposed an examination of the existing records by the psychologist instead. The judge ruled that this should be undertaken initially, and if necessary the issue of interviewing the children could be re-visited.
The case was adjourned and when it resumed the social worker was unable to give evidence as she was sick.
The psychologist, an expert from the UK in assessing children’s disclosures of abuse, told the court that, given the nature and details of the disclosures to the foster carers and the GAL, they were credible, and those made to the social worker did not materially add to them. He also spoke to the boys, who made similar allegations to him.
Evidence was also heard that the two young boys suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and exhibited sexualised behaviour, which had led to their suspension from school.
The children’s father told the court the allegations were “all lies” and that words had been put in the mouths of the children by social workers and other professionals. The mother did not give evidence.
The judge spoke to the boys privately, and then said in open court he had done so. He had not discussed any evidentiary matters with them, but as the older boy was leaving he told the judge he wanted to “stay with [the foster carer] for ever”.
Making his orders, the judge said: “The horror of the lives of [A], [B], [C], and [D] is unimaginable. They lived in a bad place with bad people. The only order that can be contemplated is a full Care Order for each child.”
He said that collectively all those involved could not have arrived at the position where the children were safe, secure and loved without the commitment and care of all the representatives of the CFA and the guardian ad litem. He congratulated them on their efforts which at all times were sensitive to the needs of the children.
“The suggestion that the allegations were the fabrication of social workers, experts and foster carers is rejected and has no merit.”
A community paediatrician, who gave evidence out of sequence, said all the children examined the day the children were taken into care were in the same state, with feet quite red and inflamed and encrusted with dirt. Some had head-lice.
The doctor said the youngest child in the family, who was a year old, had nappy dermatitis, which was indicative of poor hygiene. She agreed with the parents’ barrister that there was no evidence of bruising.
The four-year-old boy, B, had made a disclosure he was anally abused by another person and had bruising in the anal area. He was very distressed. He had a number of abrasions on his limbs, including an injury to a finger he said had been inflicted by another person with a nail. His brother said he had done it to himself. He also had scratches to his back, which were unusual. An anal examination did not show up any physical abnormality.
The doctor told the court that in the majority of cases of abuse there could be no physical sign of it.
The parents’ barrister said there were a large number of children living on a halting site that had no running water. There was a large amount of rough and tumble on the site including older children physically and sexually abusing younger children. The site had since been closed down.
Opening the case for Care Orders for all five children until they were 18, the CFA barrister said that three of the children were quite young and one had been born following the onset of the proceedings. There had been a pattern of disclosures to foster parents that had been passed on to the social workers.
Social care workers
His first witness was a social care worker who had worked with the family. She said that she had done an intensive parenting programme with the parents and initially they did very well and appeared engaged. However, they stopped attending the meetings when access with the boys (the older two children, who made allegations of abuse) stopped. They continued to attend access with the younger children.
The parents’ barrister said that the father became frustrated with all the different programmes he was attending. He was willing to continue when there was some certainty about the outcome of the case. He asked if one hour’s access a week was in the best interests of the children. The social care worker said they seemed to be happy with that.
Barrister: “How does a child under two communicate that to you?”
Social care worker: “The children seem happy and content.”
Asked about the reaction of the father when he was told the boys did not want access, the social care worker said: “He was angry. He said he was doing everything ‘you wanted’ but was not seeing the children.”
The judge asked were the older boys’ disclosures a surprise in the light of what the social care worker had previously observed at access, and she said they were. The disclosures came when access was moved from a large provincial town to a smaller town close to where the children had been living.
A second social care worker said that when the youngest child was born the mother was not very interactive with her, she appeared a bit disinterested. She was not really able to deal with the baby’s needs initially and both parents needed to be encouraged to respond to her. The mother had attempted to give her chocolate from a biscuit, when the baby was too young for such food.
The parents’ barrister asked if it was appropriate to take a baby into care when the Interim Care Orders had only “crawled over the line”, according to the judge who granted them some months earlier. “The bond is now broken. When she was born the mother only saw her for six hours a week. Now it is only four hours a week. This child was taken from her breast under the hours of darkness under an Emergency Care Order. How can she be comfortable under the circumstances? Is there anything positive in these parents?”
Social Care Worker: “Yes, especially the father. He has displayed an ability to wind the baby. The mother would be positive in nurturing, rocking the baby and so on.”
An addiction counsellor told the court that he has assessed the father as having a dependency on alcohol.
The case was adjourned until the following day, but was over two hours late in starting when the CFA barrister asked for time. “Certain matters have arisen,” he said.
CCLRP application for “relevant documents”
At this stage the director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project applied for sight of “relevant documents”, citing Section 3 (5) (c) (ii) of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007, under which the Project was established. This states that a person falling under a class of persons specified in Regulations (SI No 467 of 2012) could “attend the proceedings and have access to any relevant court documents”.
There were no objections from either of the parties or the guardian ad litem and, having specified that the most recent social work reports and the guardian ad litem’s reports were the “relevant documents”, the judge directed that they be furnished.
These detailed a number of disclosures from the two older children, A and B, that they had been physically and sexually abused by both their parents and other relatives and subjected to cruel and humiliating treatment.
When the hearing resumed a Garda gave evidence that the father had 33 previous convictions, including three for theft. He agreed with their barrister that most of the convictions were alcohol-related, and that he had gone two and a half years without committing an offence.
“Told to say things that were not true”
After a further short adjournment the CFA barrister said there had been further developments surrounding remarks made to the guardian ad litem by the oldest child, A, who was aged six. The GAL visited him and his brother, B, aged four, two days before the hearing opened. The foster carer said that the boy had said he did not want to see the first social worker [Y], and that she made him say things that were not true. The parents’ lawyers were informed.
The context was that it was standard practice when children made disclosures to foster carers that social workers went to interview them. What was unusual about this case was the volume of disclosures made by A and B. The first social worker had been diligent in interviewing them.
What was happening now was that the children were disclosing to foster carers and then being interviewed on the same matter. They would also have to be interviewed by Gardai. This was a lot of interviewing for very traumatised children, the GAL said. Children can feel they are not being believed.
The parents’ barrister said the children were in care as a result of a disclosure made by a child from outside the family. Matters progressed and the case was adjourned a number of times since the previous July. “My clients have repeatedly said that these allegations are untrue. When it was put to them how children of this age could make such allegations they have said words were being put in their mouths.
“There is an application to bring five children into care until they are 18, based essentially on the evidence of [the first social worker, Y]. The GAL has brought a serious matter to the court’s attention, that A does not want to see [Y] because she makes him say things that are not true. This will affect the rest of his life and his siblings’ lives. We should not proceed with the Section 18 application (Care Orders until 18). I am not saying we should abandon the whole process. I am offering consent to Section 17 (Interim) orders until next month.”
He said that the main reason for taking the youngest child, E, from her mother’s breast at birth was concern expressed by A and B that the new baby would be hit. At the time the judge [who had heard the Emergency Care Order application, not this judge] said the application “crawled over the line”. The barrister also said that a specialist should be appointed to assess what the boys were saying. That was now urgent.
The position of the GAL was that because of the amount of interviewing it would be detrimental to the children to have any more, but she was willing to have a paper review by an expert, he said. “My clients have rights. They don’t have access. To say all they are entitled to is a trawl through paper, would be to say that Garda interviewing, GAL interviewing, social worker interviewing, are all a necessary evil, but for someone to interview for the parents would not.
“An appropriate person should be agreed to inform the court. Whatever detriment there may be to the children is outweighed by the real risk of unfairness. The court should direct the retention of such experts as can be agreed, including to interview the children. There should be no further involvement from [Y]. When the children said they did not want to see their parents access was stopped. When children say they do not want to see the social worker the CFA want to disregard what the children said,” the barrister said.
The CFA barrister said that Y was a long-standing and professional social worker and did not tell the children what to say. The court should be reluctant to order further interviews with the children. He said he was not saying that what A had said about the social worker should be disregarded, it should be assessed.
The lawyer for the GAL said that there were a lot of other issues. B also made disclosures. There were issues about school attendance. The psychologist may have a view of the wisdom of talking to the children.
The judge said that he always thought hearsay was going to be a big issue in the case. Very serious allegations had been made. “Given the conflict, do I need to hear from the foster carers? A also said he would like to be seen. The children won’t be coming into this court,” he said.
Guardian ad litem evidence on child’s claim
The GAL told the court that she had visited the children two days before the adjourned hearing began, following a text that A would like to see her. He said he knew [Y] was coming to see him and he didn’t want to see her. He said another lady might be coming as well, and he didn’t want to see her either. The session then ended.
She then chatted to the foster carer, who said that the boys were saying “their heads were messed up” and she said: “[A] said to me that [Y] makes me say things that are not true.”
She said she had also spoken to the second child, B, but he did not say similar things to A. She was asked to find out when A had first expressed his reservations about the first social worker, and, having contacted the foster carer, she said it was some time the previous year, the foster carer could not recall exactly when.
Parents’ barrister: “It is possible [A] took this view quite early and nothing was done about it. For all we know these children were under pressure from last May and nothing was done about it.”
The GAL said that A had also said he did not want to see her, then he changed his mind. She said he was holding his head while making disclosures.
The judge said he wanted to hear from the first social worker on one thing only – did she at any stage ask A to say anything that was not true. She took the witness stand, he put this question to her, and she replied: “No.” She gave the same reply to the parent’s barrister.
The barrister then said that the court should not proceed with the Section 18 application and that the social worker should not have any further involvement with the children in the light of what had been said. The judge said he was not going to stop the Section 18 application and was not going to make a direction that the social worker would not have further involvement with the children.
“I am aware of the allegation that she told [A] to tell lies. I am very aware from the documents that [A] is a very troubled young boy. He has shown behaviour he should not at his age. The various references to sexualised behaviour on his part give me grave concern. So at this point I’m on notice he’s displaying worrying behaviour,” he said.
“I’d say he’s sick to his teeth of people asking him questions. He has to deal with a large number of adults. I am going to have to hear evidence from [Y]. I may well have to hear from the foster carers. I may have to meet B. I met previously with children. As a rule I don’t go into evidentiary matters [when I meet them].
“In relation to the psychologist, it is obvious the allegations are serious. I am loath to subject these children to another question and answer session, but the allegations are fundamental. If the allegations are true Care Orders until the children are 18 are signalled.
“There will have to be some review of the allegations made by the children. The allegations present a hearsay problem. The respondents have to be dealt with with fairness. But this is not a criminal trial, it is a child welfare decision.”
First social worker
The first social worker then gave evidence. She told the court that when taken into care the third child, C, had visible head lice and D had old food stuck to her baby-gro.
In the foster placement there was very rough play between the children. A was very disruptive and clearly did not want her to speak to B. The next day the social worker got a call from the foster carer who told her B said he was abused on the site where he had lived. She said A also wanted to talk to her.
Both children told her they were sexually abused and hit by other children on the site. A also said they were given alcohol and told to fight.
The parents’ barrister asked her if she had notes of the questions she had put to the children and their answers. She did not have them in court. The court rose so that notes could be sought from CFA records in another town. After an adjournment for an hour and a half the CFA barrister told the court that notes had been generated, but the first social worker would need to go back to the office and arrange to get the data from there.
The GAL solicitor said that she had the name and CV of a psychologist to assess what the children had said. The GAL had a concern about yet another person coming to speak to the children, they might feel they were not being believed.
She also said that the placement was now in crisis. It was quite fragile before Christmas. Bringing foster carers to court could break it. The GAL said that a breakdown in the placement would be devastating for the children. It was not clear they would be together in another placement. A was out of school at the moment, after inappropriately touching another child. He loved school, and there was a problem of routine if he was not in school.
Another social worker said she would be very concerned about the foster carers giving evidence. They were not directly employed by the CFA. They were contracted to look after children, who were often very troubled.
The judge ruled that a specialist be retained to assess the paper records initially, and it would then be open to the parents’ barrister to make a fresh application that the psychologist interview the children.
The hearing was adjourned for a month.
When it resumed, the court was told the first social worker, Y, was ill and could not attend and give evidence.
Expert on children’s allegations
The psychological expert in assessing the credibility of children’s allegations was called to give evidence. He told the court he had been a psychologist for 30 years, working in the NHS in the UK for 20, and for the past 10 he had worked on an assessment model for assessing children at risk of abuse.
He said he had been asked to look at the materials in this case, to review the disclosures to the older children’s foster carers and the social workers and consider their credibility and consider whether the children should be interviewed by him. He therefore began with a paper review.
He said he first considered the general issue of false memories and false allegations, and the possibility of the contamination of the children’s recollections, given the substantial nature of the allegations. The research in this area did say that such claims could be contaminated by, for example, leading questions or the use of inappropriate therapeutic techniques. This had given rise to most of the literature on false memory and recovered memory, where people were asked questions in a very persuasive way about what was presumed to have happened.
Using such techniques with children was really quite dangerous, especially with children who speak to each other and bounce “experiences” off each other. For example, one child would remember something, discuss it with a second child, who then corroborated it, though the second child did not actually see anything.
Historical abuse was often raised in the context of family conflict, where a child begins to report abuse, having been coached by a parent who, for example, wants to prevent contact with the other parent, he said.
Turning to the case before the court, the expert said that there seemed to be contemporary records [from the foster parents] of the children’s comments to the foster carers. It was not unusual for allegations to trickle out over time. There was no obvious evidence of cross-contamination between the two children. It did appear there were spontaneous disclosures to the foster carers.
In relation to the disclosures to the social worker, there was a concerning account of a conversation between the social worker and child A, who claimed she “made him say things that were not true.” “It is unfortunate this was not investigated at the time,” he said.
When did A say this, he asked. If it was after the disclosures to the foster carers then it was not contaminated. This remark could be an ordinary phenomenon, where the child says a person got it wrong. The fact that a child says “that’s not true” means you have a child with a fundamental commitment to being honest. Where a child says “that’s not right” it means he does want to tell the truth. The child’s comments about the nature of his experiences and the tone of the allegations suggested the truth of the overall picture described.
“It is very easy to get a child to make a vague allegation, typically not characterised by sensory detail, not characterised by words. These are such complex allegations, I don’t see how you could get a child to make them. An abusive process would be needed to generate those allegations. The children were making complaints [involving] smelling. It is very unusual to suggest to a child to make such an allegation with such detail, especially with young children. We are not looking at ordinary false allegations.
“The danger of contamination includes exposure to pornography, but there is no evidence here of pornography. It might account for the allegation of [B] observing sexual activity between his parents. But [the allegation] is credible because of the sensory detail.”
He said that it would be expected that a child exposed to such experiences would be disturbed by them and these children did display distressed behaviour. If the allegations arose out of a child having a psychiatric illness [and therefore delusions] you would expect the delusions to affect other areas of their lives, he said. This was not the case here.
He said he did have concerns about interview techniques, children should not enjoy the attention they get during such interviews. “It is very, very difficult to run interviews without some leading questions. Whether that damages their forensic value is another question. Even good interviews have that. Bad interviews are much, much worse.”
This was why the foster parents’ records were of such critical value, they did not arise out of interviews, he said. He said he would not regard the social worker’s account as adding further validity to the children’s accounts to the foster carers. The accounts to the foster carers were likely to be accounts of abusive behaviour.
Cross-examined by the barrister for the parents, the psychologist said the foster carers were not prepared for the revelations. Asked if he was surprised that there was no investigation of Child A’s statement that the social worker “made him say things that were not true” he said: “It was not helpful. A contemporary note of what was said would be helpful. If something happened in November or December it should have been investigated then.”
Parents’ barrister: “Is it true that the paper work [you received] is not sufficient to conduct a proper investigation?”
Psychologist: “I would not put it like that. It would help if it was more complete. I would not go so far as to say it is deficient.” He added that it was not unusual for a child to say someone asked him to say something that was not true. It had happened to him.
Asked if there should be further interviews with the children, given the serious issues at stake, he said that the court might view other aspects of the case as significant and important.
Asked if it was possible for the children to be re-interviewed without being re-traumatised, he said his general view was that children were over-protected by the courts. “It is possible. If it caused distress, the interview could be aborted. Having said that, I don’t get many tantrums or walkouts.”
Asked to comment on a letter A had sent to the judge, he said it was a very clear statement of his wishes and fears in relation to his family. “Whether I would rely on particular facts is another matter.”
The judge asked him what should have been done when child A complained three times that the social worker had asked him to say things that were not true. “It would be better if she said to him it was important he didn’t feel that, that he was free to correct anything, and maybe change the style of the interview,” the psychologist said.
The judge also asked him for his view on the fact that the two boys had said they did not want to see their parents again. “That is an extreme position,” he replied. “Children who are abused often have an ambivalent attitude towards their parents. My experience is that not wanting to see parents generally comes from neglect. When children go into a caring environment they take to it. They say things like, ‘we never got hugs’. But even then there is usually some ambivalence [towards the parents].”
The court then considered an application for an extension of the Interim Care Order, pending the resumption of the full Care Order hearing with the remainder of the evidence.
Application for retainer for beds in specialist unit abroad
The guardian ad litem for the two boys sought a direction from the judge that the CFA pay for a retainer for two beds for them in a specialist unit in another jurisdiction, where they could receive on-site education and specialised therapy. They were out of school, following an incident when A had made a sexual approach to another child, and B had talked about doing something similar. They also exhibited disturbed behaviour, suggesting they needed specialised therapy for children suffering from trauma.
The lawyer for the GAL asked the social work manager what plan was in place to meet the children’s multi-faceted needs. “We are exploring with the care team at a local level,” the manager said.
Judge: “What concerns me is that disclosures were made by the boys in September. We’re now six months on. Based on their disclosures I would have thought these boys at a minimum would need therapy. I would have thought therapeutic intervention for the two boys was a critical matter.”
“One of the problems is that until a child is in a stable long-term placement therapy can’t begin,” the social work manager said.
The GAL said that there had not been an assessment of these children’s needs. The person giving therapy would need to be experienced in dealing with the impact of trauma on a child. She did not know of any foster carers who could meet the level of need these children had. The UK centre provided a trauma-based service.
The judge said what was at present before the court was an application to extend an Interim Care Order for four weeks, it was not a hearing of the Care Order application. “To accede to the GAL’s application would be wrong. This is a Section 17 application,” he said.
The CFA counsel said that to pay the retainer would cost €5,000 a week, and it could be months before the boys took up the beds, assuming that a Care Order was made. The parents’ barrister said that they were opposing even the extension of the ICO, and would be contesting the Care Order. Giving such a direction [to book the beds] would pre-empt the court’s decision.
The judge said he was not going to make the direction sought, and extended the ICO for four weeks.
When the matter was back before the court as a Care Order application the CFA solicitor informed the court that an article regarding the case had appeared in the national media. The parents’ barrister inquired as to whether the CFA solicitor wished to make an application to the court alleging that the journalist who wrote the article had committed an offence under the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2013. The legislation prohibits the reporting of information likely to identify the parties to such proceedings or any children to whom the proceedings relate.
The parents’ barrister referred to the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) and said that Carol Coulter, the project’s director, had been extremely careful (in covering child care proceedings). The barrister went on to say that she had indicated on numerous occasions that she has a specific rule and the primary concern of the project was to safeguard the anonymity of the parties. What Mr X (the journalist) had done, said the barrister, was expose the family to a risk in their home town. The parents’ barrister submitted that it was contempt of court.
Resumed Care Order hearing
Moving on to the Care Order application, the CFA barrister told the court that one of the main CFA witnesses, the first social worker (Y), was on sick leave and was unable to give evidence. A medical certificate was handed in to the court. The parents’ barrister argued that the whole basis of the application for a care order in respect of the children fell without the evidence of that social worker, as this was the same witness against whom there was an allegation that she had made one of the children say things that weren’t true. The judge asked the CFA barrister whether he still wanted to proceed with the application in the absence of that social worker and he indicated that he did wish to proceed.
An access social worker told the court that access between the parents and the younger children had been reduced from three days to two days a week as the parents were struggling with three days of access. Overall access had improved between the parents and the children.
Another social worker gave evidence of working with the parents on a parenting-plus course but said that the parents did not finish the course as the youngest child had been born. The social worker said that there had been no upgrade in parenting skills. She told the court that there had been a concern about the amount of food that the parents were bringing to access visits and they had been asked to cut down. She criticised the father for whispering into one of the children’s ears during an access visit.
The CFA solicitor asked the social worker about parenting capacity and whether she had reached a conclusion about the parents’ capacity to parent. The witness replied: “I don’t believe they are able to provide full time care for their children. They don’t seem to be able to retain advice and follow through.”
The parents’ barrister said “even if the father and mother ticked every box that you may have, the reality is you are still going to say that even if they are perfect for the hour that they won’t have parenting capacity.”
The team leader told the court that the two older children were not currently at school and were receiving one-to-one tuition. The CFA solicitor told the court that the school had not given any official reason for why the boys were effectively suspended from the school but it was believed it was as a result of an incident where one of the boys voiced an intention that he was going to follow a girl into the toilet at school and that he wanted to touch her and there was a concern for the safety of other children. The school had said that the only way in which they would contemplate letting the boys return to school would be if there were a special needs assistant (SNA) allocated to each boy.
The team leader said that the child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) would be willing to work with the children. She also said that two of the children had indicated that they did not want any contact with their parents. The younger children were making secure attachments to their foster carers. She said that she supported the application for a Care Order until 18 for the children. When asked by the barrister for the GAL whether the kinds of concerns involved in this case would stand out (compared to other cases), the team leader replied that they would.
The barrister for the GAL said that one of the boys had said: “I hate when people ask me questions they already know the answers to.” The judge intervened and said that while everyone was concerned about the questioning of the children by experts in assessing the credibility of children’s allegations (the UK psychologist), that it had worked out well. “We are right to be concerned about the sensitivities of children but they can very often take a lot more than we think they can.”
The parents’ barrister asked the social worker would she accept that there was never any allegation made by any of the children against the parents before they came into care. The social worker replied that given their age and stage of development it would have been unusual for them to disclose any allegations (while at home).
Referring to the claim that the first social worker made A say things that were not true, she said that the child had been disclosing (allegations about his parents) on a regular basis and that he had on occasions got things muddled up and had said that the social worker made him say things that weren’t true. This witness told the court that this would be normal for a child of his age and understanding. She also pointed out to the court that the child had since withdrawn the allegation (about Y) and said it was not true.
The parents’ barrister asked when this retraction had taken place and whether the social worker had a note of the conversation. The team leader read her record of the conversation, which said: “If people annoy me I make stuff up. I get very angry. I have something to say about [Ms Y]. She did not make me say stuff. Sometimes I hear voices. My head is sore.”
The judge said that he did not think that the suggestion was that the child told lies when it suited him and that he had seen no reference to the child being calculating but that there had been reference to the child making things up when he was angry.
The parents’ barrister pointed out that no one had asked the child whether he was making things up about his parents and that this would be an appropriate question in light of what was said by the child. The witness replied that it was possible that this would be an appropriate question but given the nature of what had been said (by the child) it was unlikely that he was making it up.
The parents’ barrister asked her about the manner in which notes of social workers on particular cases are kept. She replied that some people keep notes in a hardback notebook and some people type them into an electronic system and shred the notes.
Referring to contemporaneous notes, the judge said: “If there were notes in existence and they have been shredded it would be of assistance to know when that happened and if there are notes that haven’t been shredded I would say that they shouldn’t be shredded.” He added that the situation was less than satisfactory where there was no witness (referring to Ms Y) and it was unknown whether there were any handwritten notes. The judge directed that any handwritten notes that were in existence not be destroyed.
Some pages of a diary entry of Y were handed into court. This social worker concluded her evidence by saying that “ultimately child welfare and protection are my concerns and based on reading the file I think there would be a continued risk if they returned home.”
Responding to the parents’ barrister, she said that given the fact that the children had recently indicated that they had spoken to enough social workers she said she felt there was enough evidence without traumatising them further (by speaking to them). The barrister pointed out that the children had been in care for a year but that there still had not been an assessment carried out. She told the court that contact had commenced between the social work department and a unit dealing with children who have made allegations of abuse and an assessment by that unit was due to commence.
Social workers’ evidence
A different social worker gave evidence that one of the children had made serious allegations of a sexual nature in which he had said that he saw his dad rape and hit another child and that the child himself was then forced to perform the same act against the other child, “to put my privates in her privates”. The same witness told the court that one of the children had said in her presence “mammy and daddy weren’t nice to me.”
An application under section 23 of the Children Act, 1997 was made to admit hearsay statements made by the children. As part of that process the judge must decide that it would not be in the interests of the welfare of the child for them to come to court to give evidence. The judge said that he had met the two older children and that they were lovely children and it would not be appropriate to bring them to court.
A social worker who had been asked to assess the evidence of the children told the court that the children had allegedly said that they had been sexually abused by older cousins and that the children were hit with sticks and spoons by their mother and father. One of the children had named the cousins who had allegedly abused him and said that they pulled down his trousers and beat him with “spoons, egg slicers, hands and sticks”.
One of the children had also allegedly said that his father gave him vodka and that it made him dizzy and he ran into a door and everybody was laughing. The court was also told that one of the boys had said that he does not want to see his cousins or aunts or uncles ever again. The same child, according to the social worker, had said that his father was drinking an awful lot and that he hit them an awful lot with belts and sticks. The boy was also reported to have named three girls whom his father raped and hit “in the private parts.”
The same witness said that the boy described his father using a stick with a loop on the end to catch the children and then brought them into a locked hut where he would trip them up and hit them. The loop would be put around the children’s neck and tightened so that it would hurt their necks. One of the boys had alleged that the father had put his penis into his mouth and urinated and this had occurred in the hut and that his mother would be looking in the window and laughing. The boy also alleged that this was done to other children too.
The social worker reported the child had said that he was left alone at home with his younger siblings and that when his father returned he used to pull down the girls’ clothes and touch them. The child had allegedly said that his dad was “awful bad and I don’t ever want to go back to them.” The child had also allegedly said that when he had wet the bed at home he was made sleep in the wet bed without anyone changing the sheets.
Allegations against a close relative were also reported. She was alleged to have boxed and touched the boy and pulled down his clothes and to have “made him do things.” The social worker said that it was alleged by the young boy that his mother watched and laughed while this was going on. A further allegation by the same child was that he had witnessed another relative and his partner abusing their children by putting sellotape over their mouths, pulling down their clothes and “putting their privates into their privates.” The child is also alleged to have said that other people watched while this was occurring and some people were recording a video. The child said the people filming some of these incidents handed the video camera to a person in a car who drove off.
The social worker described a picture that one of the boys drew of a hut and a stick with a loop around it (referred to above). The court was told that the boy had said to the social worker that he wanted to “say something about [a close relative].” He said that this relative did bad things to him and that she pretended to take the children to the park but brought them outside and touched and kicked them at the back of the house.
The social worker said that she and another social worker went through the children’s allegations with the parents and that both parents responded that social workers, the GAL and the foster parents were swelling the children’s heads and they refused to believe that any of the allegations came from the children.
The clinical psychologist who gave evidence earlier described the interviews he conducted with the four older children. He said it was not beneficial for the boys to be out of school for a prolonged time and that a new school should be identified very quickly. He said that he understood that there was a certain amount of hysteria by the parents and teachers in the school in circumstances where the children were having difficulty regulating their sexual behaviour.
In response to a question about whether the children could be monitored by special needs assistants (SNAs) if they returned to school, the psychologist said that he had no intrinsic problem with policing being part of the solution but that it could very easily become a problem in itself and that a child must be enabled to regulate his own behaviour. When asked about starting therapy with the children the psychologist told the court that he would not advise that it start immediately as it should be timed and focused on particular difficulties that are a priority.
When the psychologist was asked about the effect on children of repetitive interviews he replied that with younger children especially there is the danger of acquiescence to suggestion by repetition of interviews and the possibility of creating false memories. The psychologist said that overall he did not have such concerns about the children in this case.
In relation to the allegations made by the children the psychologist said: “I see no way that [even] terrible interviewing could generate false memories. It would have to be a conspiracy of coaching of the most extreme form, so extreme that it would constitute abuse in itself.” He went on to say that the accounts did not sound like coached narrative and appeared to be someone not repeating things but reporting an autobiographical narrative.
The psychologist said that the manner in which one of the children described the incident with the stick in a childish way indicated that it was something he was likely to have experienced. He said that there was a possibility that one child was telling the other what to say but there seemed to be no evidence of this.
The court adjourned the matter at this point to a further date and extended the Interim Care Order.
Case resumes after adjournment
When the case resumed the court was told the mother had separated from the father and was no longer engaging in the proceedings. The father gave evidence, first answering questions from his own barrister.
Asked were the allegations true he said: “All lies. I never abused my children and would never allow anyone else abuse them. The children were never given alcohol and were never asked to fight. There was no organised fighting on the site.”
Asked where the children would get such images [of abuse] into their heads, he said: “Social workers were putting words in their mouths. I’m asking the court to get the kids home. There is no risk from me, my partner or her family. I’m now living in a good clean house with hot water.”
Asked if there was a hut on the site, he said there was, but the children never went there. The CFA barrister said that the boys had given detailed descriptions of bad things to four people. “Which of them are lies?”
Father: “All the them.”
Father: “To get the children away from us.”
Barrister: “A whole book of allegations was compiled by the GAL. She is independent, she has nothing to do with the CFA.”
Father: “She is not telling the truth either.”
Asked why the HSE/CFA would make up allegations about people other than the parents, the father replied: “To keep the kids in care.”
The barrister said that the independent expert had said it was not possible for the children to give such detailed accounts of things that had happened, and [A] and [B] had given accounts separately to the foster carers. “How would children know what these things are?”
Father: “They were told by the HSE.”
The barrister said the boys had used the word “figging” to describe things they had seen and were asked to do. “What does it mean?”
Father: “It’s a Travellers’ word. It means having sex.”
Barrister: “Where did they learn that? From the HSE as well?”
The barrister for the guardian ad litem said that when the children were taken into care there was evidence of neglect, including them not attending school and head lice. This was enough to take them into care. Why would the HSE make up all the stuff about sexual abuse and alcohol? The number of people to whom the children had made disclosures amounted to eight, they would all have to be in on it. A doctor had found the children to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “Are they faking that too?”
Father: “They must be.”
The judge addressed the father’s barrister, saying: “This is your client’s opportunity to impress me. The failure to answer questions properly is as relevant as the truth.” The father’s barrister asked the judge to remember his client’s level of education, he could not read or write. The GAL barrister asked the father if there were any questions he did not understand, and he said No.
The GAL barrister asked him if he had always treated his partner well, and he said he had. The barrister said that in the whole dossier of allegations from the children there was never a word about domestic violence, the couple appeared to be equal partners. “So if these things are true, she should never have the children back?” he asked. “If, but they’re not,” the father replied.
The judge said he had met the two older children. “They’re lovely boys. We had a really nice time. I didn’t speak about any of the awful things in the reports. As [A] was leaving, he ran back and climbed up on the couch where I was sitting and put his arms around my neck and said: ‘I want to live with [foster carer’s name] for ever.’ Why would he [say that]?”
Father: “He was told to say it.”
Judge: “I don’t think so. He struck me as a very friendly, honest little boy. I don’t think he would be capable of being part of a conspiracy to create a complex web of lies. Is he a liar?”
Father: “All children tell lies.”
Judge: “It’s very similar to what he said to others. I specifically decided not to raise any issue with him. But he said to me, ‘I want to live with [X] forever.’ He’s said to others, ‘I never want to see my mum and dad again.’ They’re very similar.”
The father stood down.
A psychologist who interviewed both parents said the father only turned up for half of the first of two days set aside for interviewing him. This meant the psychologist was unable to carry out the psychometric tests he had planned.
He said the father reported experiencing racism and discrimination as he was growing up. He also admitted alcohol misuse and its negative impact on his life. He showed signs of personality disorder, including aggression, impulsivity and insensitivity, which were very common in child care cases. But no psychometric tests had been carried out to back this up.
Referring to the children’s disclosures, he said these were at the extreme end and suggested chronic inter-generational sexual abuse. It was very difficult to intervene in such a situation. The number of victims tended to multiply. The children described aggressive as well as sexual behaviour. Combined with neglect, this was very serious.
In relation to risk assessment of the father, he said that usually you required a conviction for sexual offences for a person to acknowledge abuse. In the vast majority of social service cases there was no conviction so it was very difficult to make an assessment. Instead you had to rely on the facts that are commonly present with abusers. These included a history of violent offences, a history of criminal activity, allegations from children, sexual attraction towards pre-pubescent children and children of both genders. In relation to the future, he said there were far too many outstanding issues before he could say the father had the capacity to keep the children safe. His ability to change would be very, very limited.
In relation to the mother, she did describe how her parents were unable to care for her and she went into foster care when she was 11 or 12. But she did not describe anything in her background that would indicate risk. She had done well in school, completing her Leaving Cert and another course.
Referring to female abusing, he said that the bulk of it happened in conjunction with a male perpetrator. According to the children there was quite serious sexually abusive behaviour from the mother, for which there was no obvious explanation from her own background. The risk to the children was considerable, as there was not just sexual abuse, but also emotional and physical abuse.
A person brought up with inter-generational sexual abuse may feel it was of no great significance, though they would know it was not normal and it was illegal to abuse children. They would take the view, “it didn’t do me any harm.” The mother in this case was not prepared to acknowledge any problems in her children’s situation. “I would therefore be very pessimistic about her benefitting from therapy,” the psychologist said.
Referring to the children’s opposition to going home, he said: “Children have a huge ability to forgive their parents. We all want to feel loved and cherished by our parents. So a danger for many children is they do put themselves back into a situation of risk. But these children do seem to have very strong reasons for not wanting to go home.”
The GAL barrister said it was quite striking that there was no reference to any domestic violence from the children. Was that significant to the risk posed by the mother?
The psychologist said it called into question any issue of dependency on the father by the mother. If a person was raised in an environment of inter-generational abuse it had a major effect on their thinking. Anything that therapy achieved would tend to be undone when the person went back into their family situation.
GAL barrister: “So if she broke from her partner and her own family was incestuous, it would not mean she could protect the children?”
Psychologist: “If there was a dependency issue it could be transferred to others.”
The barrister said that the children’s disclosures had included being forced by their close maternal relatives to perform sex acts, the mother laughing and this being videoed. The psychologist said this suggested the mother was more active than passive, and it evoked extreme concern. Separation from the father would not improve the situation. He also agreed that, if these allegations were true, access to the parents for the children would be traumatic.
A social worker gave evidence about the boys’ foster placement, which had been under strain due to the boys’ sexualised behaviour, and they had not been approved by the foster care committee for long-term care.
“Clearly these boys appear to have been damaged by their experiences,” the judge said. “I met the two boys. They seem well settled. It seemed to me, given their troubled background, they are doing very well. I give the foster carers great credit. They have appealed the foster committee decision, so obviously they want to be long-term carers. If they are not approved I want to know the A to Z of it, not the bald statement, ‘they were deemed not suitable’. Given the difficult background these carers have done exceptionally well in bringing these boys to where they are.”
The CFA barrister said that if the issue of moving the boys came up the matter would come back to court.
“I’m putting you on notice that if it does come back to court I want to have the A to Z of why these carers are not suitable. The boys are happy there. Any decision to move them would have to be justified,” the judge said.
GAL’s final evidence
The guardian ad litem updated her evidence on the disclosures from the boys. [A]’s first disclosures were about being hit, then he described oral rape and being forced to eat dirt. [B] described anal and oral rape, being forced to perform sex acts on adults and demonstrated sexual intercourse and also reported being forced to eat dirt and having to eat from bins on the site where they lived. He said he wanted to stay with the foster carers “for ever and ever and ever”.
She said that when the children were taken into care they were in very bad physical condition. The baby, at 11 months of age, showed no distress at being moved. She was not crawling and was very floppy, making no effort to sit up. [A] and [B] reacted very badly to sudden movements, they were always anticipating being hit. They had a lot of bruises on their bodies.
The boys had been sexually molested by both parents and the younger children by their father. [A] had been forced to watch his father rape a young girl. He said she was “bleeding between her legs”. He would not have that knowledge unless he had seen it. His father told him to do the same thing to her, saying: “It’ll make a man of you.” [A] described the oral rape of [C].
“What is remarkable about the disclosures is that both children named actual people,” the GAL said. “They corroborated each other, though they spoke separately. Their behaviour is also that of children traumatised by such behaviour. [B] has not retracted anything. They have both been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The vivid realistic quality of their language lends further credibility [to their disclosures].”
She said that [A]’s retraction of some of his disclosures arose from his feeling that people were asking him questions to which they knew the answers. It was not unusual in cases of such extreme abuse that children would retract some disclosures. It did not detract from their credibility.
In relation to emotional abuse, there was a clear picture of a lack of love and nurturing from both parents. There was a very strong humiliating and degrading aspect to the abuse. She said in her dealings with the parents there had been an absence of concern about the children. They were very wrapped up in their own concerns and the total blame on the CFA for allegedly coaching the children. They were unable to give explanations for the children’s sexualised behaviour.
The boys were brought continually to their mother’s relative’s house, though they pleaded with their mother not to go. She was present when her relative and others sexually abused them. The relative got payment for it.
The GAL said the two older children should not have access with their father because of their complete and utter fear of him. When they learned that [C] and [D] had access with their parents they started shaking uncontrollably. [C] was very anxious around access. Although she was toilet-trained, she lost control of her bowels when she encountered her parents. The GAL said she thought access with the two younger children should be reduced significantly.
Referring to the placement of [A] and [B], she said that their behaviour was much better on her last visit. “It is very important that everything be done to keep them there. The boys love their carers and the foster carers love the boys. You can’t buy that. It’s the only thing these boys have asked for. It’s not just a question of their wishes, it’s their best interests.”
She acknowledged that the placement had almost broken down at Christmas. “Very hard-core disclosures were coming through.” There were problems in the school as a result of the boys’ sexualised behaviour. But the foster carers had stated they were very committed to the children long-term and they wanted all the necessary training to deal with their behaviour and experiences.
The CFA barrister said that a long-term Care Order was the only application that could be considered. There were 63 separate disclosures.
The parents’ solicitor said that all the allegations had been denied from the start. The social worker [Y] who had been alleged to have “put words into the mouth” of [A] had not been back in court. The solicitor said there should not be an order until the children were 18. They were very young.
The judge said he would give his decision shortly and after a brief adjournment he returned to court and made Care Orders for all five children until they were 18.
He said: “Having heard the evidence from all sides, prior to the taking into care of [A, B, C and D] the children were subject to neglect, emotional and physical abuse; [A] and [B] were subject to sexual abuse by both respondents; neither of the respondents has the capacity or the willingness to properly parent the children and provide for their basic needs; the neglect, emotional and physical abuse took place while the respondents had physical control of the children; it is highly probably that the respondents sexually abused [C] and [D], it is highly probable that had [E] not been taken into care days after her birth she would have suffered the same abuse as her siblings. The deficit in the respondents’ care is total.
“It has been suggested the allegations have been inspired by others, particular the applicants and [the named social worker, Y]. [Y] was a good and reliable witness and the current safety of these children is to a large degree the result of her conscientious work. The suggestion that the allegations were the fabrication of social workers, experts and foster carers is rejected and has no merit.
“The horror of the lives of [A, B, C and D] is unimaginable. They lived in a bad place with bad people. The only order that can be contemplated and is hereby made is a full Care Order for each child. The recommendations of the guardian ad litem should be incorporated into the order.”
He added that no-one should have to hear the evidence that had been heard in this case, and congratulated the representatives of the CFA and the GAL on their efforts which had brought the children to a place where they were safe, secure and loved.
He also thanked the court staff, who had often to stay until 8 or 9 pm as the hearing continued late into the evening.
He said he would prepare a written judgment later.