A judge in a rural court granted an extension of an interim care order for a child of junior post-primary school age, who had made and subsequently retracted, a serious allegation of sexual abuse against her father. The judge also granted the Child and Family Agency (CFA) its application for an interim barring order against the father. This was granted under Section 11 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 in a situation where the CFA advised the court that while the mother did not seek the barring order, the health and welfare of the children would be in danger unless the order was made.
The CFA lawyer informed the court that she was making two applications to the court. The CFA applied for an extension of an interim care order for A, one of a family of nine children. It also applied for an interim barring order against the father, who was in custody. The judge dealt with the matter of the extension of the care order first.
Extension of Interim Care Order
The child had made a very serious allegation of sexual abuse against her father, which she had later retracted. The social worker reported that “a number of pieces of work” were being conducted with the girl towards eventual family reunification but that these had been paused following an episode of very aggressive and dangerous behaviour by her father. The father had engaged in dangerous driving while the mother and other children were in the car.
The judge asked the social worker if the CFA had reached a conclusion on the investigation into the allegation made by A. The social worker replied that the girl was very clear in her retraction of the allegation and said she had made up a lie in order to have a sleepover where she would have a bedroom of her own. The judge stated that he thought it was more urgent that the credibility of the allegation be established before there was any consideration of possible family reunification.
Judge: “You’re not doing your job properly without doing this…you must investigate”.
The judge said that this was a very serious allegation. The CFA should consider whether there were sufficient protective factors in place. The investigation should find out whether the child had lied and, if she had lied, why this had happened.
Judge: “This was a scurrilous and heinous allegation if untrue…I don’t believe a child would flippantly make up an allegation just to have a sleepover”.
The social worker said the CFA had liaised with the Gardaí and the Gardaí knew the allegation had been withdrawn by A. The mother’s lawyer stressed that it was important to plan for an extended care order. The judge enquired where the child had stayed when she withdrew her allegation and the social worker replied that she had withdrawn the allegation shortly after moving to the home of her father’s relatives.
The mother told the judge that the girl was her eldest child and that she was heartbroken.
The judge said that he was satisfied that the threshold for the extension of the interim care order was reached. He stated that the girl’s allegation necessitated a proper investigation. The interim care order for the child was extended for a further 29 days.
Interim Barring Order
The CFA lawyer told the court that the CFA was making an application under Section 11 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 for an interim barring order against the father of the children. She explained that the mother had been in hospital giving birth to her youngest child at the time the girl had made the allegation against her father. The girl’s brother had informed the mother about his sister’s allegation of sexual assault made against their father. The mother had initially applied for a barring order but subsequently amended it to an application for a protection order. She then reapplied for an interim barring order and later withdrew this application. The mother was present in court and informed the judge that she was not applying for an interim barring order.
The CFA lawyer told the judge that the father had engaged in a serious criminal act while driving dangerously and that the mother and siblings were present in the car and were traumatised afterwards. The mother was not in receipt of sufficient support from her own family. The judge enquired if it was possible to seek an interim barring order on behalf of the mother when it was clear the mother was not seeking it. The CFA lawyer replied that it was and read through the relevant Section 11 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018. This section outlined the procedure for making an application for an interim barring order where the CFA was of the opinion that the circumstances required it. The safety concerns regarding the family were such that their safety and welfare were in danger unless a barring order was made.
The CFA lawyer said that the father was in custody but had intended making a bail application on the following day, should it be granted there was a possibility that he could immediately return to the family home. It was this prospect which led to the CFA’s belief that the interim barring order was required.
The judge decided that, although some matters were hearsay, he had formed the opinion that reasonable grounds existed to grant the interim barring order under Section 11 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 and ordered that the interim barring order of eight days’ duration be served by Gardaí on the father in prison.