Circuit Court dismisses parents’ appeals against District Court care orders for two teenage children until the age of 18 – 2024vol1#2

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A married couple failed in their appeal to the Circuit Court against care orders until the age of 18 for their two teenage children, a girl (A) and a boy (B), made by the District Court in a rural town in 2022.

The District Court hearing had been fully contested by both parents, each had their own legal team of a solicitor and barrister. In the District Court hearing, which took a full day, evidence was heard from two social workers, the guardian ad litem (GAL), a parenting capacity assessor and both parents. Allegations of domestic violence and physical and emotional abuse were made during the hearing.

A Circuit Court appeal from the District Court involves a de novo (new) hearing of the evidence. The judge noted that there were two appeals, one from the father and one from the mother, who had each lodged their own appeals. In the Circuit Court the mother was in court and was represented by a solicitor and a barrister. The father had no legal representation and represented himself.

The solicitor from the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said that he also had an application under section 23 of the Children Act 1997, to allow hearsay evidence from a child to be admitted without the child having to give evidence and be cross-examined.

When the case first came before the Circuit Court the judge asked how long it would take, and when the solicitor for the CFA said it would take a day, the judge said he had a full list for that day, and adjourned the hearing until a later date, which was specially fixed for the appeal.

The CFA stated they had three witnesses, two social workers and a parenting capacity assessor who gave evidence via video link. The mother’s barrister informed the judge that the mother would give evidence and there would be evidence from the current foster carer. The GAL was present and also represented by a solicitor.

Making the Section 23 application, the CFA solicitor said they wanted to admit statements the children had made about domestic violence. Also, since the hearing in the District Court there had been further allegations of abuse, which had included sexual abuse. The CFA wanted the old and new statements the children had made about abuse to be admitted into court as evidence. The barrister for the mother disagreed. The father stated that he wanted B to attend court to give evidence of his wishes and feelings.

The judge stated that the children would not have to attend court and their statements would be admitted as evidence. Statements that were admitted as evidence included allegations that the children had witnessed domestic violence and that the mother had told the children they would be abused if they came into care. The girl, A, had also made statements about sexual abuse.

Evidence of the previous social worker

This social worker had been the children’s social worker from their reception into care in 2021 until their care was transferred to the current social worker in late 2022. She said when she had taken over the case she had reviewed all the previous files and referrals, they had made for the most uncomfortable reading.

She said the parents had struggled with their marriage from the beginning. There was a history of an inability to communicate. There was domestic violence and the children had been exposed to that violence. The initial concerns had centred on this domestic violence and there had been numerous referrals. There had been numerous child protections concerns and the children had been placed on the Child Protection Register.

The mother had a rare, degenerative disease. This condition had gradually worsened over time and led to unsteady, awkward movements and a loss of sensation due to nerve injury. The father was a non-national and had no support network in Ireland. He admitted domestic violence. The social worker said the relationship between the couple was extraordinarily strained.

She said physical abuse had been admitted and it was the norm in the relationship. The social workers had requested a safety network for the family, but this had never materialised. She explained this was a circle of friends and family to support people which enabled them to care for the children, especially in times of stress or pressure. She said every support had been offered to the family. This had included professionals, supports, assessments, outreach workers, family support workers and respite, she said: “Not only did things not improve but nothing actually changed.”

She said the father had attended anger management courses, the mother had support from disability services, there had been counselling and every support possible but there had been no improvement. She said in 2021 neither parent had shown any insight into the level of abuse and emotional harm that had been caused to the children.

The social worker said the father had spoken to her of A’s behaviour. When asked about how he had managed and challenged that behaviour, the father had said words to the effect “get a black eye, give a black eye”. She said there had been substantial and credible allegations of physical abuse, but the parents had seen this as appropriate chastisement.

Prior to coming into care A’s attendance at school was poor. She had not attended school for some time, even though she had once viewed school as safe place. A had expressed suicidal ideation, had self-harmed, had taken an overdose, and used drugs as a coping mechanism. A had reported self-harm since she was nine. She said A had reported drinking alcohol at that age. There had also been reports from school wherein A had said that her mother had goaded her into killing herself.

B had absented himself from the family dynamic by staying in his room and playing with his computer. He had witnessed the abuse that A had suffered. He had also been physically chastised but to a much lesser degree.

She said she had discussed these behaviours with parents, but they showed no insight and were not able to acknowledge the risk of such behaviours. They would not acknowledge that anything in their home was a contributing factor to A’s distress. They believed she was just a bold child. The parents only recognised harm as physical harm, but even then, they had seen it as appropriate punishment. They had demonstrated no insight into the emotional harm the children had suffered.

She said each family member had suffered for distinct reasons. The parents had suffered in their relationship between each other as they had been abusive towards each other. The children had witnessed this and mimicked it. These concerns had been reported for years and support had been continually offered.

There had been 11 years of intervention with the family and there had been no change. There had been numerous referrals, but the parents had justified their actions as a method of managing the situation. There had been referrals in 2019 wherein there had been more allegations of physical abuse and chastisement. When this physical abuse had been discussed with B, he had responded by saying that there had always been a reason for it.

The social worker read from the report, she said: “There is a litany of offences here, they include being hit on the head, hit with a closed fist, hit with a ladder, mugs thrown, and it goes on.” The children were exposed to this. She said they witnessed their father do this to their mother, but A was also hit and slapped. She said that B had said he was afraid his father might go to prison for hitting his mother, but he also reported that his mother had hit his father. B had said they fought every day. A had said her parents would always fight.

The social worker said this sort of environment was toxic to children as they would have lived in a constant flight or fight state. The girl, A, never knew what to expect, but her personality was to confront issues, she would have fought back which was why the social worker believed she suffered so much more than B. B stayed in his room had kept out of the way and this was a protective factor.

A parenting capacity assessment (PCA) had been procured, completed, and shared with both parents. She said the assessment had recommended that A and B needed to remain in the care of CFA. They needed to be parented in a consistent and empathetic manner with an empathetic carer. The assessment stated that the mother and father needed individual counselling, their own therapeutic work and relationship counselling.

She said the assessment had not recommended reunification at that time because of the therapy needed by the children, and the parents needed their own therapeutic, counselling work. The assessment had indicated a minimum of three years was needed for this therapy.

She said that there was an on-going investigation by An Gardai Siochana into the alleged physical and emotional abuse.

She said she had been made aware of the newer sexual abuse allegations and it was her understanding that this was being investigated also. The placement update and current access arrangements would be dealt with by the current social worker. To her knowledge A missed her school and friends. She had said that she had more freedom in the previous county where she lived.

She said that at the hearing of the care order application in the District Court the mother had said that B had had a diagnosis as an infant of infant dyspraxia, but this had never been previously disclosed. The CFA had had to bring a section 47 application for an assessment and therapeutic input for this. She said this has had a very negative impact on B and he had started to refer to himself as retarded. It would have been better to have been told this earlier as it would have been possible to refer the boy to appropriate services earlier.

The barrister for the mother stated that the mother was supported by disability groups who had offered various supports to the parents. The parents had engaged with all those supports. They had undertaken parenting courses, counselling, attended family therapy and the father had attended Men Ending Domestic Abuse (MEND) courses. The mother’s barrister asked why, given the parents had engaged with all the recommendations of the parenting capacity assessment, had the social worker said that the parents have not engaged with any supports.

The social worker said that the parents had engaged but they had not made any changes. There was no point of engagement if there was no change. The mother’s barrister said the PCA had recommended a parenting course, but part of that course was to have access with the children. The access that the parents had was supervised so how could they be expected to fully participate in that parenting course. The social worker said that access was always arranged so that the child’s best interests were protected. Access had to be in the child’s best interests first.

The mother’s barrister said the parents had tried to complete the recommendations of the PCA, but to engage with the recommendations required support. The refusal by the CFA to allow the children to attend a parenting course thwarted the family reunification. The barrister asked why the CFA had done so little to facilitate reunification. The social worker replied that she was no longer allocated or involved, the current social worker would best answer that question.

The mother’s barrister asked the social worker: “At the time you applied for the care order what sort of placement did you have in mind for A?”

The social worker replied, “Ideally a foster family, she was placed with a relative but that fell apart as you know, then another foster family was found who were committed to A, she was placed there but her behaviours were so risky they were afraid they could not keep her safe, so it broke down.  Another foster family was found but that was only temporary as they could not commit to a long-term placement for A, no other family could be found so a residential placement was sourced, and I believe she has settled there.”

The mother’s barrister continued: “You told the court that A would be in foster family when you applied for the section 18 care order and she is not and she never will be, she is in residential care.”

The social worker replied: “It is not ideal, but A is happy there she has a comfortable home, an ensuite room.”

The social worker was interrupted by the mother’s barrister who said: “It does not matter how many bathrooms there are, it is residential care and that is not what you told the court when you applied for this order.” The social worker replied the plan was for foster care but that was not always possible and unfortunately things happened that were outside anyone’s control.

The mother’s barrister said that a supervision order was preferrable to residential care, all the support services that were being offered to A could be received at home with a supervision order. The social worker replied: “The decision to place A in a residential unit was based on the breakdown of foster placements, of keeping her safe, she was putting herself at significant risk.

“A is not a bad kid. She is a damaged young lady and in my professional expert opinion that was a consequence of her upbringing and home. I would not recommend that she go back to the place that caused the problems and such damage.”

The father said to the social worker that his access had been lost, the social worker stated that she was no longer the allocated social worker, and the current social worker would be able to address that question.


Evidence of the current social worker

The current social worker stated she had been allocated to the children just after the care order hearing. The children had been known to social services since 2010 as there had been issues of domestic violence. In or around 2010 there had been input to support the family by the CFA. The children had been admitted to and removed from the Child Protection Register. There had been a significant period where the concerns had lessened, and the children had not come to the attention of the CFA. She said she thought this was due to the fact the father had departed the family home. However, since in or around 2017 concerns had been raised again and the children were admitted into care in 2021. She said the children presented very differently.

The girl had two hugely different profiles. From the parents’ view, she was and always had been bold, defiant, and troublesome. She had always been difficult to parent. From the professionals’ point of view, she was a broken child because of the experiences she had had to date. The girl had been vocal about her experiences and the social worker thought she had been made the scapegoat of the family.

The effect on A was that she self-harmed and had become destructive. A had reported significant physical chastisement. All the ills of the family were attributed to the girl. A had self-harmed, disengaged from school, had suicidal ideation and had taken an overdose. She had been referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

When A had been younger, she had refused to leave school because she did not know what she would face when she returned home. She had said she had been self-harming from when she was in junior infants. The social worker said that A instinctively knew this type of parenting was wrong but was powerless. The breakdown of her placements last year was just another presentation of the torment of her life. She said she attributed A’s presentation to her childhood experiences.

This social worker said she was also disturbed by the blame that was attributed to A by the whole family for all their problems and the involvement of social services in their lives. She said she had recommended a reduction in access as A had found it difficult. She said A felt her father always put on a show of concern and but his interest in her was fake.

The effect on the boy, B, was that he had cocooned himself, he kept out of the way of any familial argument or disagreement. He had buried himself in his Xbox. The social worker said this remained the situation even until today.

She added that B had struggled with dyspraxia. Although it had been investigated and referrals had been made when he was younger, this had never been advanced. He had never received any therapy or assistance for it. Now he was reluctant to engage in any assessment or therapy and would be annoyed when it was even discussed.

She said that B’s GP had referred him for a neurological assessment, which his mother had not disclosed. She said that section 47 applications had to be made to dispense with the parents’ consent for B to receive any assessment. These issues should have been addressed years ago as now they impacted on his social development, he was isolated from his peer group, he struggled in school academically and with certain ordinary day to day tasks. Had interventions been made earlier these may not have been a problem now. She said B referred to himself very negatively and despairingly. The dyspraxia, apart from the physical problems, had now troubled him emotionally and had affected his self-image.

The social worker said that A and B had a fractured relationship, but this reflected the family division. A and B had been treated completely differently. Both parents had been abusive to A which had been witnessed by B, it was name calling, physical discipline and violence. A had defended herself and fought back. B had also been physically chastised but to a much lesser degree. B had just removed himself from the situation. He was taught to believe that A was a problem child and if she just behaved everything would be well and that this justified the punishment she had been subjected to.

The parents had no insight into the effects their parenting had had on the children. They had not denied physical disciplining of both children, but refused to accept that it was unreasonable, or the level of discipline used had been unacceptable. They had not and would not link A’s actions to their behaviour. The parents lacked any empathy or understanding of what life had been like for their children.

The social worker said that when children were referred to the CFA a safety and risk assessment is made on a scale of 0 – 10, a score of 10 meaning there are no safety concerns and a score of zero meaning the children have absolutely no safety. She said a score of 0-3 would indicate children needed a court protection order, either an interim order or an emergency order. In all her time working with this family, the safety score for A and B never went above zero, resulting from the lack of insight of the parents and lack of acknowledgement of the harm that had been done to the children.

The parenting capacity assessment had been completed recommending full care orders until both children were 18 years of age. The assessor had said the children should never be returned to the parents because of the history, the difficulties of the parents engaging with any services, the toxic relationship of the parents and the fact that there had been no change despite the children being on the radar of the CFA for over 10 years.

The assessor said she would be happy to review her assessment in two years if the parents had engaged or begun to address her concerns. These concerns centred on the lack of insight either parent had as to the psychological and emotional damage the children had suffered. The parenting capacity assessment had recommended individual and joint therapies for the parents but neither had engaged with any of the recommendations.

The social worker told the court there were ongoing investigations by An Gardai Siochana regarding the abuse and the allegations the children had made. There had been new investigations following the allegations of sexual abuse. She believed that the threshold for a full care order until the children were aged 18 had been reached and nothing had changed.

The social worker said that initially the children had been placed together in a relative placement, and it had been hoped this would be a long-term placement for both children. However, because of what the children had been exposed to and how they had been treated, their needs were different. The children had such a fractured relationship with each other that it was difficult for the relative placement to cope.

She said: “There had been difficulties and we were trying to work through these, but there was one incident that just got completely out of hand and involved assault, and the relative placement said they would not have A back. They would keep B but not A.”

She said A was then placed in an emergency placement, but A was so distressed at this time her behaviour started to significantly deteriorate and that placement broke down.

Another foster family was found but that placement was only ever short term, as that foster family were not able to make a long-term commitment to A. She said exhaustive efforts were made to try to secure a foster family for A but given her needs it had not been possible. A residential unit had been found and A was transferred to it. She said although initially it was difficult A had settled into it and had returned to school. She had started to engage with supports and therapies which was positive.

The social worker said that the relationship between the relative foster placement and the CFA had also run into difficulties. She said: “The relationship had all but broken down and the foster placement for B is at significant risk. We are trying to manage it, salvage it, and do whatever can be done to protect the placement for B.”

She said that the relative foster carer had been invited to come to give evidence in this hearing. She hoped the placement would be protected and the differences between the relative foster placement and the CFA could be resolved. She said at present they did not have an identified alternative placement for B.

The mother’s barrister said that B had done well in school, he played football, and his primary school reports had not identified any adverse. The mother had suffered from a dyspraxia-like illness and had been worried it was genetic, so when B was an infant she had taken him to be fully investigated and no difficulties had been identified. B had attended a speech and language therapist three times when he was younger but again, he had been discharged.

The social worker said that it was B’s senior school that had raised the concerns and suggested referrals be made as he struggled significantly. She was supportive of full assessments for B to ascertain what help and therapies he might need. However, she said it was difficult as B repeatedly said there was nothing wrong with him, he was normal and he would refuse to attend or engage with any assessments.

She said it had been unfortunate that B had attended for an assessment when other very young children were also in the process of being assessed which had upset him because he felt he had been treated in an infantile way. She was trying to rearrange these assessments. She had had to apply to the courts three times for consent for referrals to various therapists because the parents would not consent.

The mother’s barrister said that B had consistently said that he wanted to return home to his parents. The social worker said he had not expressed any desires to her about returning home. He was ambivalent about returning home. The social worker had said that he had not even asked for an increase in access.

The mother’s barrister said that given B’s placement was about to breakdown and that no other placement had been identified, it would be better for B to return home with a supervision order rather than to go to another foster placement. The social worker said that it would not be in B’s best interests to return home, where his needs had not been met and he had suffered harm.

The father said that B was constantly asking him to come home. The social worker he did sometimes ask to go to the area where his parents lived in order to meet with friends, but he had never asked for more access with his parents or to return home.

The solicitor for the GAL asked the social worker to confirm that she would ensure that all assessments for B would be shared with the parents and school going forward. The social worker confirmed this. The social worker also confirmed that if the public waiting lists were extensive then funding would be sourced for private therapy.

The GAL solicitor for the GAL asked what efforts had been made by the CFA to offer the parents the supports recommended in the parenting capacity assessment. The social worker replied that the CFA had offered counselling and parenting courses, but the mother’s health had deteriorated, which had caused progress to stall.

The mother’s barrister asked what had been done to protect the placement for B. The social worker said that all efforts had been made to try to resolve the issues that had arisen. She said that she hoped that the issues would be resolved but the CFA had to plan for the worst eventuality.

Evidence of foster parent of B

Evidence was given by B’s current foster carer, a relative, who had also fostered A before the placement broke down. The judge reassured the foster carer and said she should not take any questions personally and not be nervous.

The relative foster carer said that B was doing well, and he attended football training. She said B was a good child and had no issues. It had taken him a while to gain his confidence, but the placement was working. The placement had not broken down because of B but because of the issues with the CFA. She said: “I wanted [B] to be happy and that was not achievable. The CFA have told lies and have not been truthful. It is difficult to deal with big state bodies and those bodies did not listen.”

The judge asked the relative foster carer if there was anything the court could do to salvage in the placement: “I understand the difficulties of big state bodies, but would the GAL be able to help, there might be some avenues for your voice to be heard. Of course, my number one priority is the children, but you are next because you care for the children.”

The relative foster carer replied: “I feel I cannot do any more. I am broken by the way they have treated us. I need someone to tell the truth, I need to not be judged and I need not to be called a liar or threatened.” The judge said: “Everyone is upset, maybe, there is someone you could communicate with to address the issues?” The relative foster carer said she did not think she could do any more and felt that the placement would not last.

She was not crossed examined by the solicitor for the CFA or the GAL.


Evidence of the parenting capacity assessor

The parenting capacity assessor gave evidence via a video link. She had undertaken psychometric testing and intelligent quotient (IQ) testing. She said the mother was of low to average intelligence, the father was quite bright. The relationship was an unequal one. The mother was defined by her physical disabilities. She had a lack of emotional insight into the effect her relationship had on the children.

The father had a maladaptive personality, with no evidence of empathy or support. The nature of communication between parents was authoritative on both sides. The assessor said the father was disparaging of the mother even in her presence. Neither party had much to say to each other and communication between them did not exist. Allowance had to be and was being made for the mother’s condition. The parents demonstrated little understanding of normal teenage development and they had a lack of attachment to both children, particularly to the girl, A.

The assessor said the father’s childhood had been marred by harsh, punitive parenting, a consequence of which was a need for control. He lacked insight into the effect his own experience had had on his parenting. There was also an issue of alcohol use.

The father was able to identify his children’s fear of physical punishment but was unable to control the use of physical punishment and he minimised the effect the physical punishment had had. He had not engaged in any process at an emotional level, he might have completed programmes but had not engaged with them.

The mother had a preoccupation with own condition. She was easily upset which was understandable. She said the mother had a tendency to depression but that would be expected given the mother’s physical difficulties. The assessor said she did not believe the mother had an underlying psychiatric illness.

There was a lack of capacity to change by the mother and her dependency made it unlikely she would be able to leave the marital situation. She said the mother needed to reach an independent decision about remaining in the marital relationship and this should be explored with her. The father should be encouraged to explore his use of alcohol and the effect this has had on the family.

The assessor said that she had nothing but empathy for the mother, but her concern was for the children. The children did not know the difference between what were the effects of the illness and what was just their mother. The assessor said: “A did not know that her mother cannot help it if she raises her voice and shouts, this has an impact on the emotion that is conveyed, but of course coupled with that was the inappropriate choice of words the mother used, the content was as important.”

She said the range of supports that had been given was extensive and there had been no change. Given the longitudinal nature of relationship, the assessor said she did not believe it could be salvaged at this time. She said that continued support would not be productive given the lack of change so far. She said: “Neither have demonstrated or recognised the impact this has had on their children. Neither see the need for real change.”

She said A was the scapegoat, and this had led to the children’s different experiences of being parented. For A, this had led to self-sabotage. B demonstrated conflicted feelings, which had damaged his ability to process emotions. This was likely to lead to the development of serious psychological deficits in adulthood. She said that A’s mental health difficulties were most likely because of her traumatic childhood. A’s parents would not be able to contribute to her recovery.

She said B had not expressed any knowledge or understanding of why he was in care, and he wanted to return home.

She said she had recommended A and B needed to remain in care of CFA. They needed to learn what a trusting, caring, appropriate, parenting relationship was. A needed significant therapeutic input. B need occupational and motor development assessments. B also needed intervention of one-to-one support in the form of mentoring.

Both children needed to learn to feel secure in their identity. A and B had never felt truly Irish and never felt they belonged to their other, non-national heritage. She had suggested that efforts could have been made to trace their non-national family.

She said that at the time of her report, access was not helpful, and she had recommended that the children have access with each parent separately. She had outlined a suite of recommendations and had not recommended reunification because of the work that needed to be done. Had the therapeutic work been completed and borne fruits, reunification could be examined.

she was now in a residential placement, this had not surprised her.

She said she was not surprised A was now in a residential placement, she had significant difficulties and was troubled through no fault of her own. This did not affect her recommendations.

“I cannot comment on the relationship between the CFA and the foster carer. All I can say is that if the relationship between the CFA and the foster carer has broken down it does not bode well for the children. It will not serve the children well.” She said she hoped the foster carer had been offered every support from the CFA.

Referring to access, she said that when she had observed access as part of her assessment there had been no interaction between the parents and the children. She said: “I was in a room with four people, and no-one was talking. I had recommended separate access for each child with their parents to try to build a relationship, I am sad but not surprised that nothing has changed.” She did not recommend an increase in access.

The mother’s barrister said the access worker’s report had stated that the access was warm, positive, the parents had engaged with A and B. The assessor said that while she was pleased access had improved, she was only able to comment on the access she had seen and the access she had seen was terrible, she had witnessed no empathy, no warmth, and a profound lack of attachment.

The mother’s barrister said the mother had a good relationship with her children particularly B and he had expressed the wish to return home to the mother on numerous occasions. The assessor said that B had never said that to her.

The father said that he had given up drinking, he had attended individual therapy, attended the MEND programme, and had also attended couples’ therapy. The assessor said: “You had said to me that you did not want to go to MEND because you have enough of your own problems and did not want to hear about others.” The father said: “I will do what I have to see my children.”

Evidence of the mother

The judge reminded the mother there was no rush and to take her time to ensure that the court heard and understood what she had said, as she had some speaking difficulties. The mother gave evidence from her seat in the court room.

The mother said she knew there had been violence but that had stopped and the social workers had still stopped the access. She had attended a parenting course in 2020 but no other courses or help had been offered by the CFA. She would agree any narrative about her condition the CFA proposed.

She wanted to see her children. She said: “They are my children and I want them back.” She said the social workers disliked her, she had done everything that the social workers had asked, she had received counselling, had undertaken the parenting course, and she would do anything the social workers said. She said she wanted the order vacated so her children could return home.

She knew A had been moved but had not been informed of where she had been moved to. B constantly asked her when he could come home, it was his ardent wish that he be returned home. The mother stated that she would ensure that B attended all appointments for any therapy or assessment that was recommended.

The mother was not cross examined.

Evidence of the father

The father said he admitted there had been violence in their relationship but that it was now over. He said: “It’s not right they can say I don’t acknowledge things I do, I apologised for where the children are, and I will apologise to them again if I have to.” The father said he would do whatever he had to for the children to be returned home.

He said that he was regretful of the way he had acted. He said A knew and accepted that. He had attended his GP, had started counselling, and had undertaken an anger management course. He was willing to follow any recommendations of the parenting capacity assessment. He had undertaken a parenting course but would do as many as the social workers wanted him to do. He had been concerned about the lack of information he had received about his children. He said while he acknowledged that A might not want to return home, B did want to return.

CFA solicitor: “While your willingness today is welcomed is this not a little bit too little too late?”

Father: “No, it is never too late.”

The solicitor for the CFA said that neither child wanted to return home, the children had been damaged by their experiences at home, to put that right they needed stability, security, emotional warmth and understanding, which was something neither parent could offer. The father vehemently disagreed with the solicitor for the CFA. He repeated his assurance he would undertake whatever the social workers and the parenting capacity assessment had recommended.

Evidence of the GAL

The GAL confirmed he had been given full access to all reports and attended many meetings. He had met with the children and parents on many occasions. He said he was discharged after the full care order was made but was reappointed because of A’s placement breakdown.

His said his position had not changed and he still recommended a care order until the children had reached the age of 18. He said there had been further allegations by A against her father which had included sexual abuse allegations. He said the parenting capacity assessment recommendations remained necessary and were the best interests of the children.

It had to be noted that this assessment and report had been done before the recent disclosures of A against her father. There had been difficulties in the foster placement including a violent incident following which A had to leave. After this she had disclosed to the social worker that she had been sexually abused by her father and had repeated this to the GAL.

He said that A struggled with that disclosure. When she was told her father was going to be informed of the allegations it caused even greater distress. The GAL said: “This was unfortunate, policies, procedures and protocols had to be followed, but it did A no good. She became very unwell. She self-harmed, threatened further self-harm. She was referred to a psychiatrist and therapies and supports were put in place for her. A made the decision to cut contact with father.”

A had been blamed for many of the difficulties within the family and for all the families’ problems. B blamed A for him being in care and was further angered with A for the disclosures she had made. He said that A wanted access with B, but then was angry with him.

He said currently A’s view on her placement in a residential unit was positive. She had tried foster care and had found it difficult. She had told the GAL the residential unit suited her much better, but she did find the rules and boundaries difficult. She was living in lovely house, with a pleasant view of countryside in the front and back. She had her own ensuite room which she liked. She was aware of this appeal. Her view was that she did not want to return home. He said it was his understanding there were open and active investigations by An Gardai Siochana but was unable to tell court of the status of those investigations.

The GAL said it was B’s wish was to return home and he would return home with or without A. The GAL said he had no concerns about foster carers’ care of B, the foster carer had done well. B had friends and was involved with a local soccer team.

He lived in the countryside, so he was isolated. He was dependent on being taken everywhere which he found difficult. He placed emphasis on seeing his friends and that was a motivating factor to return home as B had spoken of isolation in his current placement.

B had said if he could not return home, he was happy to remain in this foster placement. The GAL said: “I spoke to B about the PCA and the recommendations, what his parent had to do, and he said, ‘Well, tell them to get on with it’.”  The GAL said B wanted his parents to do whatever they had to so he could return home. B had regular contact with his parent through his mobile phone.

He said the parents had not accepted the outlined recommendations of the parenting capacity assessment. This assessment had set out a two-year time frame for the parents to engage with therapies and courses, which would have helped them address the issues needed to be addressed in order to have the children returned to them. The GAL said he had had open and frank discussions with both children. He had explained that he, the court, and everyone else had to do what was in their best interests. The decisions were the responsibility of the court not the children and they had no culpability in their parents’ failure.

Asked if he was satisfied that the CFA had maintained relationships between the CFA and the foster carer, he said that he had not been given all the information, but it was important that the CFA did everything within their power, which included outside mediation services if necessary to maintain the relationship.

The mother’s barrister said the parents wanted a supervision order. She said the supports B needed could be provided to him at home with a supervision order. She said the parents would be open to regular welfare checks and oversight from the District Court.

The GAL said that was not the finding of the parenting capacity assessment. It was now almost two years old. The GAL said: “In that time what has changed is A’s placement has broken down, B’s placement on the verge of breaking down. The parents have not engaged in any services, they have attended courses and counselling, MEND couples counselling, couples therapy, parenting courses, but there is a difference between engaging in services and attending services.”

The parents had made efforts, but the social workers needed to be confident of the parents’ engagement. The GAL said: “This is an order of last resort, there were other orders, all other options were exhausted, all of them. The parents have not worked collaboratively with the CFA. If there was progress over time I would be advocating for a shorter order, but they haven’t. There was no indication they were willing to collaborate with the social workers to address the concerns.”

The mother’s barrister said: “The parents have come against the machine of the CFA time and time again, and no matter what they do they are found wanting, surely the CFA could do more?” The GAL said it was important the parent-child relationship was supported and facilitated but that was also dependent on the parents’ willingness to engage with the recommendations of the parenting capacity assessment.

The father said to the GAL: “It is not fair for the CFA to say there has been no change and no advancement. I have done everything that has been asked, we are trying, we are doing counselling and everything, but the CFA just say there is no proof. What are we supposed to do?”

The GAL said: “Keep working with the CFA, keep doing the counselling, keep all communication open.” The father said: “The CFA ignore us.” The GAL said there was a clear pathway of recommendations which needed to be completed first.

There were no submissions from the solicitor for the CFA.


Submissions of the mother

The mother’s barrister said that B had clearly made his wishes known and he wanted to return home. She said that a supervision order would ensure that the CFA could have every confidence that B’s needs would be met. The mother had assured the court that B would attend all appointments. She said the mother had acknowledged her errors but was willing to implement all the recommendations of the parenting capacity assessment.

Submissions of the father

The father said he was a committed father who had made mistakes. There had been text messages from B asking to return home. He had apologised to his children, and he regretted his actions. He said he had undertaken counselling, couples counselling, he had attended MEND and a parenting course. He said he did not know what else he had to do but whatever it was he would do it. He gave every assurance to the court of his willingness to do whatever he had to.

Submissions of the GAL

The court’s paramount consideration was the welfare of the child. The state had to intervene in exceptional circumstances to protect the welfare of children. In this case all efforts had been made to keep the children in the care of their parents. Even if the parents had implemented all or some of the recommendations of the parenting capacity assessment it had not have been enough.

The needs of the children were more acute, within a truly brief period of time of the care order being made, A made disclosures of the most serious nature.

The solicitor for the GAL said the only way these children could be protected was by the maintenance of the order. The children, particularly B, had made known their wishes. They were frustrated by the lack of progress the parents had made, particularly B. The GAL gave evidence that it was in the children’s best interests that the order remained. It was proportionate and necessary.

The decision

The judge said that she had listened very carefully to all the evidence. She had heard the voice of the child, particularly B’s, and parties had stated what his wishes were. Having heard all the evidence she would affirm the order of the District Court and all the directions the District Court order had made.

She spoke directly to the parents and said: “You have come here today and told me that you have done all this work. If that is so then you must continue to do that for your children. You can keep working with the CFA because section 22 of the Child Care Act is always open to everyone.”