ECO granted by Dublin District Court for four children – 2023vol1#2

An emergency care order (ECO) was granted by a judge in the Dublin Metropolitan District for four children after the court heard that the mother had had some sort of mental breakdown and was drinking. She was from an African country

The emergency application came before the court at the end of a list of 24 other cases heard on the day. The court office had been notified about the possible ECO around lunchtime but it did not actually come before the court until late afternoon due to issues with serving the court papers on the mother who had refused to attend court.

The CFA solicitor told the court the case involved four children A, B, C and D. She said the mother did not attend court despite the efforts made by the social worker to ask the mother to attend. The CFA solicitor told the court that there were three fathers in the case but that unfortunately two of them were deceased and one of them lived overseas, but in any event he had not been involved in A’s life.

The Garda who had invoked the Section 12 the previous day gave evidence. He said he had been asked to make a welfare check at the home following a phone call from the principal of the school where some of the children attended.

He said he had met the social worker at the home and child A let him in. The mother had been drinking cans of beer while he was in the house and was also smoking. She had been drinking the cans straight from the freezer and had defrosted them with a hot kettle of water. The house was untidy and unkempt. He said the mother was very chatty and not aggressive but that he felt she was highly intoxicated. He said there were empty cans outside the back door and that the mother was throwing the cans out there.

The Garda asked the mother why three of the children were not at school and she said: “It’s not my responsibility to make them go to school.” Evidence was given that one of the children had gone to school and when asked why, the mother said: “He does everything different and he went to school.”

The Garda considered the children were at immediate risk and he invoked his emergency powers under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 to remove the children to a place of safety.

The court then heard evidence from the social worker who had been allocated to the family for over one year. She said the family were more recently known to the social work department due to some difficulties A had experienced with her mother which resulted in a physical altercation. Following detailed work between the mother and the daughter the relationship had been restored and A had resumed living in the family home and everything had been going well.

The social worker said that the school had raised some concerns as B, C and D had not been at school for a number of days. She said that the home school liaison officer had visited the home and felt that the mother had been intoxicated at 12.30 in the afternoon.

The social worker said that she had met with the mother previously and the mother knew her well, but that when she went to the house with the guards the mother did not appear to recognise who she was and thought she had come to pray with her.

The social worker said that there had been concerns in the past regarding the mother’s mental health and her drinking and that she had engaged with therapy services in the past. The mother had told the social worker that drinking made her feel “nice”. The social worker previously found the house clean and tidy but on the day in question there were piles of clothes everywhere and the floor had food spilt on it.

When she asked the mother what was going on, the mother said everything was fine. However, when the social worker spoke with A alone, she had said things had been bad for the past two weeks and although she had tried to help keep on top of everything she couldn’t. The social worker said that when she tried to speak with the mother about the concerns the mother was distracted and not coherent. She was not treating her like a social worker and asked her if she wanted a drink.

The social worker said the mother had told her she could multi-task while drinking. The mother’s boyfriend was present and he told the social worker that she would not get anywhere with the mother on that occasion. The social worker said she had tried to explain the Section 12 to her but ended up explaining it to the boyfriend instead. After leaving the house the social worker said she had telephoned the boyfriend, who was still in the house, and asked him to read the papers to the mother and he confirmed he had done that.

A was placed with her eldest sister and B, C and D went to one of the boy’s grandmothers who offered support regularly to the family.

The social worker said that it was possible that the mother’s sister might be able to travel over from her country to help but that it would take time to get the travel plans and a visa organised. She said the mother’s sister had previously helped care for the children when the mother had experienced a previous breakdown.

The judge was satisfied on hearing the evidence of both the Garda and the social worker that the threshold had been met and that the mother was not rational having been drinking for the past 24/36 hours and he felt it was proportionate in the circumstances to make the emergency care order.

Subsequent hearing

When the matter came back before the court it was on the expiry of the emergency care order (ECO) the CFA asked the court to grant an interim care order (ICO).

The Garda who invoked the Section 12 for the ECO was again called to give evidence. He reiterated the evidence given at the ECO hearing.

The social worker was called to give evidence and she gave largely the same evidence as for the ECO. However, she did outline previous referrals to the social work department from 2014 to date.

She gave evidence that on a past occasion when the mother experienced a mental health issue her sister came over from the African country where she lives to assume a caring role for the children in conjunction with the mother’s eldest daughter who did not live in the family home. Concerns had been raised over a number of years but the referrals had been closed.

The social worker gave evidence in relation to her own involvement prior to the ECO being invoked. She said she had received a call from the principal of the school to say the home school liaison officer was going out to the home as there was only one child in school. The principal had also called the Gardaí and asked them to make a welfare call.

The social worker met the Garda at the house and the Garda went in first. The social worker then reiterated the evidence she had given previously. The conclusion of that visit was that the Garda invoked the Section 12 application.

The social worker said that when she went to the house the day after the Section 12 had been invoked. When asked about her drinking, the mother said she was upset when she discovered the children were not in the house that morning and she had begun drinking. The social worker said she tried to speak with her about the children and about them going into care and to speak to her about her alcohol use and the state of the house.

The social worker told the court that the mother had been due to visit her GP but had not attended. The mother’s excuse was that she did not know the day of the week and that she had other priorities, spending time with her “new” boyfriend.

The social worker said it was hoped that the mother’s sister could come over and assume an emergency section 36 arrangement. She said that the social work department was open to helping with tickets and visas to enable the mother’s sister come to Ireland.

The social worker also said that she had spoken with the mother’s mental health nurse and that the nurse told her they had not seen the mother for a number of weeks and that she was due to attend for an injection. An urgent appointment was made for her.

The court heard that the three youngest boys had missed 19, 23 and 26 days of school during the academic year 2022/23. The daughter, who lived at home, was attending school and was in secondary school.

The judge granted an interim care order for 28 days on foot of parental capacity, the lack of attendance at school by the three youngest boys and the mental health of the mother.

The judge appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the children. The court heard that it was hoped that the children might be able to return home in the future.