Evidence continues in long-running case in rural town – 2019vol1#28

See follow up Vol 2 of 2019: Judgment made in long-running case: Care orders granted until 2022 after 100 days of hearing, longer orders refused

See also Vol 2 of 2018:Psychological evidence given in long-running case

See also Vol 2 of 2017: Nearly two years after case started, court sees video of child describing abuse

 See also Vol 1 of 2016: Care Order applications for four children adjourned pending assessments

Following an adjournment, a long-running case in a rural town continued with evidence from a consultant clinical psychologist, a psychologist on behalf of the mother, the guardian ad litem, a social worker and the mother herself. The application from the CFA was for care orders in respect of four children with two different fathers which began in January 2016.

The case initially concerned a suspected non-accidental injury to a baby, followed by concerns about neglect of the three older children, a toddler and two boys, one of primary school age, the other in his early teens. However, as the case progressed, the younger of these boys (child D) alleged that his step-father had sexually abused him and this came to dominate the case. The older boys are now of secondary school age.

In this report father X is the second husband of the mother and the biological father of child C and child D. Father Y is the third husband and the biological father of child E and child F. Two older children, A and B, are now adults and not the subject of the proceedings, though issues relating to them were discussed in court.

Clinical psychologist called by CFA

Continuing her evidence which resumed following an adjournment for a number of weeks, the consultant clinical psychologist called to give evidence by the CFA said she had no access to the social work file from the provincial town in which the family had previously lived. She was to comment on the parenting capacity of the parents and to provide guidance for therapeutic interventions in the event there were identified deficits which negatively impacted on the welfare of the children. She had to comment on each parent’s ability to protect the children. She and the clinical neuropsychologist received the same letter of instruction.

The consultant clinical psychologist said: “I got instructions that I did not need to see father [Y], just the mother. That was after the disclosures.” The parties had separated and father Y did not adopt a position of non-engagement but supported the mother’s application to be the children’s sole carer.

A number of psychometric tests had been carried out by several psychologists. The psychologist on behalf of the mother conducted the neo-personality inventory test. This psychologist said: “His [the mother’s psychologist] use of the neo personality inventory test and other tests did not come up to scratch apart from the Rohrschach test. There was nothing to be gained from them.”

She said the Rohrschach was a personality test. It gave a snapshot of personality traits and, because of its projective nature, it was a different type of test. The consultant clinical psychologist administered the personal assessment inventory test and had the report of another psychologist who had also administered the same test. The mother’s score was significant on the positive impression management scale.

She said “I would disregard all the results. There comes a point where the test is invalidated. It is difficult to get a test without positive impression and there comes a point where the positives overshadow the test.”

The judge asked: “Could someone reduce the score?”

The consultant clinical psychologist said: “The mother got the feedback from this assessment prior to my assessment.… The mother presented overall a truer picture of herself when she was in the assessment with me.”

She said: “People put their best face forward and it happens every day. It is more explainable as there is a pressure on people in child care proceedings and there is pressure to present themselves as good parents. There is good evidence that a high proportion of these psychometrics are invalidated due to the pressure on the people.”

The consultant clinical psychologist said that child C was parentified. He automatically assumed an adult role. At home, as his mother was often unwell and in bed, Child C would often look after child E and do the housework. He cleaned the living room and child D cleaned the kitchen. Child C did not do the housework in the home of the foster carers. She said it had been mentioned that child C did the ironing in the home and she presumed that information came from the foster carers.

Counsel for the mother asked: “The mother will say that the children were given their chores and she did them [chores] by room. That is not onerous?”

She replied: “There was no suggestion he [child C] regularly ironed and cooked. The overall picture [was] that he had too much responsibility and he was deeply involved in the substantial housework.”

Child E was not developing normally before he came into care and it became apparent to the mother that he had a speech delay. The consultant clinical psychologist said there were aspects of child E’s functioning which were not putting him in the same position as other children. Child E’s behaviour was suggestive of a home environment in which normal boundaries did not apply. Child E had been in an environment which lacked rules.He showed disorganised behaviour in care and was not learning in the same ways as other children.

The consultant clinical psychologist said child E had sensory problems. His food needed to be pureed and it was difficult to get him into a regular feeding routine. She said: “A child who does not get into solid foods at the normal age has a tendency to have gag reflexes. You introduce pureed foods after the age of six months and then you need to introduce lumpy food to develop chewing. The skill needs to be introduced at a particular time. [Child E] was two years and 12 days old when he came into care and he was still only taking pureed food. That is a real worry and indicates delay. There are other reports to describe difficulties and delay in eating.”

The judge asked: “If evidence is given that a child over two years of age is only eating pureed food, would that denote neglect?”

She replied: “Yes, that kind of pattern suggests the child did not have sufficient experience at the right age.”

Counsel for the mother said: “the mother will say [child E] ate a range of foods before he came into care. You have a child who eats normally with his mother and goes into a foster placement and is noted to be a great eater. He then goes to another foster carer, refuses food and only wants liquidised food. Could that regression have been caused by the move from the mother to the foster carer?”

She replied: “Certainly. The behaviour would be a reasonable hypothesis that might represent regressed behaviour in the context of the child having change and due to his upset.”

Child E was freezing rather than reacting at times and there was a pattern that appeared to be one of disassociation. The consultant clinical psychologist said: “Disassociation is associated with severe trauma. The more normal reaction to being moved would be distress and sadness. Regression is a normal reaction to upset, disassociation is not associated with upset…. The way in which [child E]’s behaviour is interpreted has to figure in his own difficulties. I would not accept the interpretation of poor behaviour management. A lack of proper attachment history would be the full explanation.”

Child D had presented with a tentative diagnosis of developmental delay and was referred for further assessment. A referral was made in relation to child D neither wearing underwear nor socks and having a smell of faeces. Child D was copying child C as he too did not wear underwear for a time while in the care of the mother. The mother did not feel it was important and it would ameliorate itself.

The consultant clinical psychologist said a child not wearing underwear was problematic. She said: “I suppose it seems basic to send your children to school with socks and underwear. I think there are certain norms. Sending a child to school with socks in his bag, if he wishes to wear them, is an idiosyncrasy and is indicative of a style of parenting.” The mother was under a lot of pressure but she should have insisted that child C wore underwear.

The consultant clinical psychologist met the mother in her home and took photos. She found the house to be in good order and described it as modern and well kept. There were two rooms upstairs for child C and child D. The mother designed the upstairs rooms and they were open plan. The consultant clinical psychologist said “there was lack of insight [on the part of the mother] putting a child [child D] who was sexually abused into a room with no door and open to the whole upstairs.”

The judge asked: “[Child D] should have his own room?”

She replied: “A room with a door on it.”

The consultant clinical psychologist was critical of the mother and her dependence on partners. The mother gravitated towards men who needed her. The mother said she needed a man in the house. The consultant clinical psychologist said: “The connotation one would take was that she [the mother] was a woman regardless of the needs of her children and she needed a man in the house.” The need to have another person was multi-dimensional.

The relationship with father Y was problematic. They decided to have a family but had difficulty conceiving. The dynamics of the relationship included that the man was sleeping downstairs and was talking to an 18-year-old girl online. She said: “It seemed to me there was more going on than not conceiving. The relationship was not that good.”

The area of sexualisation was a particular aspect of the case. The consultant clinical psychologist said the mother had confused ideas about sex abuse. She said: “We discussed the therapy and what she had learned. She had learned to take sexual abuse seriously and she had learned the significance of it.”

She said: “I lay more stress on her attitude to the children’s sexual behaviour.” The mother had not changed her view on the early sexualisation of the child B and the eldest child, A. She told the psychologist that birth control did not work for the eldest child and it seemed to the psychologist that there was a lack of prohibition [of the behaviour of the children]. The mother indicated that one could not prohibit a teenager from engaging in sexual activity.

The consultant clinical psychologist said: “That [comment] was a concern to any assessor. The mother gave the children autonomy and she was unwilling to set boundaries. When you do not set boundaries, they [children] flounder and get into sexual behaviour. It is hard for them to manage as they do not have the maturity.”

The consultant clinical psychologist was asked to comment on the access reports completed by the access support worker. There was a structured access observation in which the mother sat with child C and father Y sat with child D. Both children had good eye contact and were happy to spend time with their parents. The consultant clinical psychologist said the mother did not respond to child C’s overtures. She observed a closer bond between the mother and child C than child D.

Child C was not allowed to attend access for a period of time but access had resumed and the progress was impressive. She noted neither parent tried to regulate child E’s behaviour and there was a lack of active management. Child E refused to sit at the table and the parents had a disagreement. The mother said if child E were at home, she would have locked the door so he could not retreat and she would let him scream it out.

The consultant clinical psychologist said: “The reaction of the mother was indicative of how parenting was done at home. There were parenting difficulties there and she [the mother] does not take them on board.”

Access with child E had been suspended in 2015 but resumed on a monthly basis and there was a good deal of emotional warmth when child E permitted it. There was a “very positive progression” at access with child F.

She said her recommendation at the time [of her report] was for reunification in the short term. At the moment there were elements which were not healthy in the relationship between child C and the mother. Child C had a good strong attachment to his mother and wanted to go home. The risk factors were in terms of the mother’s ability to set boundaries and the biggest risk factor was his education. The consultant clinical psychologist did not think child C would be able to adjust if he were returned to his mother’s care.

Counsel for the GAL said the GAL’s position in relation to child C and access was different to that of the CFA. The GAL felt on account of the issues of sexual abuse and early sexualisation, there was a particular piece of work needed to be done with the mother “which was psycho-educative in nature.”

The consultant clinical psychologist said: “[That could be done] with [child C] at some stage as he intends to go home when he is finished in care. That is a valuable piece of work. I would be anxious that [child C] moves forward with access. If there is a programme which provides him with safeguards and boundaries, it would be in his interests to move forward.”

Child D had a troubled relationship with his mother. He was ensconced in his foster family and well supported. She said: “I would not be sure if the strong emotional base with his mother is there. There is always a difficulty with [child D] feeling that [child C] is favoured.”

Child E came from a poor adjustment to a reasonable adjustment. Child E had a particular view of his identity. The consultant clinical psychologist did not recommend removing him from his placement.

Child F was described as a normal well-adjusted child who had grown up in her foster placement. Child F never lived with the mother except for the first three months of her life. She had never been in a position to build an attachment with the mother as her primary attachment was to her foster parents. The mother had nothing to do with child F’s everyday activities and it was difficult to move the relationship along. She said: “you would have to move the child to a place where the mother has more practical input in her life.” The relationship between child F and the mother had progressed nicely and the mother was showing an ability to attune herself to the child F’s needs.

The psychologist on behalf of the mother had recommended that child F be returned to the care of her mother. The consultant clinical psychologist described the recommendation as “disastrous.” She explained: “[Child F] was now six years old and had a secure base. Reunification of children after a certain length of time becomes itself an issue and a transfer of attachment will be problematic. Children are moved into care for good reasons. In this situation, the child is normal and well-adjusted and the risks of subtracting her quickly to another environment would be significant. It takes time and care and it is a secondary difficulty and becomes an issue in itself.”

Counsel for the CFA asked: “Do you see a realistic chance the children will be returned?” She replied: “Access is not an assessment of parenting capacity. I would say access shows progression. It is good but is oceans away from returning the children. I would not recommend sending the children home.”

The psychologist on behalf of the mother continues his evidence

The psychologist called on behalf of the mother continued his evidence by answering questions from counsel for the GAL and the CFA. He was reminded that when the eldest child, child A, was seven years of age, the mother witnessed father X kissing the child [daughter of her first husband, who was not involved in the proceedings]. She spoke to child A who said it was the first time it happened.

Counsel for the GAL asked: “If a parent were to see something like that, they would regard it as sinister. They would have explored it further and would have asked [father X] ‘what did you do to the child?’ The mother did not do that. Would you have expected her to say ‘have you done anything to [child A]’?”

The psychologist replied: “Yes.”

The mother said she and father X maintained separate bedrooms following the incident, but she told the psychologist that she and the father were in the bedroom together and the children were in their own bedrooms.

Counsel for the GAL asked: “When you gave your evidence, you maintained the position that they had separate bedrooms. There is a concern in [the mother’s country of origin] about [father X] having access to the girls. The mother felt that she needed to have sex with [father X] every day to protect the eldest child.”

He said: “She [the mother] viewed it [the abuse] as being sexually driven.”

Child A, the eldest child, made disclosures in 2005 about the sexual abuse and it was not until 2009 that charges were filed. He said he would have expected that a parent faced with similar evidence would make a complaint to the Gardaí.

Counsel for the GAL asked: “When you were instructed in 2015, you looked at issues around her [the mother’s] protective capacity. Why did it take two years to ask questions about the eldest child and [child B]?”

The psychologist for the mother replied: “The primary focus was on the injury that occurred to ][child F]. [Child A] and [child B] were background issues and it was something that I did not put a lot of emphasis on. The information I got from the mother would be a narrative of what happened with herself and the eldest child. Regardless of her narrative, the issues of risk pertain to her current behaviour and beliefs and her narrative of past events is not indicative of risk.”

Following the departure of father X from the home, the mother decided to move the father Y into the home shortly after meeting him. The mother ought to have been aware of and alert to the possibility that father Y could do to the children what father X had done. Child C and child D did not react well to father Y moving in.

The psychologist said: “It is not unusual for children in blended families to take time to adjust.”

The psychologist said a risk assessment would specifically refer to the children being removed to care and identify the risks which would preclude that. It involved the examination of the psychological state of both parents and an examination of the social work files. A psychological evaluation of the mother and the father was carried out firstly with them together as a unit and then as a unit with the children. He spoke with the parents as a couple. Then his colleague completed an assessment on the father and he conducted the assessment with the mother.

He said the parents presented differently with him than to the other psychologist. The father stated he would report any concerns about the mother’s parenting to TUSLA and there was a discrepancy between the parents as to how the injury to child F occurred. The father thought the mother may have dropped child F. Neither parent knew how it [child F’s injury] came to pass. The mother gave a full description which included the incident with the Moses basket. She did not know how child F sustained her injury. Child F was not observed by the mother at the time of the injury and it was not unusual for children to be out of the parents’ sight for a period of time.

He said: “We want to know what happened. If she knew what happened to child F, she had ample opportunity to come forward. I do not know that we can put the unexplained nature of the injury and put it at the door and we must accept that she might not have known what happened.”

The mother had reported she was sexually abused when she was four years and had sex with a boy she loved when she was 13 years old as her parents gave her freedom. The psychologist said he found 13 years of age an unusually early age to be sexually active and had concerns about how the mother was parented.

Counsel for the CFA asked: “If we assume that level of freedom given to her [the mother], how is she predisposed to give the same latitude to her own children?”

He said: “It arose with [child B] [and her early sexualisation]. It was evident that the mother gave the matter consideration and gave some background. She spoke to her [child B] about what she was going to do and it indicates she is not hands-off in the way she canvassed the matter [sexual behaviour] with her daughter, unlike the way her parents were with her.”

Counsel for the CFA asked: “With her approach as to how to guide teenagers, what prospect does she have of providing boundaries for a teenage boy?”

He said: “We can only evaluate that as we go and evaluate the increased levels of responsibilities. Historically she has not been able to give direction and we would have to see what she undertakes and if she recognises what she needs to do.”

Counsel for the CFA said: “There is a corollary of a teenage boy being sexually active. In your report you said she [the mother] was resistant to change and she was the dominant partner in the relationship. The father would acquiesce and would tell people if something untoward happened. Meeting her [the mother] subsequently and from what you were reading from observations of access, she [the mother] made changes.”

He said: “It gives us an indication as to capability. I stated the mother was resistant to change and in my subsequent interviews I changed my views due to her ongoing attendance at psychotherapy.” The psychologist spoke to the therapist who told him how the mother was doing in terms of her therapy. The psychologist said the mother was doing the right things.

The judge asked: “[The mother is] doing the right things, does that mean she has changed? You are saying I am reaching my conclusion based on what a therapist has told me. Change in matters of personality is significant and requires hard work and a lot of intervention. You are saying, ‘I spoke to the therapist and she has changed.’”

The psychologist replied: “Yes and that change is ongoing. I am going through a report which is three years old and when we go through the evidence, it is skewing. We go from there to how things are now and it creates confusion.”

Counsel for the CFA said: “This is a completely different approach of how she [the mother] dealt with [father Y]. Protectiveness is not just reacting, it provides the environment to prevent something happening. I do not see how you deal with the fact that a circumstance developed whereby [child D] was abused by [father Y] where the mother appears to be unaware of it. There is no description of how she [the mother] was protective of [child D].”

The psychologist said: “The overall ability of the mother to know something happened is difficult. Oftentimes the mother is the last person to know when sexual abuse happens in the house. Abuse can be very subtle. [Child D’s] reaction was a muted reaction. It would be difficult for the mother to know this was happening and to be aware anything inappropriate was happening between [child D] and [father Y].”

He said: “it is not the absence of protective factors, it is the deviance of perpetrators who can subvert protective factors. When the mother has a relationship with a new partner, there are different dynamics at play. It is impossible for her to go beneath the surface to see what is happening.”

He said there was a different interaction between child D and father Y. Child D had a connection with the father and the mother’s position would not be viewed as suspicious. In a conversation with father Y and the mother, she posed a question to father Y if child D aroused him and he nodded. He said he would have expected the mother to hand the matter over to the Gardaí and create distance between herself and father Y following the allegation.

The judge asked: “The child described that he went into the father Y’s bed. Would a mother find it appropriate that a child would be sleeping with another male who is not his father? Would that cause concern?”

He said: “For a child aged five or six years, it would not be unusual but for a child approaching puberty, it would be unusual.”

The mother expressed exasperation about the abuse. She felt powerless and betrayed by father Y. Her perspective was about herself and not child D and the psychologist did not explore with the mother how child D was doing.

Counsel for the CFA said: “It is the evidence of the social worker that the mother separated from father Y and asked him to leave and she advised her that the decisive action would be good for her case. That is a comment that she made to the social worker, and that would suggest the motivation of father Y being removed from the house. Had there not been a case how would we know if father Y would have been excluded?”

He said: “That is something she [the mother] can answer.”

The psychologist’s recommendation to the court was reunification of the mother with her children on a phased basis and he would like to see increased access.

The judge asked: “[What about] supervision with agencies if the children were returned?”

He replied: “The children have needs that are quite significant and I would like to see ongoing TUSLA Involvement in terms of the mother and that would provide reassurance and guidance. The mother has indicated that she is able to address those [difficulties] in that setting and a system which increased the access would be able to see quite quickly as to how she is coping.”

The judge: “The clinical neuropsychologist says the children’s behaviour is due to something such as trauma, what is your view on the complex needs of the children?”

He said: “I do not know and the needs are quite substantial. [Child C] presents as well adjusted and he was in the mother’s care for the longest time. [Child F] is well-adjusted and she was in the mother’s care the least amount of time. [Child E] had the most difficulties and there are queries of ASD which is a neurodevelopmental disorder which is genetic. It is hard to determine this is a result of the mother’s care. [Child D] was coping reasonably well. She provides them [the children] with boundaries and she is able to contain them in a way which she was not previously. The therapy the mother has done is sufficient.”

The judge said: “Your recommendation for the return is contingent on increased access which is successful and she undergoes therapy as part of that. Who reaches the conclusion that she has reached that level or the access is of a satisfactory level that she can care for the children on an independent level?”

Psychotherapist: “The [Child and Family] agency.”

The judge asked: “For what duration do you think access and therapy would go on?”

Psychotherapist: “For a short duration. [Firstly] weekly access over three months after which I would say, weekly access over a month. Following [that] overnight on a weekend. All day access at the weekend to see the interaction with the children. On the basis that is satisfactory, then reunification should to be verified by the CFA. If there is a hostile relationship, I would look to appoint an independent social worker.”

The GAL was of the view there needed to a be a skilled psychosexual counsellor to work with the mother as one cannot ignore the fact that child C had his own views and something needed to be done to protect him at home if he were to have overnight contact with the mother.

Counsel for the GAL said: “There was no information put forward that the mother has changed regarding [child C]. There was no concrete evidence that the mother had changed or to an extent that a female child will be safe in her care?”

He said: “No, I do not agree. We have seen in terms of her contact with the children, she has put boundaries in place and responded appropriately.”

The mother was not in a relationship currently and she was prioritising the children. At one access visit, a male was reported to be at the mother’s home. The psychologist was told that the male was a gardener and no one suggested anything else to him. He accepted this explanation at face value.

Guardian ad litem

The guardian ad litem outlined her involvement in the case, which began in 2015 and she had completed 11 reports. She visited the children regularly on a one to one basis in the foster homes to ascertain their views. In the last year she met child C, child D and child F nine times and met child E seven times.

She met the mother and father Y in 2015 and had discussions with them in the context of the children in care. She observed access before and since the separation of the parents. She had spoken to father X, to the eldest child and to child B (both now adults). The GAL saw the mother on two further occasions and reviewed access recordings. She reviewed the documents and assessments. The mother provided her with a number of relevant medical documents.

The children had sibling access once a month and the GAL observed sibling access and informal sibling contact in the foster carer’s homes with child C, child D and child F while child E was visiting.

The children were placed with Catholic families who had limited knowledge of how to support children of the mother’s faith. The GAL spoke to a religious leader to enquire about supports were the children to remain in the care. The foster carers met with him so they could have a link to support the children’s faith. Child C was not very interested in his mother’s religion.

The GAL attended a number of meetings including professional meetings, multiple child in care reviews and multidisciplinary meetings. She attended a core group meeting in 2018 with the CFA and with child C and child D.

In 2017, there was a meeting with the school in relation to child C, given his change of circumstances and his change in position. She met with the school in relation to both him and child D. Child C moved placement to where child D and child F lived. She said the adjustment was challenging and there were suggestions it had affected his behaviour at school.

Child C discussed the possibility of making a complaint about the delay in his case. The GAL met the social worker and the complaint was made in August 2017. She said child C never received an outcome as the person who was to deal with the complaint was on sick leave. The judge asked why there was no cover provided to deal with the complaint. The GAL said child C had asked to be involved in decisions regarding him, he attended a meeting and felt heard.

The GAL contacted CAMHS on 10 occasions and left messages regarding the service that could be provided for child C and child E. The GAL requested updates from the CFA about child C’s completion of section 3 assessment and his contact with his original foster carers. She clarified that a section 3 assessment was used to evaluate historic sexual harm and the outcome of the assessment was considered to be pertinent to see if the placement child C had left would be reconsidered.

Child C dictated a letter about increased contact with his parents. The letters received a response. The GAL wrote to the CFA about the delay in decision-making about child C. She said the young person wanted the arrangements for the contact to change and he wanted to attend the former foster carers’ home freely without the involvement of social workers but the social workers did not agree to that given the circumstances of the change in placement.

There was a further letter from child C in February 2018 to the principal social worker. Child C made a request about how he would like visits with his mother to go. He could have visits in her home and they would be longer and more frequent. The GAL conveyed his wishes to the principal social worker. She received no response from the principal social worker but brought the points up with the other social workers. Child C made clear what points he wanted answered. The GAL wrote to the social worker saying child C wanted them answered expeditiously.

Child C was told he would be staying in his current placement. She said child C’s expressed wishes had regressed and she wrote to the CFA to revaluate his long-term care. She said child C’s express wishes were that he wanted to go home. The GAL said the allegations against the other child in the former foster placement were unfounded and the criminal prosecution in respect of that child did not proceed.

Child C identified himself as having . He spent four days with child E in foster care. Thereafter he moved to his first foster placement and remained there for four years. There were two older children in the foster placement and their placement predated child C’s. Child C’s placement was impacted due to an allegation of sexually inappropriate behaviour against another child in the placement in 2016.

Immediately thereafter child C remained in the placement and a safety plan was in place. A risk assessment has been undertaken. Child C said he felt safe and had no worries in relation to the other child in the placement whom he saw as a brother. Child C did not raise any concerns about safety. The disclosures in relation to the other child in the placement had not been investigated.

Child C and the other child in the placement went to the cinema which was a breach of the safety plan. An application was made by the mother seeking child C to be moved but child C was clear he did not want to move placement. The CFA assessed the information and reached the conclusion that the foster carers breached the safety plan and child C should move.

The GAL accepted that the safety plan had been breached when child C and the other child went to the cinema alone together. She was accepting of the decision that child C would move placement. She said: “I was anxious that the move should be facilitated pending an assessment with a view that he [child C] could return to the first foster placement and to the relationship he had with them [the foster carers].” Child C was to be placed in a second foster family with child D and child F. Child F had her own room and logistics dictated that child C and child D share a room despite child D having made disclosures of sexual abuse.

Child C did not display a marked reaction on the date he found out he was to be taken out of the placement. Child C was a young person who wanted to control the dialogue and he would not readily express his emotions nor did he attach an emotional label to events as others do.

When he moved placement, his emotions came to the fore and he articulated himself with conviction. He articulated that he did not belong at the second foster placement. Child C spent long periods of time in his room and needed a lot of encouragement. The GAL said child C was now more engaged in the house. His attitude towards child D had changed and there was more a meeting of the minds than previously.

She said child C “has been very angry with the social workers regarding the change in placement.” He asked to meet with the judge in 2017 and wanted to talk about his placement move. Child C said he no longer wished to meet with the judge and said it was a disgrace he had to wait for so long to know if he was going home or going back to the first foster placement. He needed a decision sooner and was annoyed no progress had been made.

Child C did not get to see the foster carers from the first placement and he said he lost his second family [the foster carers from the first placement]. It was heart-breaking for him as he did not have the relationships now that he had before. Child C wanted to see child E more often. He did not want to see father X or have any contact with him as he had prior understanding that father X hurt the eldest child.

Child D had been living in his placement since 2013 and his care needs were being met in the foster placement. He had friends at school and a strong social network. Child D was increasing in confidence and had shown an ability to express himself about his wishes. The GAL said child D needed to understand he was a bright boy who needed to work harder at his literacy skills. Child D demonstrated the ability to make independent choices. There had been a sense from discussions with the mother that child D would be easily swayed. The GAL said there was evidence that child D had his own mind.

Child D attended 10 sessions with a therapist and did not want to continue with the therapy. The GAL said she was concerned about child D not engaging with a therapist and there were multiple reasons why a young person would not avail of the support. The therapist said child D was not psychologically ready and was aware of the uncertainty of the court process. The attachment intervention offered to child D was dependent on his placement being permanent.

Child D said his focus was on his family and his family circumstances. Child D described his foster home as happy, safe and one of love. He said his mother’s house was not safe. He said going to see the mother’s house made him confused and seeing bedrooms she had prepared for the children made him feel weird.

Child D said he wanted to live at his placement until he was 18. He said the people he lived with were like family. Child D said he would like to go and see his mother but he was of the view that it was better to see the mother on his own. He liked to see his mother on special occasions and wanted to be able to choose when he saw her.

When child D went into care, he thought father Y was his biological father. He learned in 2015 from child C that father X was his biological father. Child D expressed the wish to see his biological father and had been asking about him since 2018. The social worker told child D about father X’s sexual offending history as child D started asking questions and there was a concern he would google father X’s name.

Child D decided to write to father X and they met. He described the meeting as awkward and he was not sure whether he wanted to see his father again. He thought that father Y should go to jail. The GAL said child D wanted the judge to know that he was happy and wanted to stay where he was but wanted his own bedroom. Child D did not want to see the judge and did not want to think of court.

Child E was eight years old and did not know how to play when he arrived in foster care. His presentation was concerning. The GAL said when she visited him, he just scattered things but now he could take turns and participate in main street activities. Child E was dependant on his foster carers to fulfil his needs.

The GAL said: “[Child E] should have regular contact with his siblings on a monthly basis or more often if possible.” She said child E often visited the foster placement where child C, child D and child F lived but there was a delay in this access happening. Child E did not know the difference between his birth family and his foster carers. Until 2017, child E would not have named his birth parents. He now spoke about his “other mummy or old mummy.” The GAL said: “We had to recognise that the mother is important in his world and his understanding of who she is.”

The GAL said engaging with child E was like communicating with a younger child. She said with a “a child of this developmental stage, it would not be appropriate to conduct an interview about wishes. It is important to explore about the here and now.”

The GAL observed a number of access visits with the family. At access the mother had asked the children for hugs which she not had not always received. There were times when the mother asked child F for a hug and kiss and child F refused. The GAL said recent records of access showed that child F was more attuned and she had a level of affection with her mother that was not evident in the early months.

The GAL observed an informal sibling access when child E sought child D out and it was a positive interaction. She observed child D snuggling up beside child F. Child E was at ease in the presence of his family members and siblings and appeared at ease in the household where his siblings lived. After the access, child E was very upset that night and could not settle.

The GAL observed video access in relation to child D. She saw the mother sitting back and getting frustrated at child D’s interpretation of the rules of the game they were playing at access. She noted, in relation to child C, that he was eating food brought by the mother during access. The GAL said: “It was positive that the mother selected the food but I did not observe any control [at access].”

She said there had been ongoing discussions in relation to access and the difficulties child E was having. Child D was expressing upset arising out of access and he talked to the GAL directly that he did not like physical contact from the mother at access. He made specific requests to reduce the number of visits. She said the children were observed to trigger each other and the mother could not manage to control them at access. There was name calling of child D by child C and there was no veto by the mother.

Child D’s relationship with his mother had improved since access on a one-to-one basis. He was positive going to the visits with the mother and was comfortable managing the visits. She said child D’s “current wish was to be given the choice [to go to access] as opposed to [access] being something that he has to do.” The discussion about promoting flexibility had been ongoing and there were suggestions about varying the content of access. Child D gave feedback that access had been going better.

The judge asked: “What about child D and supervision?”

The GAL replied: “[Child D] wants someone present at access and I would support it on the basis of the child’s wishes. For [child F], I would consider supported access rather than supervised. It is apparent that the relationship with the mother is one of nurture and needs to be developed.”

The hearing was adjourned for a number of weeks.

Guardian ad litem continues her evidence

Following the adjournment, the GAL continued her evidence. She said she became aware of the allegations against the other child in the foster placement on foot of what child D had said happened in March 2016. The GAL was informed of the allegation from the foster carer and a core group meeting was held following the allegation.

The precise details of the allegations against the child in the foster placement were not gathered at the meeting but the nature of the inappropriate sexual behaviour was read out. The GAL said: “I was aware that it was a serious allegation in relation to sexual impropriety.” Child D said the child in the foster placement tried to touch him. The allegation was first made to the child C’s foster carer and she rang the social worker. Following the allegation, there was a home visit and a conversation between the foster carer and the social worker.

The foster carer put a mattress in the room so that child D and the child in the foster placement would have no contact. The GAL said there was an initial sense of disbelief but there was a level of support for the foster carers on foot of the allegations. The GAL said: “The fact someone disbelieves an allegation creates potential for a greater risk.” Following the decision to move child C from the foster placement to another placement there were ongoing text messages between child C and his former foster carer that were emotionally loaded.

The judge asked: “Did you explore with [child C] about what he thought of the texts?”

She said: “I do not recall the specifics in relation to the texts. [Child C] said he wanted more contact with former foster carer.”

The judge asked: “The disclosures in relation to the child in the foster placement have not been fully investigated in the GAL’s report. Why?”

She replied: “The dynamics of the alleged sexual abuse of [child D] and [father Y] infer a sexually abusive relationship. All of the features such as grooming existed within the relationship with [father Y]. The dynamics are not the case with the child in the foster placement but that is not to say what happened was not serious as it was. [Child D] said this was more distressing than what happened with [father Y].”

During a home visit, child D told the GAL he would not be looked after if he were returned to his mother’s care. There was a suggestion to the social workers that child D said the mother “did not do everything a mummy must do.” The GAL explored this with child D and it was the social worker’s opinion that “mummy did not manage all of the jobs of a mummy” and that was why child D was in foster care.

She said: “Children have an understanding of how they came into care and the social worker’s assessment was that the parents could not adequately parent the children.” She said: “It needs to make sense to a child and the social workers explained to [child C] and [child D] that their parents could not keep them safe.”

Child D said he did not get dinners every day when in the care of his mother. The GAL said: “He regards dinner as what comes on a plate and he did not get that at home. It is reflective of a lack of routine around dinner time.” A child who had no routine for mealtime was a feature of neglect and it contributed to the cumulative picture of basic needs [not being met] she said. Since coming into his placement child D had embraced sport and that was not something he did before he came into care.

The GAL prepared a report in August 2015 in relation to access. There were significant concerns about child E’s presentation prior to and following access. The foster carers had to manage his behaviours, his dysregulation and ticking. Child E would go into a trance following access for a prolonged period of time. Screening ruled out epilepsy and suggested trauma regarding child E’s ticks.

The judge asked: “Going to access has a travel element and could that be the trigger?”

The GAL replied: “It was my opinion that there was something happening in the context of the access triggering a trauma-like response.”

The GAL said she attended a core group that lead to a discussion with a child psychiatrist. There was access during which child E became dysregulated and access was suspended. Child E’s presentation had regressed and it was akin to how he presented in the early days of the placement. The GAL said: “It [the dysregulation] was attributed to what had happened during that access visit and the presentation appeared to have been triggered by access.”

The judge asked: “Could that have been because the child suffered severe trauma having been separated from his parents?”

She said: “The mother said that to me and I asked the clinical neuropsychologist. He said it was unlikely. I have never seen a child whose presentation had changed since coming into care.”

The judge said: “The clinical neuropsychologist places the time frame for trauma as when the child comes into care at around two to three years. He found it hard to pinpoint the other children.”

The GAL said: “[Child E] has struggled to accept comfort and nurture from his female carers but he does not accept comfort and nurture in the context of his interactions with the mother. My recommendation was that access be temporarily suspended.”

The GAL attended six accesses when the access was reduced. She said she did not directly observe access with child E and the mother between the period of November 2015 and July 2017. The GAL next observed access with child E in February 2018.

The judge said: “You did not attend access for the other children for over a year?”

She said she observed the children informally in their placements and looked at the video records.

Counsel for the mother asked: “These children [are the subject of] an interim care order where their mother is actively seeking their return. Do you think six accesses over four years is sufficient?”

She replied: “I am of the view that I can make an inquiry about the observations I have made.”

The GAL was given information that child E had toys but did not have the ability to play with them. Photographs were provided showing child E with toys but the photographs provided a snapshot.

The judge said: “It appears to me that the child had toy playing skills. It would appear you did not explore the issue of the toys with the mother and the father. Your job is to independently investigate. You have information and you were entitled to ask for information. If you had seen those photos when you started this case, would you have taken a different view?”

The GAL replied: “I may have asked different questions.”

The GAL was open to that possibility that the presentation of child E was not the same prior to his admission to care. The GAL was supporting long term care in respect of the children and her view had not changed.

The clinical neuropsychologist called by the CFA

Following this adjournment evidence was also given by a clinical neuropsychologist who had assessed the children for the CFA.

He recalled that Child D was two years of age (before these proceedings) when a number of assessments were carried out, which the neuropsychologist had seen. A senior psychologist ruled out autism in respect of child D and made a diagnosis of developmental delay. The clinical neuropsychologist agreed that child D did not have ASD. Another psychologist administered two tests to child D in 2014 and the clinical neuropsychologist saw the report.

Child D scored in low average range for verbal comprehension. He scored 14 in the average range for verbal comprehension which was an improvement in the last two years. He was in the average range with regards to perceptual reasoning. Child D’s full scale IQ range fell within the low average. Child D scored in the low level in the test looking at communication and motor skills. Child D did not score well in the speech and language test.

The ABAS test was administered in 2016. Child D scored in the exceptionally low range in terms of communication and intelligence. The clinical neuropsychologist said his lowest score was for cognitive efficiency and that was significant.

The clinical neuropsychologist said he found trauma in respect of child D but there was an improvement with child D when his environment had improved.

The judge asked: “Can you say there was an improvement from when the child came into care?”

He replied: “There were significant gains.”

Child C attended national school and the mother had intended to send child D to the same school. Due to child D’ language problems, the mother was advised to send him to another school. The mother said she treated child C and child D differently as child D’s language skills were at a different level than child C. She said: “if I spoke to [child D] at the same level as [child C], he would not understand.”

Counsel for the mother said: “In 2010 [child D] was sent to another school and he was deemed a suitable candidate for that school. He was not developmentally delayed in the care of his mother. By 2010 he had improved and he was no longer delayed.”

The clinical neuropsychologist said: “I do not agree. The main piece for me is his [child D’s] presentation when he came into care. He struggled with line taking when attending [school] and when he learned it, he did it well.” He said child D’s communication difficulties were coming from trauma he experienced.

Counsel for the mother said tests were conducted by two psychologists regarding child D’s cognitive functioning and both assessments produced a similar picture.

He said: “I would not agree that the picture is similar. He scored well in perceptional reasoning. He did badly in my assessment and that indicated some form of trauma.”

The clinical neuropsychologist said he was aware of the allegation of sexual acts involving a child in the foster placement and child D but he was not familiar with the details.

The judge asked: “you are aware of the incident between [child D] and [child F]?”

He replied: “[It was alleged] [child D] had touched [child F’s] bum and it was discussed.”

He said child D did not realise that the incidents with father Y were wrong until he began to talk about them with the foster carers. He then realised the incidents were wrong and it influenced his person and wellbeing. There were clear patterns about his sexualised behaviour. He made a disclosure and was psychologically distressed.

The judge asked: “Does it happen that a child makes allegations that are not true? What would the effect be?”

The neuropsychologist said: “It would open up huge questions about the child’s mental health. [Father Y] came into his life when he was three years old. He was young and his awareness system would have accepted things unless he had something to compare it to. He would have been dependent on the adults around him. If a child has experienced significant trauma, once that awareness kicks in, he becomes vulnerable.”

The neuropsychologist had a conversation with child C’s school principal and discussed the fact that child C remained under the radar with outbursts at school. Child C was stressed and the blips fed into a conclusion of distress. Child C underwent many psychometric tests and none of the tests categorised attachment difficulties.

The judge asked: “Had you considered [child C] displaying ASD?”

He replied: “No, it was a more definite piece.” He explained that the autism spectrum rating scales test would never give a diagnosis of ASD. The Coventry Grid was used to clarify whether child C was suffering from ASD or attachment difficulties.

The judge asked: “[Child C] had no diagnosis at the time of assessment. Why did you administer this [Coventry Grid]?”

He replied child C was under an interim care order and his parents put forward that father X had ASD. The mother used homeopathy to prevent full ASD from developing. The Coventry Grid was used to clarify all of this.

By the time the clinical neuropsychologist had completed the Coventry Grid in April 2018 on child C, he had ruled out ASD. The outbursts in the school came from an attachment rather than ASD perspective. Child C’s anxiety was high and he could become fixed and rigid in his views.

Counsel for the mother asked: “if you wanted to rule out ASD, why did you not do the gold standard autism diagnostic observation schedule (ADOS) assessment?”

He said: “It was clear [child C] did not have ASD and it would not have been fair to put him through the ADOS assessment.”

The clinical neuropsychologist recommended formal psychotherapy for child C. He said he never got to discuss the presentation of anxiety of child C but spoke with the social worker about the various interventions for him. Child C was due to commence outdoor activities but he did not want to engage.

He said: “A lot had changed since the matter came to court. It was clear that [child C] was still frustrated and angry about his placement move.”

Throughout the access child C would move things and help child F. The clinical neuropsychologist said: “That was above a child of his age. A young teen would distance himself from all of that.” The other children referenced child C with expectations beyond his developmental age. He said: “A lot was put on [child C’s] shoulders and he felt the burden of that.”

Child E was two years old when he came into care and eating was a major issue. In an interview with the mother, she said child E was feeding but losing weight. Child E had been breast fed for 13 weeks and attended a chiropractor for a bone issue in his mouth. The mother maintained that child E fed perfectly normally before he came into care. When he came into his first foster placement, the foster carer reported him to be a great eater. In the second foster placement, he presented as a child who could only eat pureed food. The foster mother asked the mother for advice and the mother said to give him a packet of puree to suck it out.

Child E could not sit at mealtimes. There was advice to give him mashed up sweet food which was not ideal. The mother said child E would have a small bowl of cornflakes and he would have porridge with raw fruits blended in her care. Child E was turning two and she wanted to make sure he got a variety of flavours. The mother was never told child E did not eat solids or just pureed foods.

When the GAL was appointed, there was progress as child E had settled and was sitting down to eat. The clinical neuropsychologist said he did not go back and speak to the mother about child E’s feeding difficulties. He said: “It was not worthwhile because I would have queried some of the other responses from the mother. There were some inconsistencies and her answers were not always accurate. Some responses were not natural or consistent responses.”

The judge asked: “Was it significant, the matter of feeding and eating, to come into your conclusion?”

He said: “For me, it seemed to be an issue related to attachment. I did not pursue it. It was not significant.”

The clinical neuropsychologist did not accept that the child was feeding normally when in the care of his mother and there was a regression in his feeding when he came into care. He said a move was not healthy and the separation from a sibling [in the first foster placement] had to be factored in.

Child E was toilet trained later than the other children. The mother told the clinical neuropsychologist that she had not started toileting child E. The mother maintained that smearing never occurred while child E was in her care and it had first happened in July 2013 when the child had been in care for six months.

Pica (a disorder involving consuming non-food items) did not arise when the child was in the care of his mother and the first time she heard of pica was during the course of court proceedings. He said: “The pica piece could be associated with the smearing and it would be a red flag but it is not definite piece from a point of child sexual abuse. The literature would suggest it is a red flag. I awaited the genetic testing to determine there was no genetic cause for it.”

The clinical neuropsychologist said child E did not meet the criteria for ASD and it was ruled out. His conclusion was dependant on a number of items such as the child psychiatrist’s report, his observations of child E, discussions of child E in the school and his integration into his school. It was recommended that child E would be reviewed when he was eight years old. The clinical neuropsychologist said executive functioning could not be assessed until the age of eight and executive functioning was a clear process which was warranted to bring absolute clarity to an assessment.

The clinical neuropsychologist was critical of the psychologist for the mother who had administered the Marschak Interaction Method (MIM) in respect of child E. He held concerns about the training of the mother’s psychologist to carry out the MIM assessment as the mother’s psychologist had not completed all of the training required.

The mother’s psychologist carried out psychometric tests on the mother and administered the Rohrshach test. The Rohrshach test was looked at using a traffic light system. A high score was considered a red light and rendered uninterpretable. The clinical neuropsychologist did not agree with the system of the mother’s psychologist. He said: “What the mother’s psychologist has included is overarching and extended.”

Child D and child E changed in presentation when they entered care from attachment and trauma perspectives. Child E’s behaviours were suggestive of significant trauma and “anything beyond that is too grey.” The neuropsychologist said: “I felt the mother had more difficulties moving forward.” The mother spoke of her reaction to the disclosures of father Y and how she found herself in these vulnerable situations. He deduced the therapy was not addressing her primary difficulties. He said the mother had personality difficulties which were inhibiting her from assessing her environment and that was why she found herself in difficult situations which had impacted the children.

The Mother’s evidence

The mother then outlined to the court her life to date, and the circumstances that led to her children going into care.

She told the court she married her first husband in 1989 and lived in the country of her birth. There were two children of that marriage, the eldest child and child B. The mother met her second husband, father X, who was Irish, in 1993 and married in 1995. The family lived in her country of origin and moved to Ireland.

The abuse of the eldest child came to light when the mother saw father X kissing the eldest child “very inappropriately”. The mother removed herself and child B from the vicinity to another side of the house. She said: “I never saw anything like that before. I spoke to the eldest child and reassured her she did nothing wrong. The eldest child said it [the kiss] never happened before.” The eldest child was “not in tears or anything like that.” The mother sent the eldest child, then eight years old, to her home country a couple of days later unaccompanied. She said: “I should have gone with her and never looked back.”

Following the kiss, the mother was not talking to father X and not able to attend work. She spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do. She attended a local health board as she needed advice. She met with a man from the health board and told him what happened.

The man said: “Families can heal” and gave his details to the mother to pass on to father X.

She said: “That is what I did and gave his name to [father X].” The mother then followed the eldest child to home country. Father X contacted the mother and arrived in the country four months later. Father X came to talk to the mother about the incident and she told him to go away.

She did not give him an opportunity to explain his behaviour as she held onto the understanding that families can heal. The mother later reconciled with father X but she did not talk to the eldest child about taking father X back. She watched the responses of the children “which seemed ok.”

She said: “Looking back and knowing what I know now, it was not appropriate for the eldest child or me. Anything you cannot share with your family should not happen. I needed help. I should have told my family and [should have] got help for the eldest child and myself. I felt ashamed.”

The family returned to Ireland when the mother was expecting child C. Father X had gone backwards again in the way in which he was behaving and started drinking. Child C was born in Ireland in 2002.

When child C was nine months old the public health nurse noticed he had had a medical procedure. The mother was taken aback when she was informed by the public health nurse that a social work file had been opened about it. She received a letter from the child protection management team of the health board confirming an incident of neglect and lack of medical care regarding child it. Prior to receiving that letter and the social workers becoming involved, the mother was never aware of an allegation of neglect.

Child D was born 20 months after child C. Father X took the pregnancy with child D badly and “things never got better.”

The behaviour of the eldest child had changed in that she became disruptive, was smoking and lost weight. The eldest child was angry and upset in general every day. The maternal grandfather suggested that eldest child could go to school in her home country but she wanted to attend boarding school in Ireland. The mother did not know why the eldest child wanted to go to boarding school but she felt the eldest child might feel better in herself with some distance from the family home.

Further allegations were made against father X to a social worker in the mother’s home country by the eldest child when she was preparing for a religious ceremony. The eldest child had suffered more serious abuse at the hands of father X in Ireland prior to the kiss but the mother did not know about it.

The judge asked: “When you met her [the eldest child] in [your home country], you went out with the boys [child C and child D] for the [religious ceremony], did you talk to her?”

She replied: “No, I did not with the events that were going on.”

The mother was first interviewed by the social workers in July 2005 and was disbelieving of the allegations against father X. She said: “The process of me believing the eldest child was a slow one. I was not sure.” She voiced her reticence of believing the eldest child to the social worker. The children had been placed on the child protection register. By Christmas 2005 the eldest child was refusing to come home and it was a turbulent time.

Father X later left the house and moved into a flat in town. The social worker told the mother to supervise his visits to the home and the mother had to be present when he was at the home. Father X would come up at 7.30 am and leave when the children went to sleep by 9pm. The mother was not intimate with father X when he came to the house as he was coming to spend time with the children.

As time went on, his access decreased leading to the total exclusion of father X. The mother attended a seminar and it made her realise that the eldest child was telling the truth. She said: “It was not my job to fix the father. He had a lot of problems. In the build up to the last straw, there had been a lot of shouting in front of the children which was distressing. When he was limited to certain days of the week [for access], he was not engaging fully with the kids. I realised what he was focused on was me. It needed to be about the children and not me.”

Child B brought up how nice Christmas was without father X there. The mother said: “Hearing that was a powerful thing.” The mother refused any further accesses at the home. She said: “It was a learning curve and now I am much more confident in myself and what I should do.” Father X later left the provincial town and began harassing the mother with text messages. She printed the history of the texts and made a Garda report.

The eldest child followed up on a complaint about father X when she turned 18 years.

The judge asked: “Did she say why she left it [until she turned] 18 years?”

The mother said: “She [the eldest child] did not want to disrupt the family but the family was disrupted anyway. During therapy, she [the eldest child] said she was not ready to speak up about it.”

Father X pleaded guilty and was sentenced a term of imprisonment. The eldest child was at his sentencing and was glad he received some jail time. Father X never admitted the full extent of the allegations to the mother but he admitted a second kiss at the child protection conference.

The mother met father Y online. She said at the time he was different from father X. Father Y visited the mother and was not present in the house at night. The mother said this was due to an issue with child C and child D. Father Y moved into the home two months later.

The mother fell pregnant and child E was born in 2010. At the start of 2012, the mother was diagnosed with an inflammatory condition.

A referral was made in 2012 by child D who alleged that the mother left child E in the house on his own. The mother said that day child E fell asleep but father Y was upstairs in the house. She set up the monitor and told the father Y that child E was asleep and she left. The school spoke to her because of what child D had told them and a social worker called to the home but “that was the end of that.” It was determined there were no concerns.

There was another referral made by child D later the same year alleging that child C was left at home to look after child E. The mother received a phone call from social worker to come and speak about the referral. She said: “I did not leave [child C] at home to look after [child E]. [Child C] was off sick that day.” An investigation was carried out and the social workers informed the mother that they were not going any further.

There was a determination that the mother had not left child C at home with child E. Child D left the house alone on a number of occasions. He made his way to a petrol station and the mother reported the incident to the social workers. On another occasion, child D had made his way to a local shop. The mother said he was with child C and other children and everything was fine.

A child told her that child D was running out of the estate and the mother called the Gardaí immediately. The Gardaí told her to go home and wait until he came back. The mother called the eldest child and child B to notify child D’s friends. Child D was later found sitting at a river with chocolate. The mother had a conversation with child D and was trying to find out his motivation for running away. She was trying to make him not want to do it again. The mother told him there were sharks in the river and the Gardaí were looking for him. She walked him to school to burn off energy and took the route by the Garda station. Child D got the message and there were no more incidents.

Referrals were made by the speech and language teacher about child D to the social workers. The teacher had concerns and was asking questions about his general routine. A note was sent home concerning head lice at school. The teacher wrote that she observed child D scratching his head. The mother said this was the fifth notice she received and it was the first time she found head lice on child D. The mother replied and told the teacher she had applied the medicine to child D. On each occasion she received a notice from the teacher, she checked his head for lice.

The teacher was worried about unsupervised access to the internet but the family computer was positioned in the sitting room so everyone could see. The mother said child D did not have computer skills. Child D liked to help in the kitchen with sweeping and rinsing dishes. She said: “I never expected the quality of the sweeping [to be] what I would have expected myself.” Child C would also help around the house in that he would pick up toys but was never required to change a nappy. She said: “The first time he assisted, he asked me and I was always around in a supervisory manner.”

Child F was born in late 2012 and the pregnancy went well. The mother was very tired during the pregnancy due to her inflammation. Something happened with father Y during the second pregnancy and the mother discovered he was chatting to a young woman online. Father Y secured a new position and the family moved to another provincial town shortly after the birth of the child.

Child F was breast fed and was described as a great feeder. Child E showed no negativity following the arrival of child F and the mother would ask him to get the baby bag when she changed child F’s nappy. In early 2013, the mother was changing child F and noticed that one side of her head looked different in shape to the other side. She had not noticed anything before with child F. Her first thoughts were the plates in child F’s head were still moving and she thought there was something adjusting in her head.

Child F was due to have her three-month check-up but the public health nurse did not arrive on the day as scheduled. The mother said child F’s nappies were balanced and she was feeding during this time. The mother remembered she was waiting for the public health nurse to arrive and child F fell asleep in a carry cot. The mother placed the carry cot on a solid shelf and left the room. She heard a cry and came running into the room to find child F on the floor. She said: “[Child F] had a fright but was alright.”

When child F had her check up, the mother was concerned that child F’s head was asymmetrical and she brought her concern to the attention of the public health nurse. The mother took child F to the GP and was told there was no visible mark on child F’s head but it would be helpful to bring child F to the hospital. At the hospital, the mother met with a consultant and a CT scan was suggested.

Following a full body scan, the hospital rang the social work department. The mother said: “It was an emotional day.” Two social workers arrived and the mother was brought upstairs and put in a consultation room. She remembered being told that child F had a possible fracture. Child F was sent to Dublin for an MRI scan. She said: “The social workers were asking questions whether or not I injured [child F] and I said ‘no.’ The experience was difficult, everything was distorted and it was horrendous.”

Child C, child D and child E were taken into emergency care and the social worker asked father Y to collect clothes for them. The mother did not know where child C and the other children were going but she requested child E and child C to be placed together. After child F had an MRI scan, the mother was told by the neurologist that there were no concerns about a fracture and child F had a cooling of blood. They wanted to observe child F and took the circumference of her head to ensure it was not increasing.

Child F and the mother were brought back to hospital in the provincial town and waited in a baby cubicle room. The social worker was there and the mother was allowed to wait with child F until they took her to the foster placement.

The mother saw child F for access and was given a breast pump. She saw the other children a week later. At access, child E was discovering the room while child D was in tears. She said: “I put my focus on where it was needed the most.”

The mother signed the children into voluntary care. She met with the social workers in Dublin and explained that she was uncomfortable with voluntary care. The social worker told her to sign the form for voluntary care or the social workers would go to court. The mother felt bullied about voluntary care but did not want to go to court. She said: “It goes back to my environment. People who rushed to court had something to hide instead of working with professionals.”

The social worker told the mother it should not take longer than a couple of weeks for the children to be returned and access would be provided on a weekly basis. The mother said during this time she barely saw the social worker. At access with child F, the social worker would meet her and update her about what was happening. She was told home access would not go forward as the report from the forensic psychologist was needed prior to making the decision.

The mother married father Y in the summer of 2013. The following month the mother and father Y had their first appointment with the forensic psychologist and assessment interviews were conducted.

The mother was later informed at a meeting that the social workers had completed their reports and the parenting capacity assessment. It was their determination that they were going to seek an interim care order. The mother said: “It was the first time I had heard of this. I checked my emails that morning and I thought I was moving towards getting the kids back. Alarm bells went off and I was upset.”

The social worker told to the mother: “It is not like I am recommending for them to be put up for adoption.”

The mother replied: “The children are a product of a marriage.”

The social worker said: “Are you not aware of our laws?” The mother asked for copies of the parenting capacity assessment and social work report. The social worker agreed to copy them and bring then to the child in care review. The mother obtained a copy of the parenting capacity assessment and after the child in care review, she obtained legal advice from an acquaintance of her father. She revoked her consent to voluntary care in November 2014 and an interim care order was granted days later.

At access, child D had been shown photographs of the garden at home which included a photograph of the gardener. Child D asked who was the gardener. The mother explained to him that he was a friend of hers for over 30 years whom she met through her first husband. He would work in the garden, take the dog for walks and fix things.

The judge asked: “If he is a friend of 30 years, the children would know him?”

She said: “Over the years [we had] a sporadic connection. It was only one of the days when I was sitting outside the court house that we reconnected.”

She said the gardener came to the house while she was at access so the garden could be done quickly. On an unusual access day, she went to see child D. Child F and child C came back with her. When they arrived earlier than expected at the house, the gardener was still there and he had something to eat. The social workers had criticism of the gardener being at the home as they were not informed of his presence.

She said the child in care reviews did not give in-depth detail of what was going on and they seemed to minimise it. The chairperson would smile and say “is it not great to hear how they are doing.” She said: “I took that as a subtext as to how well they are doing without you.” The mother did not know what the children were doing unless the children told her.

She said: “I get no feedback now. I ask the kids. Child F is old enough to tell me.” She knew from the recent child in care review that child E was involved in martial arts and was not told that child E had a meltdown before a recent access.

In March 2016 the mother received a phone call that child D had made allegations against father Y. She had no other inclination that there would be an allegation against father Y and it came as a complete shock.

She went home and woke father Y. She asked: “What is going on?” Father Y replied “in a creepy, haunting and loving voice, ‘I love him and would never hurt him.’” The mother asked: “Are you aroused by [child D]?” He nodded and said that he was. The mother told him he had to go.

She left and went to the meeting with the social worker but did not tell father Y about the meeting. The social worker said: “Oh that is new information for you.” After the meeting the mother returned to the house and father Y was not there. After the allegations, there was a suspension of access and child D said he did not want to see his mother.

The mother was in regular contact with father X. He had messaged the mother and wanted to know what was going on with the boys and the court process. She tried to explain through messages and met with him. She said it was a brief encounter. Father X started messaging the mother to come and see him. She told him that was enough and broke off all contact. She was unsure if he knew about the allegations concerning child D and father Y.

Child D indicated he wanted to remain with his foster carers. The mother said: “Emotionally it is difficult to hear [that]. I have to look at and reflect on it. What I know of [child D] is that he always takes a view of where ever he is, is the best place to be.”

There were allegations that child E had been locked in a room when he had a temper tantrum and child D had described what has happened. The mother said she had never locked a child in a room under any circumstances. She said: “With temper tantrums you allow a toddler to express themselves and then remind them of the expectations.”

The judge asked: “Why would [child D] say these things?”

She said: “Whether they are adults or children, if [child D] has someone’s attention, he will keep talking. He remembers some bits and then expands on it. He has a wonderful imagination.”

The judge said: “He has made serious allegations, so where does one say it is all fiction?”

She said: “I do not know where that line is.”

The judge asked: “Why would he be [telling] stories that are negative when he was living with you? At access, has he told you any incredible story with the foster carers which turned out not to be true?”

She said: “He does not talk about that at access. He talks about tests and sports. In the period after being taken out of his home and before the allegations, he felt more comfortable not being home.”

The judge asked: “What have you learned from your relationship with father Y?”

She said: “Anyone who keeps things hidden away is not to be trusted. He [father Y] had things password locked. It takes a longer period of time to get to know someone and that needs to be developed outside of the realm of my children, for years and years before that type of trust is developed.”

The judge said: “[Child E] and [child F] are not of an age to give comments. [Child E] has been in foster care for six years. If no care order were made, how you deal and cope with [child E] and [child F]?”

She said: “There would be a transition period. I will meet that head on and give them love and support to be familiar in my presence and to recognise that this is the family home. [Child E] has memories of being with me and never wavered on who I was. I never had a disastrous access.”

The judge asked: “Some families never have involvement with social workers and you had considerable involvement with them.”

She replied: “Not having family in the country …  I would not have the normal support structures that people have. I have a small group of friends who support me.”

The judge asked: “Past behaviour is an indication of future behaviour. I raised the issue of [child F] being a girl. [The eldest child] and [child B] were sexually active at a young age. If [child F] were returned, what would be different?”

She said: “I have learned the importance of clear boundaries and to articulate my expectations, rules and repercussions to prevent further problems.” The mother said she lost focus of what was important and that was her children.

The judge said: “you were not putting appropriate boundaries in place. What you say is your needs were more important than the children. You were keeping the relationship with [father X] and commencing the relationship with [father Y]. Your need for love and companionship took precedence over the children?”

She said: “Yes, but my confidence has grown and it makes a difference as to how I feel. I have been on my own for three years. During 2016, I reflected back on my reaction to [father Y] and it was an immediate reaction. That is a huge change in myself.”

The judge said: “The case is [one] of neglect. You did not reach the standard of care and the children were neglected when in your care. They presented in a way that they suffered trauma and you have heard the case.”

She said: “The way they presented when arriving into care really speaks volumes of how distressed they were at being taken away. I disagree I neglected the four of them.” Child F went through turmoil being separated from the mother. She said: “As I hear the evidence, it brings back the memories that I am lying and misleading them when all I did was be truthful when they did not reveal the information to me when they made assumptions.”

The case was adjourned again, and when it resumed the mother continued her evidence. She described an incident where her second child, B, appeared to have been sexually assaulted when she was 12.

The incident occurred when she attended a fireworks festival with a group of young people unaccompanied by an adult. When child B failed to return home the mother reported her missing. Child B was located and brought to the Garda station and subsequently taken to hospital. The doctor discovered a red swelling to the genital area of child B. She also had bruising to the throat. There were concerns that child B had engaged in sexual activity at the festival.

The mother said [child B] had no memory of the evening after she left the area where she bought a drink. Child B made a small stop and walked to the river but did not remember crossing the bridge. The mother was of the opinion that child B’s drink had been spiked.

Some months later the mother was watching a television programme about the effects of date rape drugs. The television programme revealed a red swelling occurring in the genital area of a woman who had been drugged and sexually assaulted similar to the swelling that occurred to the genitals following intercourse. She said: “I thought that is what happened. A drug like that only stays in the system for 12 hours. It was the piecing together that made me feel that was what happened but there is no proof of that.”

Counsel for the CFA said: “No one mentioned it [child B’s drink] had been spiked? Did you think that [child B] was drinking and could not handle drink?”

The mother had her doubts that child B had taken alcohol as it did not fit with her presentation. She said: “I never encountered someone who blacked out the entire evening [after taking] alcohol. [Child B] was not smelling of drink or sweating.” The investigating Garda was of the opinion that child B had taken alcohol. He said her speech was slurred. No one took bloods or breathalysed child B.

Child B was described as withdrawn, lethargic and sad following the incident. She remained in hospital for three days. Child B told the doctor that she had been sexually active and had a boyfriend. The mother said: “I was shocked as I did not know there was a boyfriend. I met him [the boyfriend] along with half a dozen of her male friends. [Child B] was 12 and he [the boyfriend] was 14.”

Child B was interviewed at the Garda station and they wanted to take a statement from her following the festival. The Gardaí held the items belonging to child B as a full investigation was underway. Child B did not recover her belongings until the end of the year. The Gardaí said there was no definitive conclusion that child B had been attacked and they could not proceed further.

Counsel for the CFA asked: “Did it occur to you that [child B] was raped?”

The mother replied: “I feel she [child B] was sexually attacked in a violent manner.”

Child B said the sexual relations with the boyfriend took place at his house and not at the festival. Child B never went up to the bedroom with her boyfriend when she visited his house. The mother said: “I did not press her on it she was quite distressed.” Any time child B went to someone’s house, the mother would link in with the adults in the house. Child B never spoke to her boyfriend again after the night of the festival.

The judge asked: “Could one rule out the boyfriend as not being involved in the fireworks incident?”

The mother said: “I thought she [child B] had been attacked by someone she knew.”

Counsel for the CFA asked: “Were you not on the war path when the boyfriend had sex with her [child B]?”

The mother replied: “She [child B] said it was consensual.”

Counsel for the CFA said: “She was 12 years old and could not consent. [Child B] was turning 13 and had been sexually assaulted by a boy.”

The mother said: “I understand she was underage but she did not want the matter going forward. She did not feel threatened or pressured by the emotional aspects of the situation with him. I tried to ensure that she was not home alone with a boy.”

The judge asked: “Did you speak to the boyfriend’s parents?”

She said: “No, and I should have.”

Child B began to receive unpleasant texts from people in the town following the incident at the festival. Child B was approached by a group of people she knew and would not tell the mother who they were. After the night of the alleged attack the mother did not see any new abusive messages on the child’s phone. Child B deleted all of the older abusive messages. She said: “My concern was her welfare and not the phone when it was taken by the Gardaí. She tells me a lot of things but I have to wait until she is ready to talk to me.”

Child B never went into town on her own after the festival and it took a while for her to feel comfortable. Her friends stopped talking to her. Child B attended counselling and travelled to her mother’s country of origin shortly after the incident. The mother said child B was born there and returned there for her academics. Child B was focused on attending boarding school after the incident. The mother said: “The benefits of removing her from an emotionally difficult situation were there.”

Child B withdrew her Garda complaint about the boyfriend before she left for boarding school. The fact that child B was going to boarding school had nothing to do with withdrawing the complaint, according to the mother. Child B was adamant that she did not want to make a statement about the boyfriend. The mother said: “[Child B] was very young and [with] the emotional side that goes along with an intimate relationship, I do not feel it was appropriate [to make a statement]. [Child B] did not want it pursued.”

The judge asked: “Was it a softy softly approach with [child B]? Did you explore that the sexual relations were not appropriate at the time?”

The mother said she spoke to child B about the appropriateness and legality of her conduct with boys.

Counsel for the CFA asked: “[The eldest child] is found in a [situation] with father X and is sent to [your home country]. There is a second child [child B], the subject of a sexual assault, being sent to [your home country]. Would the child think that her involvement in this behaviour resulted in her being sent [away]?”

The mother said: “No, [child B] said it was the best thing [to travel]. She had ongoing counselling and I informed the counsellors she had been subject to an attack in [Ireland].”

Child B went to the mother’s home country and stayed with members of the mother’s family. Child B began to display signs of ADHD. A family member brought child B to a professional without telling the mother. She said: “I was annoyed but they [the relatives] were concerned about her academics and they were trying to get help as they knew how. My father was told by my sister in law that the assessment has been done. I requested the report and it was not given to me.”

The eldest child had also been sexually active at a young age and suffered two miscarriages by the time she was 16.

The judge: “Was this normal behaviour [to be sexually active] for girls in [the rural town in which the family lived]?”

The mother said the GP was administering the birth control pill to the eldest child. Her boyfriend was two years older than her. The eldest child and the boyfriend were living together and were attending school. After the second miscarriage, their relationship deteriorated.

The mother said: “I advised against early sexual behaviour as I was concerned about her. I spoke to her about the emotional impact and the social worker was aware as well. [The eldest child] had an answer for everything with [regards to] her sexual activity.”

She said: “There was a change in law in 2006. I tried to impart what I wanted for her [the eldest child] but she had made her own decisions. [Child B], I thought learned from [the eldest child’s] mistakes. [Child B] made the decision to engage in sexual activity even more and used two condoms to make sure that nothing broke through.”

The mother said child B was far too young to engage in this activity and told child B that this was not behaviour with which she should continue.

The judge asked: “Is it normal teenage behaviour?”

She replied: “There are quite a few teenagers whose sexual awareness has awoken [during the teenage years]. The physical and emotional impact is different. The law of consent is 14 years where I live.”

The judge said: “Sexual awareness is awoken in teens [during the teenage years] but that does not mean they will go out and engage in sexual activity. In hindsight could you do anything differently?”

The mother replied: “I am not sure. In the build up to that [the sexual activity], I could have said to [child B] you are not allowed to be in someone’s house or out of my sight. You hope they have gained enough responsibility to go to town or to someone’s house. I should have spoken of it more often and how I felt about it. It was not a good thing for them to engage in.”

The judge asked: “if [child F] were returned, the fact that [the eldest child] and [child B] engaged in sexual behaviour, what would be different for [child F] at age 12?”

The mother said: “Going forward, if I do not know the family, there is no going into someone’s house. If [one of the children is] going to town, it is because I have driven them. I would be hyper aware having dealt with [the eldest child] and [child B]. I need to be a lot closer [to them] and on top of things.” She said she would be extremely vigilant of child F.

The social worker’s evidence

The social worker told the court she was allocated to the case in December 2018. She said she had not formally met the children in January but she had met them since. The child in care review had been rescheduled. She said child C was doing extremely well and he had an excellent school report. Previously he indicated that he wanted to go home and that was supported as his views had to be canvassed. Child C changed his mind and said he wanted to stay where he was until his Leaving Cert was finished. Child C wanted his belongings from his previous foster carers and his belongings were collected.

Child C wanted more access and the social worker supported it. The social worker asked him on three occasions for times when he was off school to visit his mother but he failed to do this. The mother said she would speak to him. The social worker said all the issues had been sorted about the accommodation so child C and child D did not share the same room. She said the funding was awaited to build an extension.

Child D was doing well and was getting extra support. His main focus was sport and he did not want any more therapeutic support. The social worker spoke to child D about access and he said he had enough access and did not want to come to access all the time. Child D indicated he wanted someone to supervise access.

Child F was doing well and was “full of life and the centre of attention.” Her relationship with child C had flourished. There were a few incidents in school where she bumped her head and they were checked out with GP. Child F was “a busy girl and loved access.” On the last access child F was defiant and assertive.

The mother approached the social worker to say she was unhappy that child F was wearing makeup at access. The access supervisor said the mother took a picture and child F was wearing dark lipstick. The social worker spoke to the foster carers. The foster carer said that child F was adamant to wear lipstick and the lipstick belonged to a sibling in the placement. The social worker told the foster carer that the lipstick was inappropriate. She said that the foster carer did not feel the lipstick was inappropriate.

The social worker said it was taking longer to get to know to child E. Child E needed reassurance after access and he was clingy. A beautiful photo album had given by the mother to the child but he would not look at it. At access child E would eat a lot and eat quickly and he seemed to be gorging. The social worker was concerned about how fast he ate. The GAL felt a specific piece of work was needed for the mother in order to walk in the shoes of the children to see the world of the children. The social worker said a specific person had been identified and the therapist was contacted.

The hearing was adjourned for a number of weeks.