Full care order for abandoned African sisters – 2013vol2#30

A full care order was granted in the Dublin District Court for two teenage African sisters abandoned by their father, one of whom he sexually assaulted. There was a fear they had been trafficked into the country.

The sisters, who had been taken into state care with an Emergency Care Order last December, had been abandoned by their father after the younger sister made the sexual assault disclosure to her teacher. Letters had been sent to the last known address of the father, with no reply. No contact had been established since the ECO. The mother had expressed her view the children should remain in care, it would be impossible for her to come to Ireland.

The English language teacher told the court the access programme they were attending had been set up for separated children and unaccompanied minors, from there the pupils would move onto school. They had excellent attendance, “they show incredible empathy to their peers, they’ve blossomed in the programme” she said.

The teacher told the court that in December one day they were late and Child B (the younger sister) kept saying to her sister “stay with me.” She said to the teacher to help her top up her phone because she needed to “phone mama in Africa.”

After being on the phone, B was in “floods of tears.” She made a disclosure to the teacher that her father had sexually assaulted her three times during the last 24-48 hours. Child A had been washing herself when it was happening. The father had also been slapping A every day on return from school, saying she was late.

B had said to the teacher: “Please, I want social worker and I want police.” The sisters “were like people who were traumatised”. That morning the father arrived two hours early at the school to take B to an appointment, but the teacher stalled him. He said: “OK, I wait, I go to the car.” She was with the girls waiting for the guards to arrive. The father rang her phone twice and A’s phone three or four times. B had put her phone off and even taken out the SIM card.

She believed what B had stated, she was in fear of returning to her father. The language difficulties did not affect the evidence. She was present at the Garda station when B gave her statement, an interpreter was there. She had given the teacher a synopsis of the abuse, she believed B had been sexually assaulted.

They had been out of school for some time after that, they had moved and there was a concern about their safety. Now they were back in school, B’s concentration had gone down since the incident. The father had not been in contact with her since that day.

The GAL solicitor asked about the educational assessment carried out in March, was the teacher aware of the findings and the educational needs going forward. She recommended transition year for both.

The social worker told the court that she did not think it would be appropriate for the girls to give evidence regarding the sexual assault. She read the notes of the Garda interview to the court, and told the court it was the evidence of a child disclosing an assault. She believed the child was sexually assaulted from reading the notes.

A did disclose that she had been physically assaulted but withdrew it a week later. The social worker did not know whether it had happened or not as she had retracted it. A therapeutic centre for sexually abused children was now in the initial stages of an assessment of B and she had been to a maternity hospital after the assault.

A safety plan was put in place early in the year so the children could re-enter school. The social work department had tried to contact the father and could not get through, they also went to the house where he had lived. The Guards were unaware of his whereabouts and had asked the the social work department to contact them if it discovered his whereabouts.

The social worker had spoken to the mother this week who had said: “Can you take care of them forever, when they are 18 years, they have nowhere to stay, they have no siblings.” An interpreter was present. She asked her if she had plans to travel to Ireland, she said she could not afford to come over, she had no one to help her in the African country in which she lived, her mother and brothers were deceased, her father was elderly. She was very poor and was not in a position to travel.

There was a fear the girls had been trafficked into the country. Their status in the country was now legal and they had GNIB cards. The social worker would contact the GNIB to ask for something more long term, however.

The referral had been translated and sent to the mother’s country, they had contacted the mother to expect a visit from international social services.

The girls would stay in their language programme until late July. The HSE was now looking to place them in a school, possibly the previous one they were enrolled in. The social worker was happy their educational needs were being met. They had both had medical examinations recently and there were no medical concerns.

They were considering moving the girls from supported lodgings as the foster carer did not get back from work till 7 pm during the week, and with the summer holidays there was a concern as to what these children would do, as care would not be available to them during the day. The carer accepted the current model was not appropriate for them. However the girls had formed a relationship with their present carer.

The social worked believed the parents had effectively abandoned the sisters.

The solicitor for the GAL asked about a letter that was meant to be sent to the Department of Justice regarding naturalisation, it was in the care plan. Child A was coming up to the age of majority, which would affect her emigration status. The social worker had no issue following it up. The solicitor asked if the HSE would retain a legal advisor given the letter had not been written. “I believe the Immigration Council of Ireland can help you with the matter,” she told the social worker. “I’d need to seek advice” she replied.

A new funding request for a placement had been forwarded, she had not looked at alternative arrangements such as summer camps but if they stayed in their current placement she would, she said.

The social worker did not recall if any Stay Safe work had been done (due to the girls having allowed a stranger into the carer’s home), but the carer was assisting the girls in practicalities, in terms of taking a bus to and from school, the basic principles of keeping themselves safe, traffic lights etc. Their application for medical cards had been forwarded.

She told the GAL solicitor she would check to see if an interpreter would be available for the assessment in the therapeutic centre for sexually abused children, but “it shouldn’t be a problem.”

The GAL told the court that there had “been some confusion as to whether they have the same mother, they are very guarded talking about their extended family. They don’t like being asked questions about their life with their father here or their life in the [home jurisdiction]. Life there is extremely difficult, her uncle was recently killed, there is war, people are killed, people are hungry.”

The GAL said the girls “had expressed a real gratitude for the intervention of the State, in [their home jurisdiction] the family would deal with it, they are grateful to the court and the social workers and have really enjoyed their relationships with the social workers and found them really positive.”

The GAL had concerns about them coming home to an empty house every day. “They don’t eat with their foster carer, they do their own shopping for their own food, they are given a budget each week, it is a preparation for independent placement. They have a very warm relationship with their carer, she looks after them like a mother when she’s there … they don’t have any contact with anyone else in Ireland apart from each other,” she said. The carer’s availability outside of work was limited, however.

A had “a more heightened awareness of remaining in Ireland, she adamantly and consistently stated she does not want to return to [the other jurisdiction],” said the GAL. They had experienced trauma, especially A, who presented as very traumatised, she didn’t convey emotion, was disconnected from conversation and used to compulsively clean several hours a day. B was more emotionally attuned.

A’s aftercare needs would be quite complex, a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency approach would be needed, while B’s needs would also be likely to be complex, consideration should be given to the appropriateness of their placement, but funding should be found if it does meet their needs, recommended the GAL.

Furthermore, B’s attendance at therapeutic centre for sexually abused children should be supported by an interpreter that she knows, this would limit having another person involved in her assessment. If the therapeutic centre were to make recommendations for therapy, they should be supported. B wanted to get the things her father did to her out of her head.

The HSE solicitor asked the GAL if B had made the disclosure to her. She told him she had not. “It appears to be a very credible statement. It’s consistent to the different people she has made it to. She had made a reference as to ‘why a father would do that to his daughter?’”

She did not believe it would be appropriate for the girl to give evidence in court about the disclosure. The judge asked her why this was so. “It’s extremely difficult for children to disclose instances of sexual abuse and trauma, and a courtroom is not the right environment to disclose it, their capacity can be limited in the wrong environment,” she replied. The idea of her having to repeat it in a courtroom with a number of adults, some of whom she doesn’t know would inhibit her from making a full and comprehensive disclosure.

In the month previous to the hearing, the judge had met with the two girls in the presence of the GAL.

The full care order was granted. The judge said the court could rely on the disclosure the girls had made, they could be taken in evidence in the proceedings. The mother was unable to provide any form of care. It was reasonable to conclude B was sexually assaulted by her father, he had abandoned the girls and failed to provide any form of parenting. Their father threatened to kill them on two occasions and they were in fear of him. They were abandoned by their parents.

The judge directed the HSE to provide A and B with all assistance with the naturalisation process or long-term residency.

(See also Volume 1, case-history 27)