Full Care Order for emotionally abused girl – 2014vol1#18

A full care order was granted for a teenager who had been received into care two years previously due to emotional abuse by her parents. In a previous Interim Care Order hearing, the judge had dispensed with the parents’ consent to allow her to attend a sports class.

The social worker told the court that the child became known to the department when her father had contacted the social work department to say he had slapped her and was finding her behaviour difficult to deal with. An initial assessment was completed which found she was being emotionally abused by her parents.

The concerns around emotional abuse were the parents’ negative interaction around the girl; she was the root of all the problems in the family home, there was a lot of hostility towards her, she was eating in a separate room to the family, there was very harsh discipline, belongings had been removed from her, she had been denied access to family members and friends. She had not been allowed attend her sports class. She had also been physically restrained by her father.

Before she was received into care services such as a family support service and a family strengthening programme were offered but were refused by the parents.

A referral was made by the GP for the child and adolescent mental health service clinic as she had expressed suicidal thoughts. A psychiatric review took place which found she had some emotional issues. She attended the clinic for a number of months, the professionals there were concerned the parents were placing all the blame on her and therefore family mediation was not appropriate. There was no motivation on either side to engage, the parents would have to change their views on their daughter.

The social worker then told the court that the catalyst for voluntary care in spring 2012 was due to difficulties escalating over Christmas and the girl had stayed with her grandparents. Her mother said things were very serious at home and the girl herself expressed a strong wish to come into care.

A voluntary care agreement was made.

However, there were concerns in the social work department that while the girl was in voluntary care her parents lacked an insight into the impact coming into care had on her. They would not give their consent for her to see her extended family or attend her sports class. The girl felt “they were parenting from afar and she had no ownership over her decisions and welfare,” said the social worker.

Furthermore, the parents refused to take up an offer to attend teen counselling with their daughter. An Interim Care Order was then sought.

The social worker said that the relationship between the girl and her parents was dominated by negative interaction. The parents advised that she was the root problem of all issues in family home and they were entrenched in that stance. They spoke of her in a very negative manner, saying she was “very devious and a mistress of manipulation”. They had harsh and unreasonable disciplinary methods in relation to her developmental stage and a limited insight into her world.

Neither the parents nor the girl wished to have access. The girl had stated she only wanted to see her mother, but her mother would not see her alone.

All photos of her and her family had been removed from the family home, and when she returned to collect her belongings, her parents waited in another room. She had had suicidal ideation.

The parents would only agree to see her in the child and adolescent mental health service clinic, a screening appointment was being set up to see why they wanted to engage in mediation there. The girl had accepted she would not be returning home and would like to use mediation there as a form of closure to express her wishes. The mediation should only be done if the parents were willing to accept their part in the situation, said the social worker.

The girl was currently in a supported lodgings placement, it would be a long term placement, she was very much in favour of the full Care Order being granted. Reunification was not an option – the parents had not expressed any interest for her to return, they remained entrenched in their view that all issues were with her and they had no part to play in what had happened.

The HSE solicitor read out the Children’s First National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children (2011) in relation to the definition of emotional abuse, as the threshold had been reached in this case, according to the Guidance.

This stated: “Emotional Abuse is normally to be found in the relationship between parents/carer and a child” and “it occurs when a child’s developmental need for affection, approval, consistency and security are not met”.

Examples of Emotional Abuse given in the Guidance include:

  • The imposition of negative attributes on a child, expressed by persistent criticism, sarcasm, hostility or blaming;
  • Conditional parenting in which the level of care shown to a child is made contingent on his/her behaviours or actions;
  • Emotional unavailability of the child’s parent/carer;
  • Unresponsiveness of the parent and/or inconsistent or inappropriate expectations of the child;
  • Unrealistic or inappropriate expectations of the child’s capacity to understand something or to behave and control himself or herself in a certain way;
  • Failure to show an interest in, or provide age-appropriate opportunities for, the child’s cognitive and emotional development;
  • Use of unreasonable or over-harsh disciplinary measures

The social worker confirmed all of these points in relation to this girl’s case.

The GAL said the grounds for emotional abuse had been met in relation to her case. She was clear in her view that she needed to remain in the care of the HSE, she did not see reunification as possible, said the GAL.

The GAL was concerned in relation to the voracity and intensity of negativity expressed by the parents about their daughter. It had had quite an impact on her well-being and psychology to the extent that she has said she wanted to hurt herself. At the time she came into care both she and her parents were asking her to be removed from the family home.

The girl advised the GAL her parents got involved in a spiritual group and around that time her relationship with them started to break down. Her childhood was happy and only from the age of 12 had it deteriorated. She felt her parents were punishing her all the time. They had also withheld contact with her paternal family for five years, which included her grandmother and an uncle, as her parents had a breakdown in contact with them. She had been very upset about not seeing her grandmother. She was very happy in her current placement.

The GAL had concern for her regards her own emotional wellbeing and psychological well-being due to her maladaptive coping mechanisms. “She doesn’t like to have thinking time and gets very upset when there’s a row with a family member,” said the GAL.

Teen counselling would be an appropriate service for her. She was a very intelligent child, doing very well in school despite everything that was going on, the GAL could see her going to college.

The judge granted the full care order due to emotional abuse experienced by the girl in the care of her parents. He had also met the girl in the days before the hearing and she had expressed her wishes directly to him.