Full care orders until 18 years made for five children due to serious sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect – 2020vol1#28

A judge in a provincial city granted full care orders until the age of 18 years in respect of five children, four of primary school age and one of pre-school age, following allegations of serious sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect of the children by their parents and relatives.

The children (A, B, C, D and E, or “the children” when referring to all five children together), came into care over two years earlier through an emergency care order after disclosures were made by other children (Children X, Y and Z) of rape and sexual assault by the children’s mother and father. Interim care orders had been made in respect of all five of the children when the court found that they had suffered neglect in the care of their parents. The interim care orders were extended on five occasions, spanning two years, between the emergency care order and the full hearing.

The guardian ad litem (GAL) for the children made the court aware of the children’s wishes and feelings and supported the CFA’s application for the full care orders. The judge decided that it was not appropriate to meet with the children as part of the hearing but said that the GAL would represent the children’s voices. The children’s parents accepted that there had been some physical abuse and neglect of the children but they contested the allegations of

sexual abuse. They did not give evidence, and a Garda investigation was ongoing.

At the outset the judge assured the parents, who were present in court for the five-day hearing, that fair procedures would be followed. She told the parents that it would be a very difficult week for everyone and advised them to inform their solicitor if they needed a break at any time.

DVD disclosures by other children

The allegations of neglect and sexual abuse made by the other children was the subject matter of Garda interviews, which included five DVDs of recorded interviews with the children’s other children. The specialist Garda interviewers, who told the court that the interviews were conducted independently of the criminal investigation, were in court to play the DVDs of the interviews and for questioning by the parents’ legal teams. Disclosures were made by three of these children (children X, Y and Z). As a result of these allegations, the children (children A, B, C, D and E) were taken into care under an emergency care order.

The interviewing Garda told the judge that once referrals were received in relation to alleged physical abuse, the interviewers liaised with the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and met with the children in their foster placements. She said that following disclosures of sexual abuse to them, they proceeded to conduct DVD interviews. A copy of the transcript of those interviews was available to the legal teams and the judge.

During the interviews, child X disclosed allegations of rape and sexual assault by his parents and others, which included the parents of A, B, C, D and E. He described how he was taught to touch the private parts of other children and how he was warned not to tell anyone about what was happening to him.

Child Y made allegations of rape and sexual assault against her parents and extended family members. Child Y also told the Garda specialist interviewer that she witnessed extended family members, including the mother and father of these children, sexually assaulting other family members. The first interview ended when child Y became upset. She brought notes to the second interview, which she had made in the foster placement, and read out those notes in the course of the interview. She told the Garda interviewer that she was warned by her father not to tell anyone about the touching or she would be in trouble.

Child Z disclosed allegations of rape and sexual assault against his parents and extended family including younger family members and also including the father of the children subject of the application. He also brought a notebook to the second interview and alleged that the children’s father took photographs of a sexual nature of him.

Evidence of the Garda specialist interviewer

The Garda specialist interviewer gave evidence in which she outlined the steps taken prior to the DVD interviews. The Garda said that at the initial meeting, she and the other specialist interviewer explained their roles and the process and looked to see if there was enough information to proceed to making a complaint. They also conducted a ‘truth and lies’ framework in order to ascertain whether or not the child had the basic concept of truth and lies before they could engage in a criminal process. She told the court that they conducted their interviews in accordance with the Good Practice Guidelines of July 2003.

The solicitor for the CFA told the Garda interviewer that an expert had compiled a report on behalf of the parents and the parents’ expert’s criticisms were put to the Garda. The solicitor asked her why the clarification statements were not video recorded. The Garda responded by saying that the initial interview was conducted as per the practice guideline and its purpose was to ascertain if there was an alleged criminal offence. She said that they do not record the meeting but take a note of what is said and highlighted that there is always a parent or guardian present.

The solicitor for the CFA told the Garda that the parents’ expert was critical of the fact that he could not confirm if the ‘truth and lies’ test was carried out at the first interview. The Garda told the court that the ‘truth and lies’ framework was always carried out and “it’s one of the basic things we do before proceedings”.

The parents’ expert also had concerns about coaching which he outlined in his report. This was in relation to the notes brought to the interview by the children. The solicitor for the CFA told the Garda that the expert was of the opinion that the possibility of coaching invalidated the interview. The Garda responded that foster parents often asked what they should do if the child started to talk after the Gardaí have left. She told the court that it is best practice that foster parents are advised not to question the children but instead to listen to them and make a note of what they say and if the children want to write it down, then they should be allowed to do that.

Finally, the parents’ expert reported that the delay from the time of the alleged offences to when the disclosures were made and investigated had a bearing on the reliability of the children’s accounts. The Garda responded by saying that children can only make disclosures when they are ready and the disclosures were investigated as soon as possible thereafter.

The father’s lawyer put it to the Garda that child Z told her at interview that his foster mother told him to write something down and that she did not investigate the possibility that the foster mother was coaching the child. The Garda replied that she asked him a follow-up question and he did not know the answer. The Garda argued that it was not her role to investigate, but rather to conduct the interview and that the investigating Garda could only answer that question.

The mother’s lawyer then outlined contradictory statements by the children X, Y and Z, and discrepancies in their accounts from interview to interview and asked if she had followed up on those issues. The Garda said that it was her job to interview the children and it would not be best practice to put one child’s account to another child. She said that the children were not suspects and were under the age of criminal responsibility.

The judge asked the Garda to clarify the issue of the children bringing diaries into the interview. The judge asked if the diaries were contemporaneous and the Garda responded by saying that the children had written things down themselves after the initial meeting and also whenever they remembered things. She said that some children can write things down on their own while other children liked having a foster parent present and that Garda advice was to do what the child wanted. The judge concluded by clarifying “it’s not your function or role to cross examine or challenge a child and you are more of a guiding listener and the DVD is their evidence,” and the Garda agreed that this was the position.


Journalist’s application to attend court

An application was made on day two of the hearing by a journalist who wished to attend and report on the case. The mother’s lawyer objected pointing out that it would lead to undue stress and a possibility of identification of the children. The Gardaí also strongly objected and said it could be “prejudicial to the criminal proceedings and investigation”. The GAL objected as it could identify the children and the CFA lawyer strongly objected for the same reason.

The judge invited the journalist into the court and explained that the reason she was not acceding to the request was to preserve the anonymity of the parties and to prevent anything prejudicial to the criminal trial. The journalist asked if he could address the court but the judge did not allow this.

Evidence of senior social worker

The senior social worker told the court that she had been involved in the case of the children since the making of the emergency care order following the allegations made by the children X, Y and Z. The CFA lawyer asked the social worker to outline the procedures she used. The social worker described the letter sent to the children’s parents which included 36 allegations against the father and 11 allegations against the mother.

The children’s parents were invited to attend a meeting but they sent correspondence saying they would not be attending. A social workers’ meeting took place to carry out a provisional assessment of the allegations on the balance of probabilities. The children’s father denied the allegations. The provisional conclusion reached was that abuse had taken place of all the children. A letter was sent to the father with the provisional findings and he was given an opportunity to respond.

The CFA lawyer asked the senior social worker to outline the other aspects she looked at in her assessment. She said she found some third party corroboration of some of the allegations recorded on the DVDs. The children’s medical records were examined but there was no medical evidence of abuse.

Senior social worker: “A normal physical examination does not exclude sexual assaults.”

The social worker said she also examined the review by the CFA’s clinical psychologist on A, B and C, which noted that it was “highly likely” they were abused. She told the CFA lawyer that her rationale for carrying out a parental capacity report on the children’s parents was as a result of the reported neglect by them of the children. The social worker said that after analysing the allegations and the DVDs and having met with the children’s other children both she and her colleague believed that the children were consistent in their allegations of physical abuse and there was a lack of any detailed response from the children’s parents. When asked by the CFA lawyer what her conclusions were, the social worker responded that she concluded that abuse of both the children and the other children had taken place. She said that the provisional findings were that the father had sexually abused four of his children on multiple occasions.

The CFA lawyer asked the social worker to deal with the allegations of physical abuse against the father. C alleged that his father had hit him and his brothers on the back and the bum, sometimes with clothes on and sometimes with clothes off. He was hit with an open palm and his father was always shouting. The hitting often left red bruises. The child alleged he was also hit with a fish slice. This allegation was deemed to be founded.

B alleged that his father often gave him a “dead leg” and said it did not hurt but “felt funny”. A alleged that when his father had slapped him and his brothers, he held down their arms and slapped harder than other people. A alleged that his father was present when he was slapped by two other adults, one male and one female. The allegation of physical abuse to D was that he was tied to the bed by his father. It was also alleged that his father had nailed a belt into a couch and tied it across him. These allegations were deemed to be founded.

The senior social worker described the procedure for reaching the provisional conclusions. She said consideration was given to the combination of the consistency over time of the allegations, the sexual knowledge of the children which was beyond their ages and stages of development and the nature and pattern of the disclosures. This was examined in the light of the opinion of the CFA’s clinical psychologist. The conclusions reached were provisional and a letter was sent to relay this to the children’s father.

The CFA lawyer asked the senior social worker about the 11 allegations made against the children’s mother. The social worker said a similar meeting of social workers took place regarding the mother during which all reports and information received were considered. The evidence on the DVDs of the other children was evaluated along with the report of the CFA’s clinical psychologist and the parental capacity report. There was no detailed response given by the children’s mother.

The CFA lawyer asked what the provisional findings of the social worker were regarding the children’s mother. She replied that of the 11 allegations made against the mother, eight were deemed to be founded. Of the eight founded outcomes, some were founded only in respect of some of the children. On the balance of probability, it was concluded that the mother sexually abused children A, B, C and D on multiple occasions and that she physically abused A, B and C. The allegation of neglect of B by the mother was deemed to be founded.

A letter detailing the finding of the social workers was sent to the mother and to the father. There was a reply from the father’s solicitor with a general rebuttal of the allegations but the parents never came to a meeting with the social workers. The CFA lawyer asked what the purpose of a meeting with the parents would have been. The social worker said the purpose of the meeting was to consider the parents’ responses and any additional information provided and then to reach final conclusions.

The social worker told the court that the final conclusions were that the allegations of sexual abuse of A, B, C and D were founded. The allegation of neglect of B was founded. The allegations of physical abuse of A, B and C were founded. The parents were written to regarding the final conclusions and were given an opportunity to respond. No response was received.  Records regarding both the mother and the father were added to the National Childcare Database.

The CFA lawyer enquired if the children’s parents had used the independent appeals mechanism and the social worker told the court they had not. The social worker said the CFA proceeded to apply for full care orders until the age of 18 years for all five children. She said this was the proportionate response for such a significant and serious case and that it was necessary that all the children would remain in the care of the CFA.

The lawyer for the GAL asked the senior social worker if it was their policy to talk to the parents or to look for alternative explanations. The social worker said the only explanation put forward was the mother’s reply to the allegation of physical abuse which she said was “just tipping on the wrist”. The GAL’s lawyer asked about the concerns regarding the possibility of coaching of the children by the foster parents. The social worker told the court that a psychological education programme was done with the foster parents regarding children’s behaviour after trauma as part of their pre-approval training. The children were not all with the same foster parents and the disclosures were made independently of each other.

The GAL’s lawyer asked the social worker if there were reservations about the parents’ capacity to parent following the parental capacity assessment to which she replied that there were concerns about the parents’ low level of protection of their children and their level of understanding of their children’s needs. The social worker said there was no immediate service available to put into the home and that there was an acute and immediate concern of sexual abuse of the children.

Cross examination of social worker

The mother’s lawyer asked if it was true that the children had made no allegations of sexual abuse during their two years in care and that the reliance was being placed on the allegations of sexual abuse made by the other children. The social worker said this was correct. The mother’s lawyer enquired if any search had been carried out for the photographs of sexual abuse which were alleged to have been placed on Facebook to which the social worker replied that they did not remove any devices for checking.

Social worker: “No. We have three kids saying photos were taken and shared.”

The mother’s lawyer asked about some discrepancies in the children’s allegations and whether these were considered or challenged to any degree. She asked if there was a possibility that the other children were transferring their own experiences to another party. The social worker answered that this was highly unlikely as the children are in separate foster placements and that all three of the other children had named the children’s parents in their allegations.

The father’s lawyer told the social worker that the CFA had relied on the other children’s evidence and the clinical psychologist’s report despite there being discrepancies. She also asked the social worker if she was aware that a criminal investigation into the same events was going on at the same time and that this was the reason why the parents had found it difficult to respond. The parents’ non-response was then taken into account by social workers. The father’s lawyer said it was strange that despite the psychological education training having been carried out with the foster parents to prevent the children “closing down”, the children still did not come forth with any allegations of sexual abuse.

Social worker: “There is an element of grooming in sexual abuse.”

The father’s lawyer asked about the issues of neglect which were deemed to be the most serious and the social worker said the communal care of the children by numerous adults, the poor dental hygiene, lack of supervision of the children and regular physical fights between the adults were significant. The father’s lawyer pointed out that the children’s school staff was satisfied with their attendances and had no other issues and also that the GP had no concerns. The father’s lawyer told the court that full care orders would not be appropriate without the sexual abuse allegations. She suggested that if the proper supports were put in place by the CFA for this family, the application for full care orders until the ages of 18 years would not be appropriate.

The CFA lawyer asked the senior social worker if fair procedures had been adhered to at all times in her assessment to which she replied “Yes”. She told the court that the children’s parents had been afforded the right to reply. She said there was a number of opportunities afforded to the parents to engage and reply and that she had outlined the various avenues for them, including the appeal procedure. The social worker told the CFA lawyer she had received a one-sentence reply from the father’s solicitor: “My client denies all allegations as set out.”

Evidence of speech and language therapist

A speech and language therapist told the court that she had seen A two days a week for the previous two and a half years. A has a diagnosis of specific speech and language deficit. The father’s lawyer asked the therapist about one paragraph in her report from the previous month. The therapist had noted in her report that A’s motivation for learning was lower than in previous sessions during which he had shown more interest and eagerness to learn.

The CFA lawyer told the judge that this one report was but “a snapshot in time”. The judge asked the therapist if A was in the care of the CFA at the time of her report and the therapist replied that she had been informed by the social worker that A had been taken into care. The judge asked the therapist if it was part of her role to make recommendations and the therapist said she recommended support to the class teacher and foster parents to assist A in dealing with emotions. The therapist’s previous assessment report had been done five months earlier.

Evidence of current social worker

The current social worker said A had improved dental health but needed a nightlight to be lit in his bedroom at night. He was focused on his football and had started attending post-primary school. His foster father attended his football matches and A had met with a therapist.

Child B shares that same foster home as A. He was described by the social worker as an engaging and energetic child. He was diagnosed as having a mild general learning disability and a speech and language disorder and was attending a special class for pupils with a similar profile. She said he had a significant fear of the dark and a fear of spiders and liked the light to be left on at night. He had confided in his foster parents that his own home was “not always a good place” but that he had been “told not to tell by Dad”.

Child C was in a different foster home and had settled well, except for difficulties settling at night. He had nine decayed teeth but good health otherwise. While he was good at school academically, he displayed some behavioural issues. He had recently undertaken a psychological assessment and was deemed to be in need of emotional support.

Child D had had a number of foster placements as his behaviour was very challenging and he required lots of support. His foster parents were in receipt of support services to assist D with his sexualised behaviours. The CFA lawyer asked the social worker to explain this.

Social worker: “He sometimes pulls down his pants and screams for hours, shouting: “Do you want to see my dick?”

The social worker said D attended for respite care every two weeks and had become very distraught there, urinating on staff, pulling down his pants and asking staff members if he could see their private parts. She said that D had attended at the Child and Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and that it was likely he would require further assessment there. The educational psychology assessment had placed him at the lower end of Mild General Learning Disability (MGLD) and he had access to a special needs assistant (SNA) in school.

He exhibited sexualised behaviours with his SNA, putting his hands up inside her top. He behaved more calmly with his therapist, enjoyed access with siblings but became very stressed before access. The GAL’s lawyer asked the social worker about the reduced timetable in school for D. The social worker said this decision had been made by school staff but that she supported it as his behavioural problems were escalating.

Child E is a pre-school child and has trouble eating as she overfills her mouth and tends to gag. She is due to receive treatment for this after one month. The GAL’s lawyer asked what treatment E would be having for the swallowing problem and the social worker told the court that a half-day assessment was booked with a dietician, the results of which would inform the additional occupational therapy required by E.

The father’s lawyer said that some of the behaviours being exhibited by the children since they came into care were not problematic before going into care and that their GP had no concerns. She also asked if A or B were exhibiting sexualised behaviours. The social worker replied that A and B had never spoken to her about sexual abuse and that this was not unusual. The judge asked the social worker if she had observed the changed behaviour of A as noted by his speech and language therapist. The social worker said that the only time she had seen A extremely fearful was when he saw a fly in a restaurant and he had said there had been a lot of flies in his home.

The GAL’s evidence

Before the GAL gave evidence in court, the judge explained the role of the GAL to the children’s parents. She told them that the GAL was there to represent the “voice of the child and what they say … it is very important that their voices are heard as they’re not here.” The GAL told the court that she was made very welcome in the children’s home and that the parents shared lots of information from when the children were small.

The GAL described having a good relationship with A, who was a “lovely boy who had a difficulty trusting adults”. He told the GAL that he knew when he was taken from his home that evening that he would not be returning and that “life in [A’s home] was horrible”. The GAL said A was a gifted sports person and was achieving consistently well in school.

B was described as being very likeable and while he viewed his home as a threatening place, he still wished to return there one day. C was happy in his foster home but was missing his parents. The GAL said D was convinced that the emergency care order was brought about by his own disruptive behaviour. The GAL said E had settled better and that her relationship with the GAL had improved and she now allowed the GAL to feed her. She had a photograph album but always skipped over the first photograph which was one of her baptism with her mother.

The GAL told the court that the children’s parents had allowed members of their extended family to hurt the children and were not able to protect them. She said there had been neglect and that the parents found the parenting of five young children, two of whom had special needs, very challenging. The GAL said the “extent of the extended family involvement was unacceptable”. She described the remarkable improvement in the physical presentation of the children since coming into the care of the CFA and showed the judge some photographs of the children taken before and after coming into care. The GAL said that if the other children’s allegations were founded, the threshold for full care orders for the children would be met.

GAL: “It is time the [children] were allowed to get on with their lives. They need to know where they are going to be living.”

The GAL’s lawyer enquired about the fears exhibited by B. The GAL said he is especially scared of spiders and he told her he had been locked into a shed where there were spiders. The GAL told the court that access between the siblings occurred every six weeks in the foster parents’ homes and was going very well with the help of the foster parents. The judge asked the GAL if the children had any inkling as to what was happening outside of the care order proceedings. The GAL told the judge that both the foster parents and the CFA were “on high alert” to any potential publicity surrounding the case.

GAL: “The right to privacy for [the children] needs to be paramount. They haven’t caused this.”

Judge: “Are you satisfied that the threshold has been met related to neglect?”

The GAL answered that she was satisfied that the threshold had been met regarding both neglect and physical abuse. She reported that the children now seemed to be able to play together and be gentle with one another. The judge asked the GAL if the children had always been part of a larger communal group prior to going into care and the GAL replied that this was probably true but that the children were now using “childlike play” whereas when they had access with one another one year ago, they did not know how to play together and “did not even know how to play on a slide”.

Evidence of clinical psychologist for the CFA

The expert witness for the CFA said that she had carried out mental health and wellbeing assessments on A, B and C in order to inform their care, protection and support and had prepared reports for court. She described her methods of information gathering to the court. This included summaries of the disclosures made on DVD by the other children.

She described the psychometric testing which she had used to identify the psychological difficulties of the A, B and C and her analysis of the allegations of abuse made against the parents.  She told the court that she found the allegations made against the parents by the other children were credible. She concluded that based on all the information she had, including the psychometric test results and the allegations made by the other children that it was “highly likely” that children A, B and C had experienced sexual and physical abuse from both their father and their mother. She said that it was her opinion that Children A, B and C were coerced and groomed by adults into engaging in sexual acts with each other and also the filming of the abuse by others.

Cross examination of the CFA’s expert witness

The father’s lawyer asked the expert witness if the allegations made by the other children were a “huge part of how you reached your conclusion” and that the other things added in were minor things. The expert said that she had the summaries of the allegations but that added to that were her conversations with the social workers to put the allegations in context. In each of the reports she looked at the strengths and positives for each child. She based her view on research evidence on the impact of abuse on children.

She told the court that because of various psychological factors, some people “do not deal with the impact until adulthood”. The allegations made by the other children “informed my analysis”. The father’s lawyer asked the expert if the frequent use of slang for private parts eg “dick” could be viewed as general horseplay used by children or as language picked up on the school playground. The expert answered that this was only “part of a picture … not to be taken by itself.”

The father’s lawyer questioned the CFA’s expert on the advice she had given about how to create a safe environment where children could be enabled to make a disclosure. The expert said she had suggested that children are more likely to “open up when they bond with a carer” and that “purposeful discussions about their emotions” could include direct, but not leading questions. She added that these recommendations had multiple aims and were not intended for forcing a child to make any disclosure. The father’s lawyer remarked that despite the advice given, no allegation of sexual abuse had been made by the children. The expert told the court that lots of studies had been carried out on disclosures. Disclosures are often delayed and not disclosed in childhood.

CFA expert witness: “There are often 21 years between [the abuse] and its disclosure … the average age of [making] disclosure is 32 years. There are many barriers to disclosure like shame and fear. We can reduce the barriers by providing the means to tell but there are other barriers.”

The judge asked the CFA expert if the children would learn that there was someone they could tell and the expert explained that children in this situation are doing “a lot of mental work to see who they could trust.” The father’s lawyer asked about the possible implication of there being photographs in existence of the abuse and whether a threat to expose photographs online was possible. The expert replied that there could have been a fear that these photographs would be released and that this could have prevented disclosure. In this situation the threat would not need to have been verbalised.

The father’s lawyer questioned the CFA’s expert about the level of praise she had given to the children each time they gave her details, giving an example of this as “you told me a lot today. Thank you”. She questioned whether this praise could possibly have had the consequence of unintentionally encouraging the children to say more. The expert replied that this had involved a “balancing act”. It was important to be polite and respectful of the children’s disclosures but not to over-praise them because the risk of self-blame was common in people who have suffered abuse.

The mother’s lawyer asked the CFA’s expert witness if she had viewed the DVDs of the other children’s evidence or had read the transcripts. The expert replied that she had not viewed the DVDs but that she “may have read some of the transcripts”. The mother’s lawyer said that the expert witness had put allegations made by the other children against the mother into her report despite these allegations not having been put to the mother herself.

CFA’s expert witness: “I’m not in the loop of what’s been put to your client … I must include all the information that informs my thinking. To do otherwise would be unethical.”

The CFA’s expert witness said that it was her professional opinion on balance and her considered view that the children had experienced sexual abuse. The mother’s lawyer questioned the expert witness on discrepancies in the allegations made by the other children which nevertheless led to serious findings against the mother and asked her if she was “copying and pasting”. The expert witness strongly objected to the phrase “copying and pasting”. The mother’s lawyer asked if the psychometric testing of B and C was done by the foster parents and their school teachers. The expert witness said the psychometric testing of both children had been carried out by their foster parents and teachers but that B had completed the anxiety scale himself. The expert witness explained that it was the normal approach and standard practice to use the people who knew the child.

The mother’s lawyer questioned the number of questions listed on the questionnaire saying there were 56 tick boxes. The expert replied that she did not keep asking until she got the answer she wanted and that it was not a matter of tests being more superior because they had a greater number of questions. The mother’s lawyer asked the expert witness why she had not used the Conner’s test, which was regularly used by CAMHS. The expert replied that while the Conner’s test was a useful test, she believed that she had obtained good information from the methodology she had employed. When the mother’s lawyer asked if she had used the same question repeatedly with different terminology, the expert witness told the court that the “same question may need to be asked slightly differently in order to validate the answer”.

The CFA lawyer asked the expert witness if, in the situation where a child is present and watching while another child is being abused, it counted as a form of abuse. The expert witness answered “Yes”. The CFA lawyer asked the expert witness if she had now heard anything that would make her change her professional opinion and she replied that she had not heard anything to make her change her opinion.

Evidence of the consultant clinical and forensic psychologist for the parents

The expert witness for the children’s parents told the court that he had carried out a “paper review” of the reports prepared by the CFA’s clinical psychologist and the social work notes had also been made available to him. He had also viewed the DVD evidence of the other children allegations and he had been provided with the transcripts of the DVDs.

The expert for the parents told the court that he had concerns regarding the methodology used in the interviewing of the other children by the Garda interviewers. He expressed further concerns about the possibility of coaching of the children by the foster parents when writing their written accounts.

Parents’ expert witness: “I have concerns … we don’t know if subtle pressure was put to embellish…”

The parents’ expert witness said he would have liked to have seen more testing and validation of the evidence which could have been carried out by Garda interviewers in a gentle way. The father’s lawyer asked the parents’ expert witness if the difference in the level of detail provided by the other children was concerning. The expert witness said that this did not cause him concern as he said that there were “different types of memory”. However, the expert disagreed with some of the methodology used by the CFA’s expert witness, saying he would have approached the matter in a broader way and used more in-depth and longer questionnaires.

The CFA’s lawyer asked the parents’ expert witness if he was familiar with the Garda Guidelines for interviewing children. The expert witness reported that he was satisfied that the Garda interviewers followed their own best practice guidelines. The expert witness told the CFA lawyer that the fact that the other children named other adults and children in their allegations led him to believe that there were “significant concerns about [the children] and that [the other children] had been sexually abused.”

Parents’ expert witness: “Witnessing of abuse is abuse.”

The parents’ expert witness told the judge that he had no problem with the children’s written accounts in the diaries if it was done correctly. He said that having had the benefit of hearing the evidence given to the court by the CFA’s expert witness, he was now more reassured that there was no longer a concern of bias or coaching in the written diaries of the children.

The lawyer for the CFA said in his final submissions that the “evidence was all one way” and that the threshold for full care orders for each of the five children had been met. The rights of the parents had been respected at all times and all of the evidence had been very robustly challenged. He said it was not disproportionate to seek care orders until the age of 18 years for each of the children “to allow them to stay in care and get on with their lives”.

The GAL’s submission supported the CFA’s application for full care orders. She said that the parents had sat through all of the evidence during a full week in court. She told the judge that matters of access and welfare of the children should be considered in the future.

The father’s lawyer said in her submission that much had made of the fact that the parents had not responded but she said that the CFA was well aware that there were criminal proceedings in being. She said that the CFA expert witness had based all her reliance on the allegations of sexual abuse made by the other children but that she had never looked at the DVDs or read the transcripts. The father’s lawyer said proportionality was vital in this decision: “there are suspicions but no findings of facts”. She said that the allegations were not strong enough to warrant full care orders until the age of 18 years and that short care orders were more appropriate so that the CFA could put the necessary supports in place for the family.

In her submissions, the mother’s lawyer asked the court to give some consideration to the effect that the emergency care order had had on the children and the difficulties they had experienced subsequently. She said that the longer the children were in care, the more detached from their parents they would become. The findings of child abuse made were not automatically findings of child sexual abuse. The mother’s lawyer told the judge that the other children had made their allegations following more than one year in care and yet the children, the subject of this application, had made no allegations of sexual abuse after more than two years in care. This was in spite of the fact that there was so much support available to facilitate children to make disclosures.

The judge commended everyone who participated in the hearing and she commended the parents for their conduct in court despite this having been a very difficult week for them. She explained that child care cases were inquisitorial in nature and that there was flexibility in the process. She said that it was her duty to act on the evidence brought before her. The CFA had a duty to establish the grounds and this must be proven by direct evidence. The judge concluded by saying that in order to reach her decision, she would need to take time to consider all the evidence and read all the notes made. A date was set down for the decision of the court to be delivered after two months.

Judge’s decision

The judge told the parties that she had reviewed all of the evidence and the reports of the two expert witnesses. She noted that the fact that the CFA’s expert witness had not actually viewed the DVDs of the other children evidence had diluted her evidence somewhat.

The judge reached the decision that children A, B, C and D were sexually abused and physically abused by their mother and their father. She found that the parents did not act in a protective manner in their children’s lives and failed to protect them from abuse by other family members. She also found that the parents showed very poor insight into the effect that the abuse was having on their children, had a limited capacity to protect them and that the threshold of neglect was continuing.

The court was satisfied that the implementation of full care orders for each of the five children A, B, C, D and E until the age of 18 years was proportionate in this case. The judge told the parties that she had applied a proportionality test in order to ensure that she was going no further than was absolutely necessary to ensure the health and welfare of the children. This decision was made in the interest of providing the children with the security, predictability and consistency necessary for their welfare.