Interim care and supervision orders granted, history of domestic violence and substance abuse – 2021vol1#11

An interim care order was extended in a provincial town in respect of one child, child B, who was in a residential unit. A supervision order was granted in respect of the child’s teenage sibling, child A. The mother contested the supervision order. The father was loosely involved but not in a relationship with the mother.

The children had been received into care last year when the Gardaí invoked section 12 of the Child Care Act, 1991 following a serious incident. There was a history of domestic violence, drug and alcohol misuse in the family. A returned home on foot of a supervision order some months later and that supervision order had now expired. There were a number of concerns regarding education, supervision, child B’s health and the risk posed by a former partner of the mother. The guardian ad litem (GAL) supported the applications.

The social worker said the threshold continued for the interim care order in respect of B. A lived with the mother but the social workers had a number of concerns. The first concern related to child A’s educational needs. During lockdown, there was minimal engagement by A and the mother with the school. The social worker linked in with A’s year head as the child had commented previously she wanted to leave school when the social worker conducted a home visit.  A said: “If I had to stay at the school I am in, I would leave.”

The judge asked: “Was that dissatisfaction with the education or the school?”

Social worker: “Both. She [A] was not happy in the school. She said she did not want to talk about it as she was being bullied at school.” The head teacher was described as “very hands on” and tried to resolve the bullying situation. A had told her mother she was attacked by another student at school. The mother rang the school and explained the situation. She was later informed that the student had been removed.

The mother said the bullying had stopped and in the last few days the child was “joyous” going to school. The GAL said A was not joyous and said that she hated school and was not going any more. She told the GAL she was not getting any homework and was going out.

The social worker had conversations with the mother around A’s education and the supports needed. The mother told the social worker that the child was struggling with remote learning during lockdown. Presently she was attending school but had missed a couple of day. The mother said the child was afraid to go to school. In February the social worker spoke to the mother about her difficulties with remote learning and the school would give support. The GAL said: “I am concerned [A] needs more support than the  mother will provide.”

The social worker had carried out at unannounced home visit during the week. The previous week she had carried out an unannounced visit and there was no reply. The social worker had been concerned there was nobody at home. She had phoned the mother and received no reply.

The judge said: “Have we evidence that she [A] was not supervised? The evidence is two visits [were carried out] and nobody was there. People could be out shopping. The dynamic of life is people may not be at home.”

The social worker said she had grounds for concern that A was unsupervised. On a number of occasions the social worker had spoken to the mother on the phone and the mother had said she was on a bus and regularly outside the home. When the social worker asked about the whereabouts of A, the mother told her the child was with friends or out playing. The mother said A to her aunt’s house as the mother had hospital appointment but the mother would be home by early afternoon. She maintained A was never left without supervision.

A told the GAL she had left the home after the mother and went to hang out with friends on that date. The GAL said: “I met her there.  She was lying on the grass in light weight clothes.  It was cold and raining.” A told the GAL she was going to a friend’ s house and the GAL asked if she could drop her over to the friend’s house. The GAL said: “The mother said she [A] went to the aunt’s house. The aunt said [A] was there that morning but there was no likelihood that the mother [would return] home [by the afternoon].”

A was clear she had not been at aunt’s house. The GAL concluded: “There was no appropriate care for [A]. When [the child] was in the aunt’s care, she had difficulties putting boundaries on her. [A] is used to not coming in and [is used to having] more freedom.”

There were concerns about the mother’s former partner being in the family home. The mother had been in a relationship with the man last year but denied she was in a relationship with him currently. There were previous concerns about the former partner cutting himself. The mother did concede that her former partner had been violent to her but she then withdrew the allegation stating that they were childhood sweethearts. The mother said her former partner was viciously assaulted by the Gardaí and there was a campaign against her by the Gardaí.

The CFA received anonymous referrals that the mother and her former partner were seen together. The mother said she ended the relationship with her former partner after the previous court case.

The judge asked: “You were seen getting on a bus with him?”

The mother replied: “No, we went shopping.”

When A was in a relative foster placement she said she was afraid of the mother’s former partner and did not like him in the home. She was described as being loyal to her mother, stating that everything was ok when it was not.  A was aware that the mother’s former partner was high risk. When A returned home a safety plan was devised. If A was worried, she could send a text to her grandmother or the mother’s family to alert them if the former partner came back.

The social worker brought the referrals to the mother’s attention but the mother denied contact with the former partner. The GAL believed the former partner played a more significant role in the family due to the referral from a number of sources coupled with a historic lack of candour. The GAL said: “What she [the mother] says cannot be trusted.”

A had a belief that child B was suffering from a terminal illness. The social worker had carried out a home visit and A had engaged well. She would not talk to the social worker as A thought the social worker was keeping B from her, and she believed B was dying. The mother had entered the room and told A not to be upset. The social worker made a call to B’s doctor but A got upset and left the room.

The social worker had asked the mother why A thought that B was dying. The mother said she did not know. The social worker said: “I am concerned she has a view that [B] is dying. The mother missed an opportunity to confirm the phone call with the doctor. It is affecting her welfare.” The solicitor for the mother said the mother was happy for A to meet with B’s consultant to talk about this child diagnosis.

A believed the social worker and the GAL manipulated her words and told lies. She did not trust them. The mother said: “[A] is a teenager and her friends are important.  She feels restricted. She is not allowed to do anything [by the social workers].”

The judge asked: “You are there. [A] is 13 and [says] the social worker tells lies, what do you say? [Are they] telling lies about you and [the former partner]?”

The mother replied: “[A] was angry when they [the social workers] approached her and she was annoyed when she could not come home. The mother said the social workers upset A and she described her as a “stroppy teenager.”

The court heard A was vulnerable and had been exposed to a lot at home. The social worker said: “Having the supervision order [in place means] we can monitor her education and [carry out] home visits.” The GAL shared the view that a supervision order was necessary. She said: “I believe it is a proportionate order. There are serious concerns that necessitated the children’s removal and they are not resolved.”

The judge said the case concerned child A. There were difficulties and the root of the difficulties lay with the mother herself. He said: “She [the mother] had emotional difficulties and feels invaded by the actions of the CFA. She has shown a loyalty to [the former partner] and still [seeks] to protect the person.” The court was of the view that the former partner was still about and the risk was still there.

He said: “[A] is an active protesting teenager. There have been significant issues about her education. She is struggling and [has] difficulties with school but the head teacher is working [on it]. The GAL spoke to [A] on Monday and she still has the same mantra that she hates school. [On] the issue of [B], hopefully [there will be a] meeting with the mother, [A] and the doctor.

On the evidence of the engagement of the mother, she did not stamp out [the misinformation about B’s diagnosis] and she did not say this is not real. This must be put out of [A’s] mind.”

The judge concluded it was proportionate to make a supervision order for six months.