The District Court extended an interim care order in respect of three children following allegations of child abuse by the mother. Throughout the hearing, the mother became heightened on multiple occasions and was eventually removed by the court sergeant.
The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) told the court that the mother was legally represented and was contesting the application to extend the interim care order. She said the CFA was also seeking a direction to allow Child A to obtain a passport, and a further direction to allow An Garda Siochana to interview A in relation to the allegations of child abuse against the mother. She said the mother was the sole guardian of the three children.
The mother’s barrister said the mother was objecting to all three applications. She said the mother feared A would leave the country if she obtained a passport. She said she also wanted further clarity into the nature of the interview which An Garda Siochana was proposing to carry out with A.
The Garda’s evidence was heard first. He said he was based in the child protection unit and had received a referral from the CFA about the case. He said that as part of the investigation the first step was to speak with A, but the Gardai required the consent of her guardian in order to do that. He said he spoke with the mother who initially agreed to provide a statement of consent, but subsequently failed to attend the station on the day.
He said: “I phoned her that day and she said that she would not give any consent to have [A] interviewed, and that if anyone spoke to [A] she would have our jobs.”
The mother’s barrister told the Garda that the reason the mother was objecting to the application was because A had previously been interviewed about an unrelated matter without her consent. When asked whether he was aware of this previous interview, the Garda said the mother had made him aware of it during a telephone call, but it had been “almost impossible” to have any discussion with her at the time. He confirmed that he was not aware of the “specifics” of the previous interview.
Mother’s barrister: “Do you accept that if there was an interview beforehand where no consent was given, that this would raise concerns for the mother?”
Garda: “Not really, no.”
The mother interrupted the evidence to tell the court that A had previously been threatened by “a man with a knife,” and that the Gardai had interviewed A about this without her consent. The judge told the mother that she would have the opportunity to give her evidence.
The next witness called by the CFA was the allocated social worker. She said A was doing well, and that an after care placement had been identified for her. She said Child B and Child C were finding online schooling difficult, but overall were doing well in their foster placement.
The social worker was asked about her contact with the mother and said that it was somewhat limited, because it was very difficult to speak with her. She said she had a telephone call with her recently, in which the mother advised her that she “continued to record their conversations.”
The social worker said the children were willing to have telephone access with their mother, but needed to feel “safe and secure” when it took place. She said the children had recently specified “a clear set of criteria which they wanted their mother to follow during calls.” She said the issue for the children was that when access did take place, the mother spoke about the court case and other negative issues, which caused distress for the children.
The social worker said A required a passport to open a bank account, which was necessary at this point in time given her age. When asked about A’s risk of absconding, she said that the residential centre could hold the passport until A turned 18.
The social worker was cross-examined by the mother’s barrister who said that A had “reached out” to her mother by phone and text message and that it was obvious she wanted contact with her. The witness said A had been “very clear” that she did not want contact with her mother.
Social worker: “I am not willing to put [A] in a position where [the mother] is in a position to lay out her concerns with [A]. I can speak to [A] about it, but she is very distressed by her mother and is considering making a complaint to the Gardai about her.”
The mother’s barrister asked the witness if she was aware about a previous incident where A had “left the jurisdiction.” The witness said A had visited her father, but that this was within the jurisdiction.
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) said the GAL was willing to facilitate phone access, but was also recommending that an access review take place. The social worker agreed that this was a good idea “given the girls have particular criteria they want met by their mother if phone access is to take place.”
The mother gave evidence that she was objecting to A being interviewed. She said: “My [daughter] was threatened by a man with a knife, the Gardai took a statement and later she dropped it. I had no idea about this incident or that the Gardai had taken a statement.”
She said the CFA had not kept her informed of anything about her children. She said she was “sick of having to explain myself over and over again about my issues with [A].” She said A had “absconded on so many occasions, no one knew where she was.” She said on one occasion A had been found “at a rave, high and smoking weed.”
The mother said she wanted access with her children. She said: “They’ve wanted to talk to me for the last two months, but the social worker keeps preventing it, she keeps saying, ‘oh it’s not a good time’.” She said she did not have a problem with phone call access being supervised and that she just wanted to hear her children’s voices.
The mother was cross-examined by the CFA solicitor who asked the mother where she was currently living.
Mother: “I’m not confirming that. The social worker doesn’t want contact with me, she refused to deal with me and it’s going through my solicitor now so why would I give my address.”
The GAL gave evidence next and was asked about the children’s own view on access. She agreed with the social worker that A “doesn’t have access with her mam and isn’t in contact with her.” She said A had told her that she had blocked her mother from her social media platforms and that there was no reason for A to not be truthful in this regard.
GAL: “My take with [A] is that she’s not going to get in trouble if she is in contact with her mam, I reassured her it was OK but she reiterated that she wasn’t in contact with her, so that’s what she’s telling me.”
When asked about telephone access between the mother and B and C, the GAL said that both children were “reluctant to engage in conversation at all.” She said she visited the children in their foster placement recently and that both B and C spoke at length about their issues around access and their mother.
GAL: “They love their mam and miss her, but they have no guarantee that the mam they miss is going to give them what they want. They don’t want to have conversations with her about the court process, they don’t want questions asked of them about their placement, they want structure in the access. They want to know that their mother will keep to the agreements as to the structure of the access. It’s really the unpredictability about it all.”
The mother’s barrister suggested it was positive that the mother welcomed the supervision of phone calls if this was seen as necessary, but the GAL said it was only positive if the mother agreed to abide by the criteria.
GAL: “They just want to chat to their mam, they don’t want all of the aggressive conversation that comes with it.”
She said an access review meeting would hopefully “give confidence to the children.” She said it was important for them to know that another person was on the call with them. She said: “We need to move forward in a positive way for the girls.”
Judge: “Would it be best to actually cease access for a while?”
GAL: “That has been the position in the last number of months, there’s been sporadic contact only.”
The mother interrupted and refused to sit down. She was eventually taken out of the court room by the court sergeant. The remainder of the hearing proceeded in the mother’s absence.
The judge noted that access was currently at the discretion of the CFA. He said: “It strikes me that maybe sometimes we have to break apart the relationship before it can be reformed.”
The GAL said she was doubtful the mother could abide by any structured access plan at the moment, which would likely result in “informal contact.” She said: “I think the girls will understand that really their mother can’t agree to what they want right now.”
The judge noted that although it was clear the mother was very distressed, “we’re miles away from insight on her part.” He said it was evident she felt “persecuted,” and wondered whether any support services had been offered to her, “or if she could even take these up.”
The CFA solicitor said they were looking into obtaining an advocate for the mother, but that she had already indicated she did not wish to engage with one. She said it was clear that each court date caused the mother “more and more distress,” and they were hoping the full care order hearing would proceed as planned, despite the Covid-19 restrictions.
The judge said he was satisfied that it was necessary to extend the interim care order. He made an order dispensing with the mother’s consent to allow An Garda Siochana to interview A, and made a further order allowing A to obtain a passport, which would be held by the residential facility until A turned 18.