Interim care order extended for four African children – 2013vol2#11

A guardian ad litem told a judge in a child care hearing that she had very serious concerns about four young African children who did not appear to know what showers or toilet paper were for and who had never used cutlery. The mother of the children is in a psychiatric hospital and she has told mental health workers at the hospital that she wants to separate from her husband as they were only together for the sake of the children. The father was not in court and he was not legally represented. A solicitor from the Legal Aid Board represented the mother.

A social worker from the HSE said the father had attended one access session with the children and while he appeared to be affectionate he did not interact much with them. He had sat on a chair for most of the access. She said that she would work with him on parenting and on the need for him to get more involved with them. It seemed, she said, highly unlikely that the mother would be able to cope with the children in view of her mental health difficulties. She was planning to visit the mother in hospital in the coming days.

The guardian ad litem said she had met the four children, who are in foster care, the previous day and they seemed to be very anxious about being asked questions. Some of them were crying without making any noise and she wondered why this was so. “Why are they crying silently”, she asked. She said she had serious concerns about their self-care.

“They don’t understand why they have to shower.” They also didn’t know what toilet paper was for. The guardian said she was concerned as to why the children were so compliant. There had been allegations of physical abuse by the mother. One child had spoken of being slapped very hard across the face by the mother and of a sister aged three being put in some sort of box. The guardian said she had huge concerns about the children and would be opposed to any change from their current foster carers where they were being very well looked after.

The father did not appear to have adequate insights into the needs of the children who do not ask about their parents. One of the children was asked how he felt about going home and he replied that his mother would have to be nice to him. There were no toys at home and she was very concerned as to how they present emotionally. They had been left to their own devices and had been eating with their hands.

The school principal, on the other hand, had said they presented very well at school and that “you wouldn’t know that they were in care”. The guardian told the court that she would have serious concerns about the capacity of the mother to care for the children if she came out of hospital and the father’s suitability was being currently assessed.

The mother’s solicitor objected that the guardian was using hearsay evidence in relation to specific allegations by the children and the judge told him that she was reflecting the children’s communications to the court and that was the level it was being taken at, at the moment.

The judge asked the guardian about psychological assessments of the children and she replied that they may eventually be suitable for play therapy. She told the court they were not seeking to go home. “But it’s the fear they display when asked questions [that causes concern],” she said. “They cry silently and don’t make any sound. It’s not normal behaviour for a child… They want to give the right answer and you have to be careful. They’re far too compliant in my view.”

The mother’s solicitor had been unable to get instructions from her and the father, who was not in court and was not legally represented, had indicated previously that he had difficulty in attending court on all occasions.

The judge extended the Interim Care Order for a further eight days.