See also Vol 2 of 2022 https://www.childlawproject.ie/latest-volume/interim-care-order-for-a-teenage-boy-extended/
The Dublin Metropolitan District Court granted a full care order for a teenage boy who had been arrested for stealing a car to go joy riding and to visit his sister and friends. The court rejected the argument of his father, who was contesting the application, that a care order was not necessary as the boy was currently in Oberstown juvenile detention centre. The judge said that the threshold for the care order had been reached.
The care order was granted after more than a year of interim care order renewals, which had followed an emergency care order in late 2021 due to allegations of violence against the father. The boy absconded from care on a number of occasions and went joyriding.
Dublin District Court also granted a full care order for the boy’s sister following a three-day hearing. An emergency care order had been granted for her in late 2022 and interim care orders then renewed until the care order application in late May. Prior to that she had been under a supervision order.
The father came from a formerly war-torn country and the mother was not in court.
Extension of interim care order
At an earlier extension of the interim care order for the boy (A) the Child and Family Agency (CFA) social worker told the court the father was the sole carer. The mother had left the family home. There had been allegations of domestic violence and physical abuse of the boy and there was recent information on substance abuse by the father.
The father’s solicitor made an application to come off record as she had been unable to obtain instructions for a number of months, but if the father were to re-engage she said she would step in. She said she was having difficulties contacting the father, she had written on a number of occasions and was not sure whether he wanted her to continue. When asked by the judge the father said he did not want the solicitor to continue to represent him.
The judge said it was only reasonable to have the solicitor discharged. He said he appreciated all the efforts made and it had not gone unnoticed.
The guardian ad litem’s (GAL’s) solicitor handed up his report and said he supported the section 18 full care order application.
The judge explained to the father that the CFA wanted to extend the interim care order and asked the father whether he supported or opposed this. The father said he was against the order. He said he wanted to settle things, he did not want to come to court and said: “When I was in court last you heard everything.”
The social worker confirmed that concerns continued to exist such as A’s behaviours, which placed him at risk. She clarified he was benefiting from a high level of supervision. She said the father was refusing to work with the social work department, there was no acknowledgement of concerns and he denied allegations of abuse. She said the case required accountability and meetings and the father was refusing to engage. The CFA had sent the father a letter on his son’s progress and texted through WhatsApp. She said he did not open the messages or read the letters and had been refusing to take calls for the last two months.
Both parents had been invited to the boy’s child-in-care review and neither had attended. The review agreed that he was doing well at school on his projects. He had good attendance. She said he was opening up to the social worker. He was on probation at this time and there had been follow up on recommendations. He had taken a car on one occasion but nothing since. She told the court this had been three months previously.
A was keen to have access with his sister (B). A’s father had been given train tickets to see his son but did not follow through. The father was refusing to bring B to see A and wanted A to have access with his sister at home.
The social worker said the father blamed A for the care proceedings and told him the CFA had lied to the judge. Asked how often the father spoke with the boy, the social worker said that phone contact was supervised and ad hoc. The judge asked the father if he had any questions for the social worker.
The father: “Please, I listen to your lies and again your lies.”
Judge: “That is not a question.”
The father: “Why are you interfering in children’s’ lives?”
Social worker: “We don’t see it as interfering. We have a statutory obligation to help children.
The father: “He was not in trouble when he was with me.”
The father gave evidence that A had said he was going out to see a friend for five minutes but stayed out overnight and was arrested for stealing a car. When the judge asked him what happened since the previous month’s court date, the father said he had been hearing for almost a year that his son was doing well and this was not the case.
The judge said as it was an extension of an interim care order, whatever the father had to say related to the last month. The father said he was not happy. “Whatever I say I’m always guilty. I’m not happy someone is making money and wasting time,” he said. The father had brought A’s sister B to see the social work department. He said the social workers were telling different stories. He said he would always say thank you.
“You know how much I feel for [A], but nobody will help me. It is very important for [A] and [B] to be together,” he said.
He said he wanted to see the truth. He just wanted to lead a better life and he was not happy with B being asked questions. The judge said the father’s solicitor had difficulty contacting him and he no longer wanted to be represented.
The mother’s solicitor could not obtain instructions and was discharged. “Concerns continued to exist,” the judge said and he extended the interim care order for three weeks until the date of the full care order hearing.
At this hearing the CFA wanted to have an application for a full care order heard. However, the hearing could not proceed as no interpreter was available and there were now time constraints given the delays encountered. The judge he would only accept a certified translator.
It was agreed that the judge would only hear the application to extend the ICO as it was due to expire that day and later he would hear an application for an emergency care order for the teenager’s sister.
The father represented himself for the ICO extension and had the assistance of a translator. The father had obtained new legal representation who was going to represent him for the hearing of the application for an emergency care order for the teenager’s sister, which was scheduled for later in the day.
Social worker’s evidence
The social worker was asked to comment on the abuse alleged by the teenager against his father. She said it was credible and that the same allegations had been made to multiple professionals. She said that there had been no explanation from the father as to how the child’s injuries were sustained and he had refused to interact with social workers.
She said the father had admitted one incident but had denied all others. Asked about the measures the father was suggesting to deal with the boy’s behaviour and she said he offered punitive suggestions whereby the teenager could be locked in his room with a bucket and he said that he would take him everywhere with him.
The social worker said the solutions offered were not appropriate and that the father had refused to engage for some 14 months. She said that although he had been sent letters and text messages he apparently ripped up the letters and would not accept updates or calls from the social work team. The father had refused to engage or attend a family welfare conference and that facility had been withdrawn due to non-engagement.
The father was asked to participate in a parental capacity assessment and that was also refused. The social worker said the father and the teenager had a complex relationship and that the teenager was due to meet with his father but the visit was cancelled as the father had berated the teenager and they did not see each other subsequently for a number of months.
The social worker said a visit had taken place in May 2022 but that a lot of redirection was needed as the father was giving out to the teenager and was berating him. Evidence was given that in recent times train tickets have been posted out to the father to enable him to visit but the social worker said the tickets had never been used.
The social worker said the teenager missed his sister but the relationship had been impacted as the father told the teenager that it was his fault that a supervision order was granted for his sister.
There were further allegations by the CFA lawyer in relation to the father breaching the in camera rule regarding telling the teenager details of his sister’s supervision order.
The social worker said the teenager had requested his passport from his father as he needed it to open a bank account for his part-time job but it had not been provided. The father had refused to either hand over the passport, give it to the social worker or to put it in the post. The social worker said they were able to overcome that hurdle as there was a copy of it on file and a local member of the Garda Siochana assisted in resolving the matter.
The social worker told the court that the teenager had phone access and that the father told him different versions of events.
Asked if she had any insights from the teenager as to why he was in care, the social worker said he thought he was in care due to his own behaviour.
The social worker told the court that the father had signed the teenager into voluntary care some 14 months earlier and that he was initially placed in emergency residential care. The teenager met other residents there who were also in crisis and that impacted the teenager as he was spending time with those residents. She said he was now in a good residential placement.
The CFA lawyer asked the social worker what was behind the teenager stealing cars and she said the stealing of cars was a trauma response as the teenager felt numb all of the time and the cars were the only good thing he felt. The teenager was getting involved in high end activities while in care, including kayaking.
The social worker was asked about the RSA-led programme for joyriders and she said the residential unit had been doing work with the teenager on safety and the incidents of stealing cars had decreased.
The CFA lawyer asked if the teenager ever returned to the father. The social worker said he returned after he got the part-time job. He stole his manager’s car and drove home to check on his sister. The social worker said the teenager went out joyriding for the whole night he was at home and his father never reported this to anyone.
The social worker gave evidence that the teenager’s mother was happy with his placement and was receiving weekly updates. There was sporadic contact with the mother but any contact had been via the social worker. The social worker said the mother did not want the teenager returned to his father and she herself had also made a number of allegations.
Representing himself, the father cross-examined the social worker via the translator and his own use of English. He asked the social worker what the teenager’s view of all of this was. She said that the teenager was doing quite well in his placement but he had lost his job. Asked if she had shown goodwill to the father, the social worker said she sent letters regularly and the father ripped them up.
The social worker said every opportunity had been given to the father to come and meet with them and contact numbers had been provided. The father said he had no desire to sit down and discuss anything with them.
The father asked the social worker if she understood that he was missing his child. She said she had tried to engage with the father over the past 14 months but that he refused all communication with everyone. The social worker said the father had had opportunity to engage with social workers, attend family welfare conferences and meet impartial people and he had not done so.
The father alleged he was misrepresented in court and therefore had had multiple legal teams represent him.
She was asked by the father whether she was aware of the process and how it had come to this. She said the father had stopped engaging when the application was made for the first emergency care order. The social worker said the father had no plan as to how he could manage without hitting the teenager and no safety plan was in place.
Asked if she was aware that it was the father who called social services and it was him who had signed the voluntary care agreement, the social worker replied that she was, adding that not even one month had passed before the father withdrew his consent.
The social worker was questioned about updates and reports that the father was provided with after he signed the voluntary agreement. The social worker said they had maintained contact with the father and kept him updated as to where the teenager was. He was initially in a temporary placement and was then moved.
The father said he had not been contacted. The CFA lawyer indicated a full list of contacts could be provided to him. Further evidence was heard about other temporary placements the teenager has been in.
The judge asked the social worker if she was aware of any vulnerabilities the father might have that the court needed to be aware of. [The father was from a formerly war-torn country]. The social worker said that there was a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but she had no proof with her. The judge asked if the father had been offered help. The social worker said he had refused to engage. Evidence was heard that the father was hard of hearing and had eyesight issues.
The judge asked the social worker if the father suffered trauma due to his experiences during the war. The judge asked him if he wanted help with that, that it might help his son. The father said as far as he was concerned the war was over. The judge said the trauma continues. The father said he had already received treatment after the war. He said the social workers had given him more stress.
The father’s evidence
The judge invited the father to say what he wanted to say.
The father said he came from a big family himself with 18 children. He said he had problems with communicating with the social workers. He said he would suffer everything except lies. He said what the teenager told him and what the social workers told him were two completely different versions of events. He did not know who to believe.
The CFA lawyer said that the teenager made allegations that he was assaulted by the father. The father said he accepted that the teenager had made the allegation, but not the allegation.
When asked had he physically assaulted the teenager, he said he refused those allegations. It was put to the father that he had previously told the court he had hit the son on the back of the head. The father said no. He was asked if the teenager was lying. He said he could not be certain that the teenager said those things. The CFA lawyer said the father hit the teenager on the back of the head with a plank of wood. The father denied this and said he would only accept allegations if he saw a medical report.
He was asked why he thought the teenager was in care. He replied that he had been looking for help for the teenager from social services. He said he had been promised help but did not get invited by the school to discuss the teenager missing school.
The CFA lawyer said that the social worker’s evidence was that she had sent letters and sent texts and had called. The father said he did not know her and did not want to know her.
Further evidence was put to the father by the CFA lawyer in relation to his communication with the social work team where he was rude, aggressive and disrespectful and had used inappropriate language to the social worker. This was denied by the father. The social worker read from the messages sent to her by the father but again the father denied these. He had also left a very inappropriate and disrespectful voicemail which he denied but which was referred to by the social worker and the CFA lawyer. Evidence was also given in respect of his non-engagement with other services including the family welfare conference. He was asked about his anger and aggression and any medical diagnosis regarding his personality disorder/PTSD. The father said he was taking medication. He said he had self-control and was stable.
The CFA lawyer also questioned the father as to why he did not report the teenager’s visit to his house to anyone. The father said the teenager said he had wanted to visit with his friend for five minutes and that he had also wanted to see his son.
The guardian ad litem (GAL) was supporting the extension of the interim care order application and gave evidence of the teenager’s views and issues.
The GAL said the teenager shrugged his shoulders when asked if he wanted to return to his father. He had previously told the GAL he wanted to return as he believed his father had changed and he believed it was his fault that the supervision order was granted in relation to his sister. The teenager said he was missing his sister. The teenager’s priority, if he could not come back home, would be to live nearer to the capital.
The GAL said he had discussed this with the father.
The concerns were that the teenager had made links with people who were older offenders involved in car theft and drugs and the father had previously given evidence that the teenager had been badly beaten up in one of the temporary placements. The GAL said the teenager had made relationships with others at the same or higher risk level than he was.
The GAL said that the father’s concerns were that the teenager was actually joyriding more since going into care.
Asked why the teenager believe the supervision order was his fault, the GAL said the boy had told him that the father had told him so and had said that teachers from the school had given evidence against his father. He said the boy had been able to give specifics about the supervision order. He said that in his opinion that met the threshold for emotional abuse. He added that it was not a one-off episode, there were others.
The GAL was asked about the father denying he was diagnosed with a personality disorder. The GAL replied that the father had told him he had PTSD and had told the court and medics about anti-social personality traits.
The GAL was asked if there were any supports the teenager needed but was not getting. He said that he shared the father’s concerns that the teenager’s joyriding behaviour would cause a death. He also referred to the danger of road deaths for passengers travelling in cars with the teenager. He said a psychological assessment with a forensic element would be useful. The teenager was a complex person but generally was a really nice person.
Asked if he wanted to add anything, he said if the father had a specific diagnosis he needed to engage with a programme which helped parents to reach the threshold of “good enough parenting”.
The GAL gave evidence that he had known the family since 2017. At that time the parents were living together but the mother had since left. He said the father had presented more aggressively now than in 2017. He wondered if lockdown had created a situation where the father’s mental health had deteriorated. He said that the teenager wanted to live with the father.
The father asked the GAL some questions and wanted the GAL to show the court a video. The GAL said he did not have the video on the phone but the video was of the teenager in a stolen car with another child videoing them driving the car and encouraging him to drive faster.
The father said he was not an angry person, that he had control over himself and that he accepted everything, that he had friends, that he did not drink alcohol. He said he had a quiet life until the teenager got involved with other teenagers and the father had asked for help.
The judge said he had heard a lot of positive and negative things during the evidence. He said that it was a good thing for the father to come to court as not everyone did so. He did not doubt his love for his son. He said he heard from the evidence that the father was rude and aggressive to the social workers and that the court believed that the father had gone over the top in his discipline of the teenager.
The judge said the purpose of all of the work was to reunite the father with the teenager but a lot of work needed to be done. In order to do that work it was necessary for the father to engage with the social workers and read the letters and respond. He said parents that engage with the social work team tend to get on better.
The father needed to put any anger behind him and he needed to realise that the social workers did not have an agenda other than to reunite the teenager with his father, but the teenager needed to be safe and they had a responsibility to ensure that.
The judge said many children got hit by their parents and often the social workers did not know about it. However, the social worker was now aware and the family was now in the grip of the social workers, and the social workers had a responsibility to ensure everything was safe before they released that grip.
He said that the father needed to understand that emergencies did happen and sometimes meetings had to be cancelled but he said the father should co-operate and this would assist in the process to reunification. The father’s lawyer and the court and social workers could all keep progressing towards reunification.
The judge said the court was satisfied that this case reached the threshold and that not enough had changed and in some ways things were worse. The court was satisfied to extend the interim care order and set new dates for a full care order application.
Further extension of interim care order
Later a judge ordered a further extension to the interim care order for the teenage boy, who was currently in residential care. The father was present in court and was represented by a new legal representative who had been engaged the previous afternoon.
The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) informed the court that there also was a related but separate application for an interim care order listed with the court the following week in respect of another child in the family.
The solicitor for the CFA informed the court that an interpreter was present in court for the father but that on a previous occasion, he had been very upset at the interpreter, that he could not hear or understand what was going on, and as a result he had left the court.
The new solicitor for the respondent father told the court that he had spoken to his client the previous day and had instructions to consent to the CFA’s application to extend the interim order in respect of his client’s son on the basis that a hearing date for the full care order had been set. He said that he had been able to obtain the instructions through English without the assistance of an interpreter.
The CFA’s solicitor informed the court that the boy’s mother had was no longer represented after her legal team had come off record. She had served the respondent mother but only had sporadic contact with her.
Giving an update on the boy, the social worker reported that overall things were going well but that there had been some highs and lows. She said that the boy had visited his father and family over Christmas and that a safety plan had been put in place that his older brother would be present at the family home. However, during the visit, family members had, against the social worker’s advice, given the boy money and a mobile phone and the boy had subsequently absconded for two days.
On the positive side, she said that the boy was engaged in volunteering for a charity. In addition, the CFA was exploring new school options for him and looking for suitable apprenticeships. The boy had also continued to engage in a programme which highlighted the dangers and risks associated with stealing cars and joyriding.
The social worker said that the boy’s coming into care had helped him understand why he was in care and that it had enabled him to stay abreast of how his younger sister was getting on. Initially, the boy and his younger sister had wished to see one another. However, his sister and the rest of his family had blamed him for bringing the social workers into their lives and for the emergency care order that had been made in respect of his sister. As a result, the younger sister had not been open to seeing her brother for the time being.
The social worker told the court that an older sister had had a falling out with the father and that as a result, she had stepped back from engaging with the CFA. She said that the father had engaged with the CFA with regard to the younger girl, but that he had not wanted to receive any updates regarding the boy.
The social worker said that the father had presented very well to them and they had not seen any aggressive behaviour from him. She said that the boy’s position remained steadfast that he wished to stay in care.
The guardian ad litem (GAL) then provided his report to the court and gave oral evidence. He told the court that he supported the application to extend the interim care order. He said that the boy had told him that the Christmas visit had gone well even though there had been subsequent consequences. He said that the meeting between the boy and his elder brother had been positive. The boy understood that the social workers were trying to heal his relationship with his family. However, he was still upset with his younger sister that she had believed the family’s version of events leading up to her emergency care order as opposed to his version. This has added to the difficulties that he had had with his father.
Phone calls between the boy and his father often fell into the category of emotional abuse. This was why the calls were monitored. The GAL said that the boy was getting it from everyone in the family. Their view was that his actions had led to the involvement of the social workers with the family. The GAL said that his presence on the calls was required to provide the boy with a kind of shield from this abusive narrative on the phone calls.
The GAL told the court that the boy’s trajectory of what you would want him to do is overall good. The key challenge was to deal with his joyriding. The most recent episode was such that he was seriously at risk of being sent to Oberstown detention centre. However, the GAL had told the judge of the Children Court that the boy needed more time to work on focused areas around the joyriding.
The GAL told the court that the “Wrecked” programme was the only intervention that the boy had been engaged in that addressed his joyriding activities. He said that more was needed and suggested to the court that a restorative justice approach should be considered whereby the boy would learn that his actions had consequences for the people whose cars he stole. He noted, however, that this type of programme was not in place in the region where the boy was in residential care.
He said that the boy’s joyriding had been in the high-risk category; the boy and his peer group, all of whom were in care, had driven very long distances in the cars they had stolen and had been at a very high risk of serious injury or death. He said that he had met his peers in the out-of-hours care system and that it was understandable from the respondent father’s point of view that the care system had actually increased his son’s risk profile rather than decreased it. He said that the boy thought he was a great driver and there was a need to engage him in activities that decreased his risk rather than increased it.
If the boy was sent to Oberstown, this would expose him to children with multiple offences and the contamination risk to the boy would be very high. He said that the social workers had told him that if he could identify an appropriate service for the boy they would fund it. This might require that an expert in restorative justice would be brought in specifically for the boy who would assist the boy in understanding the impact of his car-stealing on those affected.
He said that the boy had a lot of real qualities in him but that there was a need to divert him away from his high-risk behaviours. He said that the judge in the Children Court had given the GAL and the social workers three months to get a handle on the situation and that if the boy had not engaged positively by that time, then he would be at a very high risk of being sent to Oberstown.
The judge asked the GAL what the boy wished to achieve in terms of education – what did he want to do? The GAL said that the boy did not yet have another educational placement but that his social work team had been very proactive. The judge noted that the boy had developed some significant transferable skills and wondered if there was a possibility that he could transfer those skills into a positive activity. “Would he be interested in learning to drive a bus, for example?” The GAL agreed that he believed that this would be a very practical approach. The GAL also said that the boy went to the specialist programme which offers outdoor pursuits twice a week as a means of engaging in high adrenaline activities in a safe manner.
Having heard the evidence, the judge agreed to extend the interim care order for a further four weeks. The judge also agreed to list the boy’s full care order hearing for one day in nine weeks’ time. The judge agreed to certify an interpreter for the father for the next hearing date.
Later hearing where interim care orders extended for both children
The case continued at a later date where the judge extended the interim care order in respect of the boy’s younger sister for 28 days at which time the matter was due before the court to review the child’s placement arrangements and to potentially set a date for a full care order hearing. The judge also extended the interim care order for the boy, who was at this time in Oberstown juvenile detention centre.
Both applications were strongly opposed by the children’s father who was present in court. The father was represented by a barrister and was assisted by a translator.
The solicitor for the CFA reminded the court that the boy had been in the care of the CFA since late 2021. She told the court that a care order hearing in respect of the boy had been listed three months previously but that the care order hearing dates had to be vacated due to the unavailability of an interpreter for the father and also as a result of the CFA’s urgent need to apply to the court for an emergency care order in respect of the boy’s younger sister.
She said that the boy’s father was contesting both extension applications despite the fact that a full care order hearing in respect of the boy was listed for the following week. She also told the court that the boy was currently being detained in Oberstown. She said that she intended to ask the court to set a hearing date for the care order in respect of the younger sister also. She said that no progress had been made between the CFA and the children’s father. She told the court that even if the girl’s care order hearing date was set by the court, it could be vacated if the father started to engage with the CFA and agreed to undergo a parental capacity assessment.
The father’s barrister challenged the comment that no progress had been made and told the court that two quite positive access visits had taken place between father and son since the last interim care order had been made and that those visits had gone as well as they could have. However, he acknowledged that the access visit that took place the previous day had not gone so well. He told the court that the children’s father would be giving his evidence to the court.
The CFA’s lawyer told the court that the children’s guardian ad litem (GAL) was supporting both applications. She added that the girl was in a special emergency arrangement (SEA) in an apartment but that other arrangements were being organised. She would come back to the court in two weeks’ time to update it in that regard.
Later application to extend the interim care order for the teenage boy and his sister
The court first heard the application in respect of the teenage boy.
The social worker told the court that the boy had been on remand in Oberstown for approximately three weeks at that time. He had been arrested after stealing the car of a member of the staff at his residential placement and he had been caught driving the wrong way down a motorway. Some damage had been sustained to the staff member’s car. She said that she had met with the boy during the previous week and had been in touch with him by phone several times. He had been getting on well in the detention centre and had been referred to the “START” programme there.
She said that the residential centre that he had previously been in was happy to take him back; he had recently passed a Safe Pass course and he had been due to start a restorative justice programme. He was also on a “Way to Work” programme. All of these programmes remained open to him. She hoped that his time in Oberstown might help him realise the repercussions about what he was doing and break the cycle. She said that initially his detention had not been a deterrent as the boy’s friends were also in Oberstown, but that the significance of the detention was beginning to sink in now.
The boy’s father had been abroad attending a funeral at the time of his son’s arrest. The social worker had failed to contact him by phone, but ultimately had made contact with him via SMS text message and WhatsApp. She had provided his father with the phone number for Oberstown to allow him contact his son. She said that as of that time, the boy’s father had not visited him and had only rung him once. Other members of the boy’s family had also not visited. He had had only one other very short phone call with another member of the family.
She said that the boy’s father had not attended any meetings with the CFA regarding his son and that there had been no meeting between them for more than one year. She noted that some of the boy’s other relations had come to a small number of meetings with the CFA. She confirmed that the hearing of the CFA’s care order application for the boy was listed for the following week and that the current application was to enable the current interim care order remain in place until that hearing.
The father’s barrister asked the social worker if it had been reckless for the staff member at the residential centre to have left the boy in his car with the keys in the ignition given that the boy had a history of stealing cars and car-jacking. The social worker accepted this and said that disciplinary procedures had been taken against the staff member in question. She agreed that it was not the first serious incident that the boy had engaged in and that his driving the wrong way on the motorway had put the boy himself and others at serious risk.
The barrister told the social worker that the boy’s father was concerned that the residential placement was not adequate for his son. The social worker replied that there was in fact a very strong safety plan in place for his son at the centre but that it had not been adhered to on that day.
The barrister said that the father would tell the court that he had been in contact with his son regularly. The social worker replied that the boy had told her that he had not had contact with his father.
The social worker accepted that the boy had expressed a desire to return home to them and to the GAL. However, she said that the CFA had a statutory duty to ensure that children were returned home safely. She said that the boy had made very serious allegations in respect of his father and he had never retracted those allegations. The father had not engaged with the CFA in order to allow his son to return home safely.
The boy’s father gave his evidence to the court. He told the court that he had been in touch with his son six or seven times. He said that it was not true that he had only called his son once during the past few weeks, and it was also not true that he had been abroad for a funeral, rather that he had to go back because his wife had been sick. He said that when he contacted his son the previous night, it had been the seventh occasion over the previous number of weeks.
The father’s barrister asked him to explain to the court why he was objecting to the seven-day extension of the interim care order for his son. He replied that his son had previously escaped from his residential placement and had arrived at his father’s house. He said his son had looked very tired and he had told him to stay in the house while he had gone to work. However, the boy was not there when he had returned. This had happened on a Saturday and he had contacted the social worker about his son’s location on the following Monday. He said that he did not feel that the information in the social worker’s report was true. If the social workers had done all that they said they had done in the report, his child would not be before a criminal court. He said that his heart had been broken, he was not able to sleep or eat as a result of his son having been taken into care. He told the court that he did not bully his child.
In respect of his son’s most recent major incident, he said that he did not want anybody to hurt his child; it was shameful that social workers had given his son the opportunity to steal a car again which had placed him at risk of being hurt. He said his son had told him and the social workers that he wanted to go home, that he was sorry and that he would not steal cars again. He added that if the care order was made the following week for his son, he did not know if his heart could take it. He said that he could facilitate his son to return home immediately.
Responding to the judge, the boy’s father denied that he had not been in contact with the social worker during the previous month. He said that it was not true, he had spoken to her about both his son and his daughter.
The barrister told the court that the boy’s father was concerned that his son was not safe while in the care of the residential unit. He told the court that previously the boy had only driven around the neighbourhood, but because the residential placement was far away, the boy had now begun driving on motorways on the wrong side of the road. He said that not enough steps were being taken to ensure the boy’s safety and he reiterated that the boy himself had wanted to go home.
The CFA’s lawyer reminded the court that when the boy absconded from the residential centre previously back to his home, his father had not notified the social workers of his son’s location for three days. She also reminded the court of the very serious allegations against the father that had not been retracted and also that the boy’s father had breached the in camera rule by misinforming his daughter about the reasons for the boy’s care proceedings and making the boy feel that he had been at fault for everything.
The judge, having heard the evidence, and noting that the application was supported by the GAL and the boy’s allocated social worker, but opposed by the boy’s father, granted an extension of seven days to the interim care order until the boy’s care order application hearing, which was listed for the following week. In making the order, the judge said that the boy could have been returned home if it had been safe to do so, but he was not satisfied that this was the case and as a result the grounds for an interim care order continued to exist.
Application to extend the interim care order for the younger sister
The CFA’s lawyer reminded the court that the younger sister was taken into care on foot of an emergency care order and a subsequent interim care order, both of which applications had been fully contested by the young girl’s father. She said would also be asking court to set a date for hearing the full care order application for the young girl.
The allocated social worker was asked to update the court about the events of the previous four weeks in respect of the young girl’s situation.
The social worker told the court that the girl’s father had returned from abroad during this period and that he had contacted the social worker to ask them to organise a taxi to see his daughter. She said that no appointment had been arranged but that the girl’s father had wanted to take her for breakfast, give her a gift and then take her to school.
The social worker said that the father had argued about everything and eventually he had taken his daughter on the bus rather than using the taxi which had been organised for them. He had taken his daughter to a shopping centre and the social worker had had to follow him separately. She said that she had had to call the Gardaí as the father would not cooperate with her. She said that this had not been the first time she had had to contact the Gardaí; there had been at least two other occasions.
She said that up until recently, access visits between father and daughter had been fully supervised but that had done more harm than good. She said that during the access visits, the father had berated the social worker and that his daughter had been listening to her father call the social worker names. The girl had had to be taken out of the room during these occasions.
After the father had returned from abroad, he had shown up at the social worker’s office unannounced. It had not been clear which of his children he wanted to see the social worker about. He had been very rude to the receptionist, shouting and swearing in the reception area where other children were waiting.
The father had eventually met the social worker at the start of the previous week. The social worker had told him that the CFA wanted him to undergo a parental capacity assessment and to allow it put some supports in place for his daughter, but he would not agree to this. She said that correspondence had been sent to the father on two occasions to discuss access visits and a meeting at Pieta House. On one of the occasions the father had been in hospital, but on the other occasion, he just didn’t come to the appointment.
She said that an agreement had been reached between the father and the principal social workers to allow unsupervised access with his daughter. There were strict rules and timeframes involved. She said that this had been going okay and two of those visits had gone well.
However, issues had occurred at the access visit the previous day. The school principal had told her that the young girl had been really upset in class. The girl’s father had wanted to take photos of her for his new wife and the girl had not wanted to do this. He had also wanted her to go to town with him, but she had not wanted to go. The principal had said that the girl had acted like everything was fine, but she had subsequently been very upset. The social worker said that access visits had been suspended as a result and it was planned to meet him the following week to discuss future access arrangements.
The social worker said that the father intended to bring his new wife to Ireland. She added that the father was very polite to the social workers when he wanted them to help get something done. The CFA was open to helping the father, but in these circumstances, the CFA had no information regarding his wife’s application with immigration.
The social worker said that the young girl did not like her father’s new wife. Regarding the engagement of other family members, she told the court that one family member had come to two meetings and another had come to one meeting. The first had committed to taking the young girl for just one day a month while the other family member had made no commitment at all. She said that the young girl had been warned not to tell family members about what was going on and also not to speak to the social workers.
The social worker also said that she had had some concerns around the young girl’s ability to perform personal hygiene tasks that should have been appropriate for her age. For example, she did not appear to know what some of the hygiene products (shower gel/shampoo) were used for. She also had issues with dental care. An appointment had been made with a hygienist.
The CFA’s lawyer said that the court heard previously that there had been concerns that the young girl had been subjected to grooming online. The social worker said that the girl did not have a smart phone and that they had been monitoring her phone use. The foster carers had also noticed some issues with the young girl’s phone usage and had taken the phone away.
The social worker said that overall the girl had had quite a good relationship with her older brother, but that she was very isolated. She said that she was a young teenage girl who needed someone to be there for her. The young girl was not able to talk to her father about certain things that had been really going on for her.
The girl had been in a short-term foster placement and was now in a special emergency arrangement placement, which was not ideal. The CFA were trying to source a suitable longer term foster placement for her but none had been available at that time. She was on the list with the national private placement team and the CFA was waiting to hear back from that team and hoped to have an update in two weeks’ time.
The social worker said that funding for supports and services for the young girl had been approved that morning. She said that the girl had shown some instances of self-harm and this was the reason for her engagement with Pieta House. She had had her first engagement with Pieta House the previous Friday, she hadn’t liked the preliminary engagement but she had said that she would think about going back.
The girl’s father was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The social worker was unsure if he was taking any medication and/or was engaged in any therapy for it.
The social worker confirmed to the court that there had been no meaningful engagement by the young girl’s father over the previous three weeks and that this was the reason the CFA was applying for the care order dates for the young girl.
The father’s barrister said that the father was quite concerned that his daughter was still in a special arrangement placement, an unapproved residential arrangement, which was completely inappropriate. The social worker admitted that the special arrangement placement was totally not ideal and confirmed that the CFA had been making every effort to source an approved placement for the young girl as quickly as possible.
Regarding the incident of online grooming, the social worker said that the incident was being investigated by Gardaí. The social worker had had a conversation with the young girl about the incident. She said that the father had told the young girl that he would give her a mobile phone, he did not seem to understand the seriousness of the issue.
Regarding the possibility of reunification, the social worker told the court that the CFA had made it clear to the father what it would need to see before reunification could occur. She said that the CFA needed to see safety for the young girl but her father had chosen not to follow that path.
As there had been at least two access visits that had gone well over the past 28 days, the father’s barrister asked the social worker if there was not some glimmer of hope for reunification. The social worker acknowledged the two good access visits but said that in the same period, there had been three visits that had not gone well and that at one of the visits in the last month it had been necessary to call the Gardaí.
She said that, of course, if the young girl’s father could work with the CFA and if the necessary supports could be put in place, then reunification would be possible. However, if he would not work with the CFA, then it could not stand over any reunification between father and daughter.
The father’s barrister challenged the social worker that the application for a full care order for the young girl was premature. The social worker replied that the girl’s father had had so many opportunities to engage with the CFA, “if he showed us that he was open to engagement, but he hasn’t.”
The barrister asked the social worker whether she thought that the fact that the father was extremely distressed might be a factor that is contributing to his behaviour. She replied that she did not deny that he was distressed, but that he could have still engaged.
The GAL was then called to give his evidence. He described to the court the special arrangement placement where the young girl was living. It was an apartment with eight core care workers that were working in shifts. He told the court that the national standards require that the core team be registered.
He said that one residential placement had had a number of people on a priority list. However, an area could only have a maximum number of people on their priority list, usually three people. So even though the young girl was in an unregistered special arrangement apartment, she had not been put on the priority list.
In respect of the young girl’s engagement with Pieta House, he said that the girl had not liked it. He said that if the young girl needed to get an appointment with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), it was necessary for her to have engaged with somewhere like Pieta House or Jigsaw or similar first.
He also confirmed that he would not support unsupervised access between the girl and her father until such time as her full care order was heard. He agreed that it would be prudent to come back to the court in two weeks to update court.
The young girl’s father was then asked to give his evidence to the court. He confirmed to the court that he was opposing the CFA’s application to extend the interim care order in respect of his daughter.
He said that he loved his child and he wanted her back. He said that the social worker was lying again. He said that when he came back from abroad, he had found his daughter was very dirty and he had had to take her to the shopping centre to buy her clean underwear and to get her some food. His daughter had started the argument with the social worker, he had gone after her. The social worker had called the Gardaí, they had spoken nicely to him and he gave his daughter back to them.
He told the court: “I want my child back. I don’t want to watch my child suffering.”
The father said that the social worker’s evidence that he had kept going to her office and that he had been very verbally abusive and insulting to staff there, was not true. He said that he had called the head office of the social worker to make a complaint. He had been told that someone would contact him, but nothing happened.
He admitted that he did “go crazy” about his daughter. The social worker had tried to tell him that he did not have an appointment. However, he had been very stressed and at the end of his tether when had had gone to the office. He had just wanted to know something about his child.
The barrister confirmed with him that his daughter had been to his house three times since the last time the matter had been in court. The father said that all of those visits had gone very well. The barrister asked the father to explain the difficulties that had occurred at the previous day’s access visit and the social worker’s evidence that the young girl had told her teachers that she had not liked having her photograph taken and had not wanted to speak with the father’s new wife.
The father told the court that his wife had bought a tracksuit for the young girl which he had given to her. He said that his wife had asked him to send her a picture of the girl wearing the tracksuit. He confirmed to the court that he would not give his daughter a smart phone, he would give her a small phone, but not a smart phone.
He said that he was cooperating with the CFA. He did not agree that he had not been a caring father. He had never received a call from the school before about his daughter’s hygiene until she had gone into care. These issues had only arisen since she went into care, now she had problems all the time.
The father told the court that he wanted to care for his children. When asked if he was happy to receive support from the CFA and the social work team, he replied that if he felt that he needed help he would ask for it. When asked if he thought he needed help and support to parent his daughter, he replied: “No, absolutely not. If my wife comes here, I won’t need anything”.
The CFA’s lawyer asked the father if he would engage with the CFA in undergoing a parental capacity assessment. He replied that he did not need help and that he would be happy if they left him alone.
He said that he had appreciated that the social worker team had helped him to get accommodation, but that they had not been able to help him bring his wife to Ireland. He denied that he had been verbally aggressive with one of the social workers and had called her names. He told the court that the social worker had been lying again to make him feel bad in court.
The GAL was then asked to give his evidence to the court. He confirmed that he was supporting the CFA’s application for an extension to the young girl’s interim care order.
He said he had concerns about her placement as it was unregulated. There was a registration process for placements for a reason, to ensure that qualifications and standards were being met. He told the court that it was the social worker that ended up doing the due diligence regarding the suitability of the unregulated placement but that it should be a corporate responsibility. Despite this, he confirmed that the young girl had been doing okay and that when he had met her, she had been her usual chatty self. He said that both the boy and the younger girl were very likeable children and they were not difficult or oppositional.
He said that he had not been consulted about the unsupervised access arrangements. He added that he had never had a prior experience as a GAL that had involved the amount of Garda involvement in the access visits as had occurred here.
He said that ultimately the objective was to get the young girl back with her father but that there was a changing dynamic taking place, her father’s new wife was coming to Ireland and it was going to be necessary that the young girl would be happy with this and would to want to go back home under those circumstances.
The GAL said that there had been a long history of domestic violence. However, if the father was prepared to show some real engagement and to accept what changes were needed then progress might be made. However, he said that the father had consistently not been willing to engage with the social worker team.
He confirmed to the court that he had recommended that a parenting capacity assessment be conducted in respect of the father and said that any such assessment would require knowing all of the services with which the father had been engaged.
The GAL said that he thought the young girl was extremely vulnerable and as the onset of adolescence was coming to her very quickly, she was very sensitive to what was being said about her. He said that he would be very worried if she were getting positive attention online that she would be easily swayed by this.
The GAL told the court that the young girl’s objective was to return home, though he was not sure if this would be the case if her father’s new wife were present at the home. He agreed that there was a loving relationship between father and daughter but added that the daughter’s ideal relationship with her father was one in which he was not angry. The GAL did not agree that there had been some personality clashes with certain of the social workers. He told the court that he thought this was an aspect of the father’s attempt to exert coercive control.
He said that the special arrangement accommodation for the young girl was a problem and was not up to scratch.
The CFA’s lawyer acknowledged that the GAL had been working on this family’s case for many years and asked him if he was in support of setting the care order dates for the young girl by the court at that time, particularly in circumstances where such dates could be subsequently vacated in the event that the father began to engage with the CFA.
The GAL confirmed that it was his general view that if the father engaged with the CFA in the process, then there was an opportunity to turn the situation around. He said that the father had shown that the process could work.
The judge carefully considered the evidence that had been put to him and noted that the application to extend the interim care order had been supported by the GAL but was strongly opposed by the young girl’s father. He said that the respondent father’s position had been particularly concrete and that he had not been willing to engage with the CFA in order to have his daughter returned to him safely. He accepted that the CFA had to be satisfied that this could be done safely and that it could not do so in this instance.
In light of the above and as the threshold for the interim care order continued to be met, the judge granted an extension to the interim care order for the young girl for a further 28 days at which time there needed to be a review of the matter in respect of sourcing a more satisfactory placement.
He also said that it was his view that dates for the hearing of the section 18 care order for the young girl should be set and in that regard he set the matter down for two days in twelve weeks’ time.
Separate care order applications for both children were subsequently granted.