Interim care order extended while assessments awaited for refugee child, habitual residence to be established – 2024vol1#15

A judge in a rural town extended an interim care order, granted a week earlier, for a further three weeks in respect of a primary school-aged boy who had arrived in Ireland with his mother from a war-torn country. The child had complex needs. She urged the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to undertake all assessments as quickly as possible so that the child might be removed from a hospital setting, where he had been taken with bruising. She added that a decision on the habitual residence of the child must be made. She would do whatever she could to ensure that all parties in the matter were assisted as at the heart of this matter was the welfare of a young boy who relied on the court to get it right.

The mother contested to the extension of the interim care order. The initial interim care order had been granted eight days previously. At this initial interim care order hearing neither parent had legal representation, but the mother now had a solicitor and barrister at the extension hearing. The father was not in court and not represented. A guardian ad litem (GAL) had been appointed and had a solicitor and barrister.

The mother was from a worn-torn country and had resided in the jurisdiction since the summer when she and the child had arrived as refugees. The solicitor for the CFA told the court that the social worker had received an email from the father who had informed the social worker that he [the father] was working abroad.

There were two interpreters available to the court. One had been retained by the CFA for the mother and the second had been retained by the mother’s legal representative for witnesses that they were going to call on the mother’s behalf. Evidence was heard from the social worker, a member of An Garda Síochána, the GAL, the mother, the child’s grandmother and a friend of the mother who was from the same country and lived in the same residential unit as the mother.

The solicitor for the CFA and the mother’s legal team both stated to the court there was an issue of the court’s jurisdiction and that the child’s residency in Ireland had to be established. This meant that as the worn-torn country was not part of the European Union and the child was not an Irish citizen, the court might not have the authority to hear the CFA’s application. It had been agreed by the legal teams that both parties would make submissions to the court. The court would hear those applications within the next month. As the child was not from an EU country this matter would have to be heard under the Hague Convention regulations.

The mother’s barrister said the mother contested the application. At the initial hearing, the mother had no legal representation and was concerned about the translation of what she had said. The mother’s barrister also said that she objected to the CFA’s section 23 applications (permitting hearsay evidence from a child). She said that the court had been told what the child had said and therefore this prejudiced her client.


Evidence of the social worker

The social worker said that currently the child, who had both old and new bruises, was in hospital as no suitable foster accommodation had been found. The social worker had attached photographs to his report. He said the mother had said that the child had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted. A referral to a child specialist clinic had been made.

The mother’s barrister asked the court to note that no medical expert had been called to give evidence either of the bruising or from the specialist clinic. The social worker said with regards to the bruising the mother had subsequently said the child had fallen off a bunk bed and also fallen off his bike. The mother had also said that the child had been harmed by a member of staff of the residential unit where they were staying and the child also self-harmed and that these incidents were the reasons for the bruising.

He said there was a suggestion that the child had autism and epilepsy, however the hospital had not reported any seizures or fits. The social worker said there had been several disclosures from the child to members of staff at the hospital. The mother’s barrister objected to this as it was hearsay evidence. The judge reminded the social worker that he could not give evidence of what someone else had said.

The social worker said that An Garda Síochána were investigating the physical abuse and the reported sexual assault. The social worker said that it had been particularly challenging caring for the child as no appropriate foster placement had been found and the child did not speak English. An interpreter had been secured to attend to the child in hospital each day.

He said the child had demonstrated difficulties with eating and he had reduced his dietary intake. He would only eat one meal per day. He said the child had told the interpreter and support staff at the hospital that he did not want to see his mother. The social worker said because of the disclosures that the child had made, the access that the mother had with the child had been reduced. The mother’s barrister again objected to hearsay evidence. Again, the judge reminded the social worker that he could not give evidence of what someone else had said.

The judge said it was not hearsay if the social worker was there when the child said it. The child did not speak English and an interpreter had to assist. The social worker said the child had asked to take a break from access with his mother but stated that the child’s dietary intake had further reduced as access with his mother had been reduced.

He said the mother had provided letters from doctors in her home country, but these had not been fully or formally translated. However, they had suggested that the child had a diagnosis of autism and had had difficulties with eating since he was three years old. There had also been suggestions in these letters and the mother had told the social worker that the child had had speech and language therapy in his home country.

The social worker said that he had email contact from the child’s father, who was working abroad. The father’s wish was for the child to return to his own country in the care of the mother or the child’s grandmother. He said he wanted to care for the child when he was ashore. The child’s grandmother had arrived in Ireland the previous day and wanted to care for the child and to return to their own country with the child. The grandmother would be assessed as a potential carer for the child, but it was his understanding that she was to return home within the next few days. He was unsure if the grandmother would remain in Ireland to be assessed as a potential carer.

The mother had come from an active war zone and had been inconsistent about her travel. She said she had initially taken refuge in Sweden. She had returned home, but then left for Germany and arrived in Ireland in the summer of 2023. The social worker said, given the complex nature of this case, a multidisciplinary meeting had been arranged for the next day. This meeting was to ascertain assessments and plans needed to meet the needs of the family. He said it would include mental health assessments for the mother and occupational, psychological and speech and language assessments for the child. The mother was vulnerable and it was essential these assessments were expedited.

He said the child’s current presentation was that he was content in hospital and better now that an interpreter was available to him all day. He was bright, active and energetic.

The mother’s barrister asked the social worker if and how he assured himself that the interpreter had accurately translated what the mother had said. She said the mother was not satisfied with what the interpreter said. The mother said she had never said the child was kidnapped or sexually assaulted. The social worker said the interpreter had been sent and that he had to accept what the interpreter had said. The mother’s barrister said there had been many unknowns, but the mother had been very forthcoming about the child’s needs. She said this was a very vulnerable family and extra care needed to be taken to ensure that there was clear communication.

The social worker said that they had taken all the extra steps they could. They had secured legal representation for the mother and they had engaged interpreters for her for all her interactions with medical and legal professionals. They had assisted her with the accommodation and support from groups in that accommodation.

The mother’s barrister said the mother would give evidence that the bruising was because the child fell off his bike and asked the social worker if he had made any attempts to verify this. The social worker replied that the child did confirm that he rode a bike but that the disclosures made by the child had necessitated a referral to An Garda Síochána. The social worker confirmed that all urgency will be put on all the necessary assessments for the benefit of the child.


Evidence from An Garda Síochána

The member of An Garda Síochána said there was an active investigation with two aspects to it. The first was the allegation of the kidnap and sexual assault. The second was the bruising and alleged assaults by the child’s mother.


Evidence was given through an interpreter by a friend of the mother and fellow resident of the mother and child’s residence. She said she had lived in the residential unit for two years. She had known the child and his mother since they arrived approximately six months earlier. She said she had seen the child cycling a bicycle and falling badly on a hard surface, resulting in bruises and scratches. She confirmed that the child had not been wearing a helmet. She said the child had been crying but had got up quickly.


Evidence of the mother

The mother spoke through an interpreter. She said that her son had woken up in the night and unbeknownst to her had gone outside. She said there had been thefts where she had been staying. She was aware there were people who were staying in the same residence who had come from her country and who had criminal backgrounds. She was frightened and upset. She could not ignore what her son had done and she was frightened for him.

She said An Garda Síochána were called. She said she was told to say that her son had been kidnapped and assaulted by a fellow-resident so that An Garda Síochána would come quickly. She said that she spoke to the garda through an app, Google Translate. She repeatedly said she did not say that her son had been sexually assaulted, those were not her words. She said that she was surprised that people had referred her son to a special clinic, and she could not understand why.

She said she was very concerned about her son’s health. He had always had difficulties. He had had reflux and difficulties in chewing foods as a small child. He had been treated for low blood sugar levels and malnutrition in her home country. He had many therapies at home including speech and language therapy. She said she had constantly done exercises with him to improve his speech and now he had started to regress.

She said the bruises had been caused by normal childhood activities. He was an active child and was always running, jumping, and falling. She said when he had fallen off his bike she was told there was no need to call an ambulance. She did not take him to the doctor because it was the holidays. She put ointment on the bruising.

The CFA solicitor said to the mother that she had made an official complaint to An Garda Síochána that her child had been kidnapped and this was through an interpreter. The mother replied that she had not said that. She said kidnap is every mother’s biggest fear, she would not say that. He had woken up and gone outside, this had frightened her. She said that she had spoken with the garda though Google Translate.


Evidence of the child’s grandmother

The grandmother spoke to the court through an interpreter. She said that the child was on the autistic spectrum. He was active and ran all the time and always had bruises. She said she would be able to care for the child in Ireland but would like to take him home to secure for him the treatment services he needed. She said that she would be happy to participate in all assessments.


Evidence of the guardian ad litem (GAL)

The GAL had been appointed eight days previously at the first interim care order hearing. He said he had met the child only once prior to the court date. The GAL said he saw a different child from what other people had reported to the court today.

The child had shown little interest in engaging with him. The GAL said he was concerned about the child’s presentation and would not describe the child as content as the social worker had. He had concerns about the child’s motor skills and speech. He was also concerned that the child appeared to mimic and mirror what was said by others.

The GAL said he spoke with the nursing staff who had expressed concerns about the dietary input and how much water the child drank. He said there had been a difficulty as the nurses had tried to weigh the child, which was a mundane, painless procedure but the child had become so agitated it had to be abandoned. As access with his mother had been reduced, the child’s dietary intake had reduced. A balance had to be struck between the perceived risk of the mother’s access and the protection of the child’s physical well-being.

He said there needed to be dual assessments, one for the child and his needs, the second for the mother and her needs. All was complicated by the language barriers. He said there were presently too many unknowns.



The judge said this was an exceedingly difficult matter because as the GAL had said there were too many unknowns. She said that she had heard the evidence and was satisfied the threshold for an extension of an interim care order had been met. She would extend the interim care order until her next child care date which was in three weeks’ time.

She urged all parties to act quickly and urged the CFA to undertake all assessments as quickly as possible particularly with regard to the grandmother, so that the child might be removed from the hospital setting. She urged all parties to co-operate as fully as possible and work together. She said she was disturbed by the evidence she had heard but at the heart of this matter was the welfare of a young boy who was relying on the court to get it right.

Subsequent hearing five months later

In a subsequent hearing of the case five months later, the judge once again extended the interim care in what all parties described as a very complex case. Evidence was heard from the social worker and from the guardian ad litem (GAL). The mother was in court and represented by a solicitor and a barrister. The mother had consented to the extension of the interim care order. A court appointed interpreter had been pre-arranged for the mother. The father had been uncontactable but in previous contacts he had supported the position of the mother.

The CFA social worker said that the court was aware of the circumstances of the child as the court had heard the application for an interim care order which had been granted previously. He said a long-term plan was needed because of the complex issues of the case. He said that plan would involve the Health Service Executive (HSE) disability service. He said the social workers remained very concerned about the nature of the physical injuries the child had presented with. He said complaints had been forwarded to An Garda Síochána. He said the accounts of the injuries had been inconsistent. There had been a lack of honesty and transparency from the mother. He said that all professionals involved had been sensitive to the mother’s situation and had always ensured that interpreters had been available for her. He said the CFA had initially given all supports to enable the mother to care for the child, but it had not been successful, and the child was placed with his grandmother. The grandmother suffered from significant health problems. He said that given the needs of the child it was unclear how much longer the grandmother would be able to cope. He said it was necessary to parallel plan. The placement with his grandmother was not sustainable long-term given the grandmother’s own health issues and the complex need of the child. He said that it was most likely that the child would need residential care which would be given jointly by the CFA and the HSE but would be disability HSE led. He said a residential placement had been found that would meet the child’s needs. He said it was better for the child to move to this placement in a planned, methodical way rather than because of a breakdown in the placement at his grandmothers or due to an emergency.

He said there was a lack of routine and structure, but the child was presenting better than he had been. He said the grandmother’s ill-health had contributed to this lack of structure and routine for the child.

He said that he had spoken to the child’s father, but the nature of his job had meant that he was often away and when away it was not always possible to contact him. The father had been invited to attend all meetings and be part of the proceedings. The position of the father was that he supported the mother to parent the child.

He said this was a complex case and there was the possibility of the child returning to his home country but no steps toward that had been taken. A parenting capacity assessment had been completed and the report was to be shared with the mother within the next two weeks.

The barrister for the mother asked about the residential unit that had been identified. She asked if that unit would be able to meet the child’s cultural and language needs. The social worker said that the unit had a full multi-disciplinary team which included an occupational therapist, speech and language therapists, nurses and psychologists. The mother’s barrister asked about how the child’s language and culture needs would be met. The social worker replied that interpreters would be available, and they hoped to secure support workers who would be able to speak the same language as the child.

The barrister asked what supports had been given to the grandmother. The social worker replied that a family support worker attended three times per week, but the grandmother had still not been able to cope and was exhausted. The barrister said: “What other supports have you considered giving to the grandmother?” The social worker replied that the grandmother had said she was exhausted and had suffered significant health problems. The mother’s barrister again asked what further supports had been considered, the social worker said that they had increased access for the mother which had helped relieve some of the stress for the grandmother. The mother’s barrister said: “Would it not be better to consider more supports for the grandmother rather than residential care?” The social worker said no other supports could be offered. The mother’s barrister asked if the effect on the child of a move from his mother’s care to his grandmother’s care and then to residential care had been considered. The social worker said that it was essential to keep the child safe. It would be better for the child to move in a planned way rather than be forced to move because of an emergency. The mother’s barrister asked if the social worker had made any investigations into residential facilities in the child’s own home country. The social worker said he had not because there was no long-term plan.

The GAL gave evidence and said that when the child was with the grandmother, the grandmother did her best but often the child was left playing on an iPad. He said the grandmother had found it increasingly difficult to care for the child and her own health had significantly suffered because of it. He said it was at the point that there might be a complete emergency and the child would have to go into an emergency placement. It was better for the child to move to a residential unit in a planned way, rather than because his grandmother collapsed. To date, the plan had been for reunification and to identify the problems and circumstances that had led to the child’s reception into care and resolve them. However, nothing had progressed, and patterns of behaviour had been repeated which had meant that reunification looked increasingly difficult. He said it would be difficult for the child to be placed in a residential unit where the only language was English. The GAL feared the child could deteriorate, so it was critical that communication methods with the child were considered.

The judge said the case was complex and the jurisdictional issues of the case had to be addressed first. An application for a section 18 care order had been made. It had to be assessed if the court had the jurisdiction to hear a section 18 application and if the court had the authority to make such an order. The legal parties agreed that they would present written submissions to the court for this. She said it was also necessary for preliminary enquiries to be made regarding residential units in the child’s home country.

The judge extended the interim care order for a further 28 days.