Interim Care Order following domestic violence – 2013vol3#21

The District Court granted an Interim Care Order in respect of four siblings following allegations of domestic violence later withdrawn by the mother.

Welfare concerns for the children arose when their mother had gone to a women’s refuge with them and sought a protection order against her husband due to domestic violence. The two older children had made disclosures to the social care worker in the refuge. However the mother later withdrew all the allegations, saying she had told her children to lie and now wanted to go home. The social work department felt the children would be at risk if they returned home.

The social care worker from the women’s refuge told the court that the mother had told staff in the refuge that her husband was regularly violent towards her, “he threatened to cut her, he told the children their mother is a whore and works on the street.” The mother’s main concern was that “he smoked weed, he shaved a daughter’s head, he told her he could do what he liked and the older daughters would be next. On the day of arrival they appeared quite frightened, withdrawn and anxious, they were trembling, their eyes were on the ground.” A Protection Order was applied for two days later and dates for a Safety Order application were in place.

Child C was trembling and crying and child A was withdrawn and crying on arrival, she said. These were signs of emotional distress. The mother had told the social work department the father would lock A and B into the downstairs toilet with the light off as a punishment. The social care worker felt the three older children did not seem to have a close affectionate relationship with their mother. They were offered a few times to go to her, but they said no.

After eight days at the refuge, the mother met up with her husband. The following day she said she wanted to return home to give things another go and was satisfied she was safe. The next day the social care worker informed the social work department and an Emergency Care Order was applied for. Up until then the mother had been very open to engaging with the staff about obtaining her protection order, getting a social welfare payment in her name and not allowing the father to see the children. The ECO was withdrawn on agreement she return to the refuge and the department would draw up a safety plan.

During the ECO court hearing child A told the social care worker her mother had told her to tell them she had lied about the father beating her and say that he took her to the playground. She therefore had huge concerns, the children had closed down emotionally since the day in court.

The father’s solicitor told the social care worker that the shaving of child C’s head was due to cultural reasons as she was a convert to Islam. The solicitor said the mother’s main motivator for leaving him was in fact an irrational fear he was unfaithful in the marriage.

The mother’s solicitor told the court the mother intended to recant statements, she was denying any violence between herself and her husband.

The social care worker said she had huge concerns about the earlier statements, she felt on admission to the refuge the mother was very frightened of her husband and withdrew the statements due to this fear.

The social worker initially allocated to the case told the court that the mother said her husband had hit the baby and threatened he would take the children out of the country. When she indicated she wanted to return home, the social worker told her it was not safe to do so after the statements the children had made.

The social worker interviewed A at primary school. She very distressed, upset and frightened when they explained her Mum wanted to return. She said out of the blue: “My Da hits my Ma.” She said she was locked in the toilet with the light turned off. She said it was her job to look after the baby and her Mum let her. Children A and B said they wanted to stay in the refuge, that they liked being there.

Child A said she saw the father cut the mother with a knife, she was behind the couch. Child B also reported that she had been locked into the toilet, she also said she saw her Dad hit the baby on the chin and child A on the nose after which she bled.

The solicitor for mother said the upset with the husband had been due to an affair and financial stress. She had two children with him and two from a different relationship which also caused tension in the family.

When the hearing resumed two days later, the allocated social worker told the court the mother had initially been a protective factor because she had brought the children to the refuge, but had now returned home and withdrawn all her allegations. She said she had lied to the housing officer because she had wanted to “get a house and money, [she] didn’t see the risk.”

Did she talk to the mother about the impact on children of experiencing domestic violence, asked the HSE solicitor. The mother just kept saying she had told them to lie and she had made a big mess, answered the social worker. She believed the allegations were genuine as she had begun making the disclosures over three months ago, it was consistent over a long period of time to a number of different professionals.

The social work department had recommended she remain in the refuge until the hearing was over, but she had returned home for the last two nights and her husband had stayed at the house for the second night. It would raise a question as to how the social work department could put a safety plan in place. She needed to attend a GP for an assessment and possible psychological assessment, and father needed a referral to a domestic violence service, if an ICO was granted they would be seeking a guardian ad litem.

The mother’s solicitor said she had discharged the protection order and the safety order had been vacated. If in fact the statements she made were all untrue was it not the responsible thing to correct the record? She was in a one-bed apartment and was motivated to try and secure a house and benefits. The parents were sleeping on the floor and the children in the bedroom.

The social worker said they had already moved into a house when she made the allegations. To put the kids through that for financial gain was extremely concerning.

The father told the court that in relation to the domestic violence allegations they had had a small argument as his employer was living with them, but they did not have regular arguments. He loved the step-children, he did not feel he had treated them differently. He said child A only looked after the baby when his wife was busy, he stepped in when she needed attention. Regarding his wife returning home, his decision was there were no serious problems.

Have you being violent towards your wife or children, asked his solicitor. “Not really … it’s really no point to me for start beating,” he replied.

“Have you ever hit your wife?” “No, just argument, just push that’s normal,” he answered, and he said he did not strike the children. There was no lock on the toilet door and he had put them in there once with the light on. He had shaved child C’s head for cultural reasons, he said. He was not smoking cannabis and he did not drink.

He knew she was lying to obtain benefits. His “wife’s friend told her if you go to the refuge the social welfare will give her a house and benefits.” The main issue was she thought for the last year he had another woman. They had married two years ago, but he did not know the date. He loved his wife and felt very upset when he heard the allegations. He had not put pressure on his wife to withdraw the protection order.

The mother told the court she had sought a protection order because she was “angry, because my friend said to me my husband has another woman, after a C-section I was extremely depressed, my husband most of the time spent working and not with me, I thought he doesn’t like me anymore and is having an affair.” She no longer believed he was having an affair.

Her solicitor asked her were the allegations true she had made against her husband to the community welfare officer, the housing officer and two public health nurses. She said there were not.

“So you deny that your husband ever beat you or the children, or produced a gun and threatened you, or smoked hash?” She denied it. She thought if she taught the children to lie her statements would be more believable.

He treated all the children equally. The only day they had together as a family was Sunday. The mother was adamant child A was not minding the baby too often. Neighbours had complained of the noise so she put one of the girls in once to the toilet with the light off.

The HSE said you are changing your mind because you are a victim and you are afraid, said her solicitor. “That’s not true,” she replied.

She told the HSE solicitor that she had gone to the refuge because a woman had been calling her husband on his mobile, and her friend had told her to leave him.

The HSE solicitor said the social workers believed she did tell the truth, to protect herself and her children. He told her the children had not said they had lied, they just did not say anything and they had “acted frightened if front of [the father] in court and appeared withdrawn in the refuge.”
“If you told the children what to say did you also tell the children how to act,” he asked her. “No,” replied the mother.

She told judge she had told the children to start lying about four months ago.

“If you’ve been telling lies constantly [for four months] and getting the children to lie, how do I know that you’re not telling lies now?” asked the judge.

“I understand you might have difficult to believe me,” she said. She told the judge she had felt depressed since the baby was born but had not gone to a doctor about it. “The social worker has said she doesn’t believe you can adequately protect your children.”

“I can.”

“But if you take your children away from your home without a proper reason and have them tell lies and put them under that stress, that’s not protecting your children, is it,” said the judge.

Upon granting the Interim Care Order, the judge said: “The issues that this case rests upon are the issue of domestic violence, the allegations that [the mother] has made have been consistent in their content. This case also rests on various disclosures that the children made to the refuge and [the social workers], they have been admitted pursuant to section 23, and I find it is appropriate to give full weight of evidence admitted by the children…

“When [the mother] made her intention to return home to the family home and the father, the issue here is credibility. Therefore on the balance of probabilities, I find that the mother and the children have experienced domestic violence. The second issue is the protection of the children, since the protection order has been made the respective mother has returned home and the respective father has stayed away from the family home for one night only, therefore I find that [the mother] cannot adequately protect the children. The third issue is the impact, I find that on the balance of probabilities, the experience of domestic violence has negatively impacted on the children. Therefore I will grant an ICO in respect of each of the children.

“I will direct that there should be generous access between the parents and children pursuant to Section 37.”

The judge also directed that access be supervised and an interpreter should be present to protect the mother and children and to avoid lies and coaching.