Interim care order for four young children amid fears of mother’s partner – 2021vol1#6

An interim care order was granted in the District Court for four young children, amid ongoing concerns for their safety. The judge said it was clear the mother lacked the insight required to safeguard her children from potential harm by the mother’s partner.

The mother was in court and was legally represented. Her solicitor said she was willing to agree to a supervision order, but was vigorously contesting the application for the interim care order. The CFA solicitor said the children’s father was currently in prison, but was consenting to the application.

The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said the children were the subject of a recent emergency care order and were currently in the care of a close family relative. She said they would remain there if the interim care order was granted. The solicitor said the CFA was not willing to agree to a supervision order in circumstances where there was “serious and acute concerns for the safety of the children.”

Previously allocated social worker’s evidence

The first witness called by the CFA was the social worker previously allocated to the children. She said the family had come to the CFA’s attention in June 2019 when the children were placed on the child protection list. She said initial concerns related to incidences of domestic violence on the part of the children’s father, who was now in prison. She said the children had “significant exposure” to ongoing domestic violence.

Witness: “[The mother] worked really well with me when [the father] was not in the home. She worked well with the supports that were put in place for her, but there were a number of worrying concerns that summer.”

The witness described how the mother was involved in a physical altercation with a neighbour in which a potted plant had been thrown. She said the children had witnessed the fight which was distressing for them. The Gardai were called to the scene and the family was asked to attend the Garda station for their safety.

Witness: “I arrived at the Garda station that day. We looked at a voluntary arrangement for the children and [the mother] agreed, but the children wouldn’t leave with me. It was very upsetting for them, one of them was hitting his head off the ground. In the end it was agreed that we would source a hotel for [the mother] and the kids to keep them safe.”

The witness said that things calmed down for a short period of time after that incident, but concerns were raised again when Child B, who was of primary school age, was knocked down while driving an electric motorbike. She said the Gardai were called to attend the scene and removed the motorbike from B. The witness said it was very concerning to discover that a number of weeks later the mother had sourced a new motorbike for B. She said the mother contacted the CFA to advise that B had gone missing, and he was later found “driving the electric motorbike on the M50.”

The witness said the mother was referred to a parenting support service after that and she worked really well with the support worker assigned to her. She said that when this particular service finished up, it was decided that the mother required long-term support, so a family support worker was allocated from the CFA.

Witness: “[The mother] does really well with lots of support in place, but there are always dips. About every six to eight weeks she will call us and tell us she is very overwhelmed and needs extra help.”

The witness said the worry was the “external issues that come in.” She referred to an incident some months previously when the mother began chatting to a man online and subsequently invited him to stay in the family home. She said on one occasion the man returned to the home late at night very intoxicated, and was banging on the door, so the mother contacted the Gardai and the man left.

The social worker was asked about the mother’s relationship with the children’s father, and said that “he can have a really significant impact on her.” She said although she had not met him personally, her understanding was that he was “very abusive and controlling.” She said the mother was currently in a new relationship, but there were also substantial concerns in relation to this man.

Witness: “[The mother’s current partner] became involved with her in or around October. There have been concerns since that time about him being around the children. I know that [Child A] spoke to [a family relative] about names that he had called her. There was also a very serious incident which occurred before Christmas, which was followed up on by the department.”

The witness was asked whether there were any specific concerns in relation to Child C and Child D. She said that D had “fallen under the bed as an infant and fractured her skull.” She said the children’s creche had highlighted concerns about C and D’s presentation, particularly concerns around hygiene.

On cross-examination the witness agreed that there had never been any issue getting into the house and getting access to the children. She agreed that the mother had been “exceptional” with taking the supports offered to her, but said that the main issues related to whether or not the mother was in a position to adequately protect her children.

Social worker’s evidence

The next witness called by the CFA was the current social worker. She referred to the incident involving the mother’s partner that had occurred before Christmas.

Witness: “[A family relative] contacted me that day, she was very distressed, she said the mother’s friend told her that [the mother’s partner] had crashed into the vehicle that [the mother] was driving with three of the kids in the car a few days beforehand. On foot of that we contacted the Gardai and they arrested [the mother’s partner] on suspicion of dangerous driving.”

She said A subsequently told her that on the day of the incident she saw her mother’s partner “with a bottle in his hand, coming to the door and threatening [the mother] that he would set the home on fire.” The witness said a robust safety plan was put in place immediately after this incident. She said they had “very serious child protection concerns at this point.”

Witness: “The bottom line was that [the mother’s partner] was not allowed in the family home. The mother agreed to the plan and signed it that day. That evening I was contacted by [the mother] who said that [her partner] was in the family home and would not leave. She asked me to contact the Gardai, but by the time they arrived he had left. He wasn’t in custody at that stage.”

The witness was asked whether it was this incident which had led to the application for the emergency care order. She said there was an additional incident which occurred afterwards. As part of the original care plan the CFA had agreed to bring A to and from school a number of days per week, in order to provide respite for the mother. She said on dropping A home very recently the mother’s partner answered the door and let her in.

Witness: “The safety plan was breached, so I left the family home almost immediately and we made the decision to apply then.”

She said a supervision order was not considered at this point in time, given the mother’s “lack of insight” into the safety concerns for her children. She said the CFA’s concerns were “extensive” in relation to the mother’s partner. There was a history of criminal behaviour and violence, and the impact of those behaviours on the children was “very worrying.” She said the mother was not in a position to be “a protective factor” for the children right now.

The mother’s solicitor said the mother was willing to do anything to keep her children in her care. She said she was willing to ensure her partner “stayed out of the home.” The social worker said that given “the chaotic nature of the home” it was felt she would benefit a lot more if the children were placed elsewhere and the mother could put her time and effort into the supports which were being offered to her.

The mother’s solicitor sought details as to the nature of the further supports being offered. The social worker said they wanted her to attend counselling, with a specific focus on her experiences of domestic violence.

When asked about the plan for access, the witness said that only phone access was envisioned at the moment because of the Covid-19 restrictions.

Mother’s evidence

The mother told the court that she was happy to abide by the rules of a supervision order and was taking the matter very seriously. She said she did not smoke or do drugs, but that stress got the better of her because “I don’t get a break.” She said she was happy to undertake counselling in relation to her previous experiences of domestic violence, but denied her current partner had ever been violent towards her.

She said that A “doesn’t like any men around me at all, even if it was the Pope in the house. I think that’s why she makes up stories.” She said she had never been threatened with a bottle by her partner despite what A had said. She also denied that her partner had crashed into her vehicle.

She said she was concerned that her children were not happy in their current placement with the close relative. She said B had a behavioural disorder and was very difficult to manage. She said he suffered from anxiety and had contacted her recently and was very upset that he was not at home.

On cross-examination, the mother agreed that her partner had previous convictions, but denied that any of these were for domestic violence. She agreed that he had one previous conviction for a violent offence.

CFA solicitor: “What about the incident where he was chasing your car?”

Mother: “He was following the car, not chasing it.”

CFA solicitor: “The evidence given was that your car was rammed by [your partner]?”

Mother: “No this didn’t happen. He opened his car door and it hit my door by accident.”

CFA solicitor: “Didn’t you report it to the Gardai yourself?”

Mother: “Yes, we were on the same road as the Garda station at the time and we pulled in and spoke to the Gardai briefly, but we never made a statement.”

Having heard the evidence the judge said he had considered the possibility of not making the order sought, but felt it was necessary in the circumstances.

Judge: “I believe that a supervision order will not meet the requirement to keep the children safe. It is very clear that the mother has a lack of insight into matters, as demonstrated by signing a safety plan which she then immediately disregarded.”

The judge said the court was satisfied the threshold had been met and made an interim care order in respect of all four children. He said the mother struck him as “an intelligent woman,” but that she needed to deal with her previous issues. He said it would be beneficial for the mother if the CFA set out “in plain language on an A4 sheet of paper,” the work that needed to be done in order for reunification to take place.