Interim care order granted for boys who alleged physical abuse, application later withdrawn – 2019vol1#23

An ICO was granted in the Dublin District Court in for two boys who had alleged physical abuse by their mother, including being slapped in the face, kicked, and elbowed in the stomach. The boys told the social work department that their mother was continually physically assaulting them and that they wanted to live a normal life. She said her appeals for help had been ignored.

The court heard that although the children’s GP had referred the younger boy to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health unit) in autumn 2016 for possible ADHD traits, that no appointment had been received and a second GP referral had to be made. The family were still waiting on an appointment.

The boys’ mother told the court that if her younger son (B) was provoked he would “go on fire, if he’s provoked, that’s it, he’s gone.” Child A had been referred to Jigsaw via the school and GP for behavioural issues and the mother had sought family management help.

She described her house “like a mad house” and told the court that child B was very hard to control, “he will take anything he sees and hit you with it.” Her phone calls for help to the social work department during escalations had gone unanswered and the social work department had no record of the calls.

The Hearing

At the start of the hearing the court heard from the solicitor for the CFA that the father had not been served because he had no role in the children’s life. At the end of the hearing the children’s mother informed the court that he had been in and out of prison and was addicted to heroin. The father was not named on the application and did not have custody. However, the judge wanted to know whether or not he was a guardian and told the parties that she did not like making an order longer than 28 days where there was only one party to the proceedings.

The duty social worker

The court heard that an emergency care order (ECO) had been made five days previously, on the Friday, for the two boys after their mother had attended a Garda station with them and refused to take them home with her. The duty social worker gave evidence, and told the court that when she spoke to the mother (whose first language was not English) it was unclear as to what exactly her concerns were and that it was difficult to understand why they had attended the Garda station.

When the duty social worker arrived at the Garda station the family were in a waiting area, the duty superintendent there gave her sparse information. The social worker interviewed the mother who said there was an issue between her and her eldest son. The three children were subsequently spoken to alone because their mother would not let them speak.

The main concern that evening had been that the mother was refusing to take Child A home with her and said there had been a disagreement between the siblings.

When she spoke with the three children alone, Child A, the eldest son told her that their mother was continually physically assaulting them and he was scared to be alone. The youngest child, a girl, told her that she had not been hit by her mother and had not seen her mother hit the other children but had heard them rowing. The mother denied the allegations and made a reference to the paternal grandparents brainwashing the children. The duty social worker said that decided not to send the two boys home as they said they did not want to go.

Then the duty social worker looked into friends that could care for the children and found that there was no family or social network able to care for them over the weekend. A voluntary reception in care form was given to the mother who said she felt she had no option but to agree, she was told that she did have the option however.

The duty social worker told the court that the mother was ambivalent towards Child A and detailed a lot of incidents where he had acted inappropriately including hitting his younger siblings, stealing from a local shop and leaving school during school time. The children were placed in out-of-hours foster care until the following Monday and they had continued to stay in that placement. Child C, the little girl, was not taken into care.

On the Monday, the duty social worker had spoken with the boys as the foster placement was quite close to the social work department. Child A told her that his mother slapped him across the face on a regular basis. The worst incident recently had been when his mother had got “angry about something” when she was standing in the middle of the stairs and she had hit him across the face, he had then pushed her backwards and she said that she was badly hurt and kicked him and elbowed him in the stomach. He did not think he had hurt her.

Child A reported that his mother would shout a lot for no apparent reason and throw his stuff in his room and tell him to clean it up. He had seen his mother hit [Child B] as well as having seen [Child B] hit his mother but had never witnessed her hit his sister, (Child C).

She told the court that a safety plan had been given to their mother last year and she had not been following it. An assessment had been carried out by the social work department in spring of 2018, after three referrals had been made to them from the paternal grandparents, the school and the Garda station. At that time, Child A had disclosed physical abuse by his mother, which she denied. An agreed safety plan was put in place due to the welfare issue of physical abuse.

Their mother had not adhered to the safety plan and had hit Child A. However, when the mother’s solicitor queried the issuing of the safety plan, the social worker told the court that she had no safety plan on file.

She told the court that she had no reason to believe that Child A was making up the allegations and that he had been given the opportunity to retract his statement. Allegations had also been made in 2018 when Child A was insistent that his mother had slapped him across the face and that was when the safety plan had been put in place. He was consistent in saying he was being slapped a year later.

He was a teenager with behavioural issues according to his mother, said the duty social worker, and this was her explanation for his allegations. She said he was controlling and trying to control his home. The foster carer had reported no behavioural issues. In the duty social worker’s presence Child B was speaking for Child A, who had been seen to be polite.

The duty social worker said it was significant that the previous safety plan had been breached and if the children were returned there was no indication that their mother would be able to follow a safety plan. Furthermore, their mother had not asked to see them over the weekend, the duty social worker felt this was also significant.

Their mother had reported Child A as being a difficult child and there had been incidents of shoplifting and she had difficulty managing him. The social worker said that his behaviour such as leaving school without permission and shop-lifting a chocolate bar was typical of a teenager. Not being able to manage that as a parent made the social worker question her capacity to parent him, as well as the fact she had brought her children to the Garda station.

The long-term plan now for the family was reunification with supports to be identified through assessment. Due to the allegations of assault and ill-treatment by his mother it was necessary for Child A to remain in the care of the CFA to protect his health, welfare and development.

Under cross examination, the social worker told court that the mother had told her in 2018 that Child A’s paternal grandparents had more or less put him up to making allegations that she was hitting him. She said that “they were brainwashing him to making these statements”. Part of the safety plan was that Child A was to attend the Garda station if he felt unsafe at home. He had not attended it at any point since then.

The mother’s solicitor told the court that her client had received a letter from TUSLA in the early summer of 2018 stating that the initial assessment had been completed and as no on-going child protection welfare concerns had been identified the family’s case had been closed. It was the mother’s position that when Child A started to have behavioural difficulties again she made several phone calls to the number given to her but none of her calls were returned.

The social worker told the court that there was a voicemail message service for that number and any messages were logged in a book, she was not aware that the mother had rung the department. The mother’s solicitor told her the first time someone had finally returned her phone call was last week, on the day she had attended the Garda station.

Her solicitor told the court that the mother had not been given a safety plan therefore she could not have breached it. The only information given to the family was that Child A could attend the Garda station if he wished to and that he had not because there was no reason to. The solicitor asked the social worker if she had checked with the Gardai to see if he had contacted them in the last year.

The social worker said that she had not.

The mother’s solicitor told the court about an event that had precipitated last Friday’s visit to the Garda station by the mother. She had found out that Child A had access to porn websites through using a fake ID, therefore she had confiscated his mobile phone and he had become very angry. When she refused to give it back to him the following day he had hit her three times in the back and she had contacted the Gardai, that had been three days prior to arriving at the Garda station. Child A had physically assaulted her and she had called the police for assistance.

In the last year he had displayed a lot of behavioural difficulties at school, which had been logged in the school’s journal. In one extract from the school journal it reported that A had missed class due to a match and did not get his work completed. When asked about this he had protested loudly, had been cheeky and interrupted throughout the 40-minute class, resulting in very little teaching taking place. He also put up his hand and said: “Miss, can I go to the toilet, I’m going to piss myself.” The teacher had taken him out of the room and told him that his behaviour was unacceptable and sent him to the principal.

There had been a number of incidents in school where he had exhibited behavioural difficulties, said the mother’s solicitor. His mother had also brought him to the GP last year and they family were referred to the family clinic in Temple Street to assist with family management. They were still awaiting an appointment.

The duty social worker told the court that Child A had never alluded to the fact that he did not do what he was told, however he had alluded to the fact he was having arguments with his mother but that he had not pushed her on the stairs.

The mother’s solicitor said to the duty social worker that hitting the mother and other two siblings was over and above “typical teenage behaviour”, with that and mitching off school, disrupting class, it was clear that he had a problem with authority. “Saying he is being beaten up is manipulating the situation and saying he is the victim when it is his mother who is the victim here,” said the solicitor.

The judge then remarked that the mother’s solicitor was not a professional with regards to behaviour and that this was a threshold application.

Child A’s school had referred him to Jigsaw, an organisation for teenage children with behavioural difficulties. His mother also had an appointment with the school in relation to promoting his welfare.

“Do you accept she’s been doing her best as a mother?” asked the solicitor.

“I can’t comment,” replied the duty social worker, “I only heard of the referral to Jigsaw last week.”

“Yes, but the referral letter was last February,” answered the solicitor for the mother. The social worker did not respond.

“You said my client hadn’t sought to see the children, she says she called the social work department several times to inquire where her children were and to see them,” said the mother’s solicitor.

“I can’t comment on out-of-hours contact over the weekend.”

“But you said it was a negative thing that she hadn’t sought access. She made several calls wanting to know where they were.”

The solicitor asked who was going to investigate the allegations against the mother. The duty social worker told the court that a subsequent interview would be carried out by the social work department, the GP, CAMHS, the school and any relevant parties that were deemed appropriate.

The allocated social worker

The allocated social worker told the court that her involvement had been to interview the boys two days’ previously. Child B had told her that they did not get slapped all the time, sometimes his Mum was nice and got them croissants and they did not get slapped when they went out on a day trip. His “house of dreams” was for his Mum to stop slapping him and to be nice to him and to have a normal life. He said it was like “a devil’s house” and disclosed some recent incidents but could not say what was in the build up to them or give a timeframe.

He described an incident of his Mum pulling his cheeks apart, causing them to split and bleed, throwing him on the bed and slapping him, and putting her hand over his mouth for 12 seconds.

He described his mother getting angry and breaking his sister’s Lego, ripping his sister’s t-shirt and said that “most of the time she gets angry for no reason”.

The social worker said she therefore had reasonable grounds to believe he had been assaulted. The impact of the type of emotional and physical abuse described could damage his relationship with his mother, lead to attachment difficulties, difficulties with peer relationships and future partners, coping skills and an inability to react properly to situations.

He had presented as quite free flowing and a little teary. She did not believe that Child B was being influenced by Child A with regard to the allegations but felt they required further investigation.

The solicitor for the mother asked the social worker if she had asked either child during the interview if they would like to see their mother, it was Monday and they had been in emergency foster care since Friday evening. The social work told the court that she had not asked them because it was her role to focus on the allegations they had made. The solicitor for the mother said it was quite an important question and it should have been asked, after all the children had not seen their mother since the previous Friday.

“Since [Child B] was a very young toddler he has been prone to very bad tantrums, screaming and shouting, rolling on the ground. She will say on Friday that [Child A] provoked him, he hit him and (Child B) had a tantrum, that he was screaming and uncontrollable. She was afraid that he would run out in front of a car,” said the mother’s solicitor.

“You seem to criticise her for going to the Garda station, she just happened to be near there at the time and sought assistance in the safest place possible.”

“In my opinion it’s an extreme thing to do,” replied the social worker.

“She has no network, there is an absentee father, she has no support, I feel you’re being harsh in criticising her, you’re overly harsh.”

The judge said this was for her to decide, that they could not change what had happened and they were at the threshold stage for an interim care order.

The mother

The mother told the court that both boys had a lot of anger and it was very hard to control them. “It takes so much stress out of me, I will sit and cry for one hour,” she said, adding that she was still on the waiting list for family therapy.

She said that her older son would blackmail her if she asked him to do anything around the house or tidy his room, telling her: “I don’t have to do anything you tell me to do, I will call TUSLA.” When she was working in a local supermarket, Child B told her that Child A had stolen three bars of chocolate from there over three separate occasions, so she had brought him into the supermarket and made him apologise.

From looking at his phone she had found out that Child A had seven email address and had been looking at explicit pictures on his phone which was why he had hit her the following day because she had confiscated his phone. She had contacted the Gardai because he had “boxed” her.

The incident that had brought her to the Garda station had come about when Child A had provoked Child B who had then thrown a tantrum, he had shouted that he was going to throw himself out onto the road and into the canal. She could not go home, Child B was trying to run out onto the road and when she had brought him into the Garda station he had tried to run away and kicked her on the shin. The Garda on duty had seen him pushing her and remarked that they had never seen anything like it.

She had overheard Child B say to one of the Gardai: “My brother said ‘don’t tell the Gardai what I’m doing to my mother at home’.”

The mother denied the allegations of hitting, slapping and pinching her children and denied that her children had to hide from her. She told the court there was a witness to one of the alleged incidents who could corroborate her account of how the two boys had been fighting out in the back garden, one of them had hurt the other one, causing his lip to bleed and it had not been her doing.

Her solicitor asked her if she had kicked Child A in the stomach and elbowed him as he had alleged over the phone incident. She told the court that she had not and that he would have been bruised if she had. She did agree that they shouted at each other. She said she had sought help so many times and the social work department were only calling her now.

She had sought help from TUSLA with regard to Child A and discipline. “He doesn’t accept authority,” his mother told the court. She did want him to come home but she wanted him to seek help, she said that his behaviour was unfair on his younger brother and sister and on herself and it was like a “madhouse with his carry-on, he needs help, he doesn’t have a male figure, he has a craving for a male figure.”

In cross-examination the mother told the court that her younger son had been assessed and diagnosed by a psychologist outside of the jurisdiction, it was at a time when they were living there for a while near her parents and he had been going to school. Child B had been diagnosed with ADHD.

The solicitor for the CFA pointed out that in Ireland ADHD was diagnosed by a psychiatrist and that it was the experience of the social worker when she had interviewed Child B that he was able to sit for an hour and was not presenting in a hyperactive way. The foster carers had not noticed it either.

The children’s mother replied that if Child B was provoked “he will go on fire… he’s gone,” that he could scream for over an hour.

Over the weekend she had phoned the out-of-hours service to request information on her children and to request access but had been told that for security reasons they could not inform her of where the children were. She had asked to speak to them and the social worker who had answered the phone had said she would see what she could do, had called her back the next day and told her that the children did not want to speak to her.

The duty social worker then told the court that she had tried to call the mother twice on Friday about the children and the mother had not answered. The mother told the court that she had sat by her phone all day and had no missed calls, her phone was with her as evidence.

The social worker said she had left a message that the social work department would be closed, the mother was adamant she had had no phone call.

Judge’s decision

In giving her decision the judge told the parties that the application was being dealt with under the provisions of the child care legislation and that it was important to go back to first principals. In any proceedings before a court, regard shall be had for the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration and due consideration and understanding should be given to the wishes of the child.

The court was not in the position of judging parents and that it was a matter of putting in place whatever orders or structures were required for the welfare of the child.

The primary objective of any child care proceeding is reunification, said the judge, with the family with or without the full supports needed.

“Having heard the evidence in relation to this case, I am satisfied that the balance of probabilities has been reached and the threshold has been obtained. I don’t know what is going on, to be fair she has admitted to having difficulties with the handling of [Child A and Child B], there are behavioural issues,” said the judge. She also said that the allegations would necessitate further examination and that the use of physical punishment was not permitted.

The interim care order was made under section 17.1 for a period of longer than 28 in order to allow a particular assessment to take place. The judge said that the mother would need to liaise with the social work department to discuss access.

When the case returned the following month the application was withdrawn by the CFA.