Interim Care Order granted for six children living without food or electricity – 2020vol1#18

The District Court granted an interim care order for six children who were living in dilapidated conditions with no food or electricity.

A witness from the Social Work Housing Division of Dublin City Council told the court that they had been involved with the family for some time. She told the court that they became involved as a result of a referral from the Environmental Health Division concerning the state of the family’s back garden.  She gave evidence that the aim of the Social Work Housing Division is to understand how the property came to be in a dilapidated state and then to support the family in maintaining the property.

She told the court that they found the home uninhabitable and that it was deemed to be unsafe. The court heard that Housing Division began a clean-up in 2018, however in 2019 rubbish began to accumulate again and in December 2019 a fire erupted in the front of the house following which the family were required to vacate the property. The council’s concern was that if anyone was in the house at the time of the fire, they would have found it difficult to escape due to the state of the premises. The witness said that during an inspection in 2019 the council found exposed live wires.

Prior to the fire, the family was advised that if they obtained a skip from community welfare, the Council would also provide a skip, however to date there was no evidence that the family tried to obtain a skip.

After the fire the house was boarded up and the council discussed opening up the house for the family to retrieve their belongings, however they received no response from the family.

The solicitor for the CFA asked the social worker to describe the condition of the family home. The social worker gave evidence that the house was dirty and that there was no electricity. Before Christmas 2019 the family had no food and no means of cooking a meal for the children and the situation had got worse.

The court also heard from a child and family development worker. She gave evidence that the mother struggled to get the children up and off to school in the morning. Child C was referred to pre-school. She gave evidence that the parents were difficult to contact as they had no phone and no emergency contact number. Weekly appointments were made with the mother, but because she had no phone, they had no option but to leave notes for her if she did not attend the arranged appointment.

The family development worker told the court that she herself did not attend the preschool every day but that she would be on the preschool bus twice a week. When she was on the bus, she observed that child C was usually dressed warmly, however her clothes often did not fit her and that they would have food stains on them. She told the court that child C’s face and hands were often dirty and that she had a persistent head lice problem. She also said that child C had both nits and active lice that was so severe it had caused irritation of her scalp that caused her to develop sores which had to be treated by a doctor. She said that these issues were discussed with the parents on numerous occasions, but that there was no engagement with home visits and missed visits were not rescheduled.

The court heard evidence from a doctor who provided a report for children B, D and E. She said that child E was referred to the public health nurse due to growth concerns when she was fifteen months old. When first examined the child was in the 0.4 percentile with a downward movement of weight which did not represent expected growth for a child her age. The doctor gave evidence that the child had previously been in hospital as an inpatient and had gained weight during that time.

The doctor gave evidence that child D was referred to paediatrics in 2018 with failure to thrive. Her weight was below 0.4 percentile and the doctors were very concerned. She said that in the absence of any medical reason for the child’s weight faltering the home environment would be considered as the reason for the child’s malnutrition. She told the court that a high protein energy diet with supplements were recommended for child D.

The doctor told the court that child B was referred by a public health nurse when he was 5 1/2 due to concerns about his growth. The doctor said that child B’s growth faltered from the 25th percentile to 0.4 percentile. She said the family did not engage at first. She gave evidence that in the absence of a medical cause for the child’s weight faltering her opinion was that his low weight was due to under-nutrition.

The doctor told the court that growth faltering can affect immunity, that it can result in short stature, and possibly cognitive impairment. She gave evidence that the family never engaged with the family support worker and that she had never met the father.

The social worker gave evidence that children A, B and F were referred to the education welfare office. She told the court that A and B never had their homework or school bag with them at school and that they often asked for extra food. The court heard that A was behind her peers and struggled with friendships. She said that the education welfare officer reported that the parents had not attended appointments with the school.

The social worker also gave evidence that Child F was very thin and that his clothes were too big for him. She told the court that he was often tired in class, that he always seemed hungry and that he had often asked if he could bring lunches home. She gave evidence that he was often absent and that he was behind in class and had difficulty concentrating.

She added that the previous social worker had recorded that on occasion the family had no food or electricity, so the social work department bought food for them.

She told the court on one occasion the mother had reported that the father had gone drinking with friends with all the welfare money. She said that the family were then given a food hamper and nappies. She also told the court that the mother did not get the supplements as recommended by the paediatrician.

The social worker told the court that the social work department was concerned about the weight of B and D and that the mother was told to present to Accident and Emergency but had failed to so so. She said that the mother smoked during pregnancy and that there were concerns that she had used cocaine while pregnant. The social worker told the court that the mother denied using cocaine while pregnant, however she said that there are reports that the parents were partying, drinking and using drugs. She said that the parents are difficult to contact and that there is no engagement with the family support worker. The interim care order was extended for four weeks.