Interim care order on consent for child in care since birth; placement questioned after sexual content found on child’s iPad; judge seeks agency review of case – 2024vol1#8

An interim care order was made and later extended for a girl (B) who had been in voluntary care since birth, where her mother had previously been found to lack capacity. An older sibling (A)was also in care. The court was also informed that there was an issue in relation to finding an appropriate long-term placement for her. This followed concerns about her abuse in her foster placement, where concerns had first been raised in 2017. The judge said the Child and Family Agency (CFA) should review the child’s treatment in foster care.

The father was present in court but the mother was not however, she had been served with the papers for the court hearing. The court was told that the father was consenting to the interim care order for the child as he was not in a position to care for her. The father welcomed the support of the guardian ad litem (GAL) and welcomed the court oversight and the court was informed that he had a good relationship with both the social worker and the GAL.

The judge said the care experience for child B had been disturbing. The child was now in another placement which was supportive of her needs.

It was noted that access had recommenced since the end of 2023 and discussions were ongoing as to how that would work. The court heard that there was a long history and involvement with the social work department and that the reports were very disturbing.

The social worker said she had engaged with the mother since the start and had met her a few times and had spoken with her on the day of the court hearing however, the mother was dealing with a personal matter and she was not in a position to care for the child. The court heard that the mother needed support herself and in addition she was dealing with domestic violence issues. She was receiving help in obtaining legal aid.

She said there were a number of concerns including emotional abuse and a history of domestic violence with the foster carer. The foster father had left the home but the carer struggled to manage. Respite was recommended and when the child went to respite, images on the child iPad were discovered in the form of memes and adult sexual imagery and they found images of child B in a dog cage with the dog cage door locked.

The court was told that child B currently remained in the respite placement. A decision had been made to seek an alternative placement but for now she was still in the respite placement. The court was told child B had a diagnosis of autism and had a cognitive assessment which indicated possible ADHD. She had demonstrated some sexualised behaviour and she had been linked in with a pediatrician for a forensic medical exam. The parents consented and the examination took place. There were no physical signs of any abuse. The court was told that she would be seen by the therapeutic side also and a further meeting had been scheduled to take place.

The social worker said that she felt the threshold was met and that the ICO should be granted.

The social worker also said that she had been notified that day that the Garda investigation was not proceeding any further, but that she had not yet received any written report. She said that two separate Garda stations had been involved in conducting investigations and both of them had closed their files.

She said it had been agreed that child B was not to be returned to her foster placement and since child B moved out of the foster placement another child aged 17 and a half had also moved out of the foster home and back to their own birth home.

The social worker said that child B was receiving occupational therapy but that she needed speech and language therapy. The CFA would fund any therapies and follow up on assessments. The social worker said that the next focus was play therapy and that they had somebody in mind to conduct that therapy.

In relation to sibling access, she said a decision had not yet been made. Child A was down for a placement move but there was no place for child A where child B currently was.

The judge said that this was an ICO application where a social worker had been allocated in October 2023, where previously none had been allocated. He said that significant progress had happened since this social worker took over. He said the report was upsetting, stark and disturbing.

He said an agency review of the management of the case regarding child B was specifically required. Children are placed in care and the child had been in the care of the State and all of these issues had happened. He said it could not be allowed to take place again. He asked: “Are the agency reviewing this case?”. He said it was shocking, the facts only came to light by chance and it could not continue, the CFA needed to establish what happened.

He said on the next court date he wanted to know what had happened in relation to the review.

GAL’s evidence

The GAL had prepared a report in advance. She had read the files and the foster files and she was disturbed by what she had read. The first concern had been raised in 2017 in relation to the foster placement. She said TUSLA had taken some steps but had not alleviated the issues and had actually added to them.

There had been evidence of controlling behavior on behalf of the foster father. There had been an extraordinary lack of oversight regarding the historical decisions. Historically there had been a written decision by the guardian and a written decision by the CFA. She said the now social work team were strong advocates for the children and were now looking for alternative placements. Both investigations had closed. She said from her view it was not appropriate to close off the file following the initial review, she would discuss the matter with TUSLA.

She said child B’s placement was meeting her needs. It was nice to see the children together. They shared their iPad and food and they had a loving relationship due to their bond. She said she was supporting the application and she was satisfied that the assessments needed were being followed up on.

The judge asked: “Are you satisfied you can for now deal with the follow-ups?” She agreed that she could deal with them for now.

There was an advocate present in court for the father. The judge summarised the case and said that the child B had been in care since birth under a voluntary care arrangement. He said he had the opportunity to review the reports and on the basis of the information contained he was satisfied that the threshold was met and he granted an interim care order for 28 days.

He said that there were a number of issues to be addressed which for now would be between the GAL and the CFA. He said an update on the review of the circumstances child B found herself in was required and some written decision as to why they had reached their decision. He said clarity was to be provided on the sibling access plan and on the sibling placement plan and he said the plans were to be put in writing for the father.

Subsequent hearing

When this case came back before the court two months later the court was told that the report from the HSE, which had been contacted about a placement for B in the light of her special needs, and which was due the previous day, had only just been received.

No social work report was available as the social worker had had to take urgent compassionate leave.

The mother was not present but the CFA solicitor said she was consenting to the extension of the interim care order for B. The case of A, already in care, was reviewed.

Team leader evidence

The team leader reported that child A was doing well and had transitioned well into his new placement. A weekly professionals’ meeting was taking place to monitor the transition. It was early days as he had only moved 10 days previously. She said child A had had contact with his father. The siblings shared the same respite placement and the social work department wanted to support sibling contact and have organised, structured outings.

She said child B still needed an interim care order. She told the court that child B remained in her respite placement. It was hoped she would get a certain long-term placement but she told the court they had just heard she was not getting the place they thought was available for her. The team leader said that they would like both siblings placed together but that child B’s needs had to take priority.

The type of placement being considered for child B was a stand-alone unit. A meeting had taken place and it was felt that the proposal on the table would not meet her needs. The service provider had completed an assessment of B at the end of 2023 and she had some concerning behaviours though she was not currently presenting with those behaviours. Unfortunately, nothing was secured at the present time.

The team leader agreed with the father’s solicitor that there was a strong bond with the father and that structured access was needed, it was confirmed that the father continued to have access. She confirmed that child B needed a social story and that she needed to re-establish contact with other family members.

The solicitor for the GAL went over the GAL’s recommendations and it was agreed that a specialist had been recommended for the cognitive assessment; that regular meetings were to take place (fortnightly) and that the HSE was to attend care plan meetings.

In relation to the Garda investigation, the CFA had received a response from one of the Garda investigations and it said that the referral was closed. The rationale for this was sent and was to be circulated. Regarding the second Garda investigation, the team leader said she had followed it up some weeks earlier but it would be chased up again for a written response.

The judge noted that the service provider assessment was due the following week and that a follow up meeting was scheduled.

In relation to the Garda investigation, he said that the letter received should be circulated and he noted that the second Garda report was awaited.

He said that the Terms of Reference for the CFA internal review that was required in relation to their handling of the case was also to be circulated.

He also asked that family access for the child’s birthday be organised for the father and the two siblings.

He acknowledged that the letter from the HSE only received on the day of the court hearing had not yet been digested. He said he would list the case for mention in two weeks’ time on the basis the author of the letter was going on maternity leave and the court might need to hear from her prior to that. A witness summons should issue for her attendance.

The judge noted that the GAL was supporting the application and that a long-term placement for child B was required. He said the HSE needed to attend the meetings. He asked that the Garda update be provided and that the second garda station was to be chased up.

When the case came back to court for a further extension of the interim care order an affidavit sworn by the social worker referred to the Garda investigation, however there was no update provided by the Gardai in relation to any investigation into the previous foster carer.

The court allowed the in camera rule to be lifted to allow the GAL to write to the Garda Superintendent and the Gardai involved in the investigations in order to get an update on the investigation into the previous foster placement. An update is to be provided to the court on the next date.