Parental access visits denied amid allegations of sexual abuse – 2016vol2#13

See follow up Vol 1 of 2018: Judgment awaited three months after care order hearing concludes

See also Vol 2 of 2017: Allegations of sexual assault at the heart of care order hearing for three children

See also Vol 1 of 2017: Interim Care Orders extended for three children due to sex abuse allegations

An extension for an Interim Care Order was granted in relation to two school-age children and their sibling, a new born child, who had entered care under an Emergency Care Order the previous week. The parents opposed the order and were supported by a translator during the court proceedings in a rural District Court.

The older children have been in care since June 2014 and made disclosures of sexual abuse by their parents in December 2015. In January and February 2016 the children were interviewed by An Garda Síochána. They continued to make disclosures of neglect suffered while in the care of their parents. The social worker said that the children continued to present with behaviour that was of concern and had been seen by a doctor. Concerns include toilet-related humour and behaviour and bed wetting which resumed around the time of the disclosures and of a chance encounter with the parents. The children attend an afterschool programme during the week and were enjoying it and were seeing a play therapist on a weekly basis.

At a subsequent hearing the social worker told the court that she and the psychologist had had an initial consultation with a specialist unit for child sexual abuse to discuss how best to meet the children’s therapeutic needs and a further meeting was planned for the following week. The social worker was also due to meet with the Gardaí for the first time the following week to discuss if and how the DVDs of the children could be provided to the court and thus relied on for evidence in a Care Order application. The judge noted that the CFA had been allowed to view the DVDs but they have “not been released in any way, shape or form”. The GAL noted that there is a need for clarity on how, and if, the DVDs would be used as evidence.

An access visit had not taken place between the children and their parents since the allegations of sexual abuse were made in December 2015. Counsel for the father queried when access would be resumed and expressed concern that there was no timeline for its resumption. The social worker said that access would be suspended until a psychological assessment was complete. However, on being questioned the social worker admitted that she did not know how long such an assessment would take to complete as she had never requested such a report before.

The GAL had been appointed to work with all three children. The GAL met with the children and recommended that the CFA put in place over the summer a support plan for the children and co-ordinated all the therapies and supports they needed. During questioning, the GAL expressed dissatisfaction that the investigation was not being done expeditiously. She acknowledged the delays in relation to accessing the specialist unit and the lack of clarity between the care proceedings and the criminal investigation.

The Judge noted that the recommendation was that the interviews with the children in relation to their disclosures would be done jointly by the Gardaí and the CFA. However, he commented that this did not take place and now the CFA did not want to subject the children to a second round of interviews, hence they were seeking a copy of the DVDs.

Counsel for the father expressed concerns that the children were using vulgar language in the English language. A question was raised as to where the child could have learned such language, given that English was not the language they spoke at home with their parents. The social worker responded by saying the children had now been in foster care for two years and were making significant progress, the vulgar language referred to reflected previous neglect at home.

The mother’s barrister expressed concern that the children were not properly supervised in the foster home. She cited an incident where the boy took scissors from his afterschool programme back to the foster home and cut his own hair. The social worker admitted this incident did happen but said that the children were “closely monitored”.

The parents opposed the application for the ICO and also an application to join the infant child to the proceedings of the older two children. The applications in relation to access and to the Interim Care Order were adjourned to a later date in July. The judge granted the extension of the Interim Care Order and adjourned the other applications orders until the next hearing date.

The Interim Care Order was extended at the next hearing and came before the court again two months later with a further request to extend the ICO in respect of the three children, which was granted. A Garda Sergeant provided an update on the criminal case, she said the investigation was focusing on a number of people and was in its closing stages. She hoped that the file would be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) within the next two months.

The social work team leader testified that the threshold for the ICO continued to exist for all three children. She said a psychologist would complete a full credibility assessment without re-interviewing the children “to a great extent” as she can use the Garda DVDs. The social worker had also organised for a second psychologist to assist in the undertaking of this assessment. The second psychologist is experienced, well respected and highly acclaimed in the child protection field.

Importantly, she said the psychologist speaks the same mother tongue as the parents which will ensure that their right to be assessed in their own language is met. An application was granted to lift the in camera rule to allow the second psychologist to review relevant social work and GAL reports. The first psychologist is currently a CFA employee so no such order was required for her to access the documentation. The credibility assessment should be completed before Christmas, the social worker said. The psychologists would present the allegations made by the children to the parents verbally – the parents do not need to see the DVDs for the assessment to proceed.

The barristers for the parents raised concerns about the suspension of access between the parents and the older children and that there was no date for a care order application, no credibility assessment and no family reunification plan. Also the children were initially taken into care on allegations of neglect but a proper parental capacity assessment was never undertaken in the language of the parents.

The barrister for the mother said clarity was needed on the availability of the DVDs. The Gardaí said they has no problem with the CFA seeing the DVDs but he was not sure if the DVDs would be admissible in evidence as the parents had not been given access to them. He said the parents had a constitutional right to see the DVDs so they could be in a position to defend themselves. The Judge said he was happy for the Gardaí to release the DVDs to the CFA but not to the parents. He said the parents would get access to the DVDs before the full Care Order hearing.

A meeting with the specialist unit did not go well so another meeting was held and the court heard the specialist unit would provide further consultation to the social work team. The unit was not providing therapeutic support to the children nor was it providing the social work team with advice on the issue of access. The unit would not accept a referral for the children given their geographical location. Instead they said such a referral would be referred back to the local paediatrician who is suitably qualified.

The social worker informed the court that she is waiting for the report of the paediatrician who undertook an assessment of the children. The CFA acknowledged that it was now five months since he carried out the assessment and that constituted a long wait for the report. The mother’s barrister said there was an urgency to get to see this report. The judge directed the social worker to write to the paediatrician to seek the report and to indicate that he may need to attend court to explain the delay.

The CFA confirmed that they are currently not looking at family reunification given the seriousness of the allegations made. In relation to complaints from the parents’ barristers about the suspension of access, the CFA said the allegations were of a very serious nature and were in her opinion very credible. She said you don’t usually have “such specific disclosures with so much detail from children of this age”. The disclosures are very specific and very consistent. The children were displaying disturbed, sexualised and aggressive behaviour. A piece of work would need to be done with the children before re-introducing access.

The social worker said that she could not say “when and how we will introduce access to the parents.” She said that the parents did not listen to her. There were concerns that the parents would seek to interfere with the investigation. It was stated that the psychologist would provide specialist input to assist the CFA in determining the issue of parental access with the older children.

The social worker stated that the psychologist had said there was “no way the children should be having access” and had suggested the parents write to the children. The social worker met with the children to give them the letters written by their parents. The CFA and the GAL said they had no objection to the parents sending letters to the children or the children sending letters to the parents.

The parents had supervised access visits with their infant daughter five times a week. The CFA was seeking to assess if this level of access was in the child’s best interest as it involves a disruption to her routine – she needed to be woken to go to the access visit. They were looking for an expert to give them support with this issue.

In terms of the children’s placement, the social worker stated that they were exploring the long term viability of the current foster placement. The foster family had other young children and the two older children now in their care have “very high needs”. The children displayed sexualised behaviour, could be hard to manage and needed a lot of therapeutic work. She said the children had respite care during the summer which went well and that family was interested in potentially fostering. The CFA confirmed that they had no plan regarding a placement change but wanted to flag the issue. The barrister for the GAL said that any change of placement would need to be “properly considered by the CFA”.

The court was informed that the parents had objected to a photo of their children appearing on Facebook. The social worker confirmed that a photo of the foster family’s children including the children in care had been posted to Facebook but had now been taken down. It was agreed that it was not appropriate for the foster family to post such a photo.

The social worker also informed the court that an allegation was made that the parents gave tablets to the children. The foster carers removed the tablets from the children and the Gardaí are investigating the matter.

The judge said that the children first entered care under a voluntary arrangement in June 2014 and 18 months later they made very serious allegations of sexual abuse. The case would have been brought to a conclusion before now except for these allegations which came to the fore barely nine months ago and the case had been complicated by an ongoing Garda investigation.

The case was adjourned.