Parental consent to sport lessons dispensed with – 2013vol3#9

In the District Court a judge dispensed with the consent of a teenager’s parents under section 47 of the Child Care Act, for their daughter, who was in care, to take sport lessons. The parents, who attended the hearing without legal representation, had refused to give their consent to the lessons.

At the outset the judge explained to the parents that they were entitled to legal representation, and said it was in their interest to have legal advice, also in light of what may happen in the future in terms of Care Orders or legal issues that arise out of section 47 applications. He told them they were not obliged to consent to anything. If they did not consent he would hear evidence, if they did consent he would grant the section 47 and interim Care Order applications.

He said he would apply the basic legal principal “that the welfare and interest of the child are paramount”.

He also told the couple that they did not have to act together, if one of them wanted legal representation they were entitled to apply for it. However they both restated they did not wish to have legal representation.

The social worker told the court that it would be positive for the teenager to attend these classes. It would be good for her to meet other like-minded young people on social terms and on a team level, for discipline and for focus. She had participated in it before, she wanted to do it.

The parents were concerned about the level of aggression in the sport and the child learning techniques that could be used in an aggressive way. The social worker said the discipline prepared children with coping mechanisms to avoid violence and confrontation. The child felt it was important for her voice to be heard, she liked the sport. She had last participated in it over three years ago and had spent six years doing it with her parents’ consent. She had never used her skills in an inappropriate way.

The father told the court that while living at home, his daughter had drawn blood clawing her own body and had also attacked her mother twice. “Our daughter is the type of girl who has an extremely aggressive mentality, she has suicidal tendencies, she has violent tendencies,” he said. He said it was not morally right to equip a child with the type of ability the sport would provide.

Had she ever attacked anyone using these skills, the judge asked him. The father replied she had not.

“What difference would her having these skills make to her being likely to attack?” said the judge. He said he was analysing it on the basis what contribution this sport would make.

Their parental rights since she had gone into the care of the HSE were dismissed, the father told the judge. He felt this was a dangerous sport and the girl should not become any more skilled in it since she had changed.

The judge said however that with more skills in the sport came more ethos – and the ethos of the sport was that one would only use it in self-defence or the defence of others.

The father told him his daughter would not go for therapy in the proposed clinic for child and adolescent mental health, that nothing had changed. The judge said that there could be a change now.

“Our child is a ferocious liar, she takes things and twist them…we have resigned ourselves to the fact that our daughter no longer wants to be a member of our family,” said the father.

The solicitor for the guardian ad litem asked the social worker how a child with aggressive tendencies gets on in a martial art. The social worker said they honour the ethos and learn to respect it quite quickly, they progress in areas such as discipline, motivation and diet. It channelled frustration, the child had not self-harmed in a while. The GAL solicitor said if her voice was listened to it would enhance her self-esteem.

The GAL told the court that the teenager said the sport helped her to feel better and keep busy. She felt her parents did not want her to have what she enjoyed. She had never used her skills outside of class or when her Dad had hit her. There was no indication that she had physically hurt anybody. She did not feel reunification with her parents was an option.

The GAL said that the parents declined to meet with her when she was appointed to the case, but she had offered them another appointment.

The judge extended the ICO under consent without prejudice. He asked the father how long he would like the order extended for, as it was under consent. However the father said it was immaterial to them how long it was extended for. The judge said it appeared there was a very serious breakdown in the relationship between the parents and the child and suggested the case come back in 28 days so the GAL could meet with the child and hearing dates could then be set.

The judge dispensed with the consent of the parents in order to allow the child to start the lessons, but he said it was a matter that would be kept under review.

“On balance if a child shows an interest in a sport that requires attendance and physical activity … it is very unlikely is can be anything other than an asset going forward,” he said. “It is unfortunate that it has come to this and the court has to make an order of this nature.”

Lastly, the judge explained to the parents that because they had no legal representation, they had no right to obtain the social work reports, due to a High Court decision in another case, but that they could see them if they wished prior to the next hearing, in the presence of a solicitor and then hand them back.