The judge in a rural town granted an application from the Child and Family Agency (CFA) to extend a three-month supervision order for two brothers, A and B, for a further three months. Child A, a teenager, has a diagnosis of autism and child B was preschool age and attended a creche. Both parents represented themselves and opposed the extension. This was among four child care cases in a general family law list.
The social worker told the court A had told his special needs assistant (SNA) he witnessed his father using domestic violence against his mother and that his father had hit him on the back of his head. The school told the CFA and its duty social worker called to the school and met the child who repeated his worries. The duty social work team tried to engage with the mother who was reluctant, and no further progress had been made in speaking with A. Were the supervision order not in place, the social worker told the court he would have concerns about any significant engagement on the mother’s part.
The CFA solicitor told the court he was seeking to extend the Supervision Order as the CFA had not completed a child protection assessment. The parents told the CFA that the older child did not want to talk to them. He said the CFA had difficulty getting into the children’s home even with appointments.
The social worker said the extension of the supervision order would provide space for A to express his feelings and round off the assessment. “There had been no new referrals, but the voice of the child had not been obtained. [It was] not good to move forward without that.” he said. The main concerns were the impact of domestic violence on the children. There had been meetings with the parents and efforts to engage and observe the home, but the mother had been reluctant, he said, and spoke of A’s reluctance to meet staff since he shared his concern. The mother had said the father had moved out but the father had been found to be present at the home.
The CFA held a child protection conference which both parents attended. Both children were placed on the child protection notification system (CPNS). The social worker said that, to the mother’s credit, she had brought forward a support network of people who were informed of the concerns and a safety plan had been put in place. This involved her two sisters who were present in court, which was a strength in itself, he said. The father did not want to involve his family in the network, the social worker said. Both children were doing well in school and creche, the social worker said.
Both parents put questions to the social worker and gave evidence themselves when invited to do so by the judge. The mother said the social work interview at A’s school was illegal and the CFA had caused the family hardship for 13 months. She asked the social worker why the CFA had been asking the parents to bring the children down to their offices and did not speak to them on the day of the child protection conference and why A had been left in a corridor on his own.
The social worker said the purpose of the meeting was to share the social work report with the parents before the child protection conference. He said the parents did not agree with the social work report, the meeting had become fraught and was not a suitable place for the children.
The social worker when asked by the father confirmed that he was aware the parents had filed a complaint about the CFA and his colleague’s behaviour in the case with the Ombudsman for Children.
The father said the CFA had driven a wedge in his family. “We want to be left alone to look after our kids. I don’t want an argument.” he said.
The mother told the court there had been no violence, but there had been an argument which she regretted, and this would never happen again. She said she did not accept A told the SNA he was so upset he wanted to kill himself or that his father was a bully and hit him in the back of his head. The mother said the social worker illegally questioned the child and the school principal had apologised since and said the school should have told the parents before the social worker spoke to A and there was supposed to be family support. Both parents said the social worker had pressurised and coerced A into his disclosure.
When asked by the judge the father in evidence denied he hit A.
Judge: “I’m asking you the same question, did you hit A. Are you saying he is making it up?”
Father: “[I have] no idea why he would say that. It was a verbal argument. No one was hit. Over the last year we have been dragged through meetings. It resulted in the break up of our relationship. I live at a different address.”
Judge: “This case will not be won or lost on an address but on what A says about his father. ‘He shouts, screams, hurts me and my brother and punched me in the back of my head.’”
The judge said he was fully satisfied to extend the supervision order for a further three months. There were significant issues which were impacting the children. He also gave liberty for the CFA to bring a barring order should that be necessary and urged the mother and father to work with the CFA.
At the end of the hearing the father said the only people working together were the judge and the CFA. The mother said she would appeal the judge’s decision and that she had not got a fair hearing.