A judge in a provincial city reserved his decision on an application to extend a Care Order for five years in respect of two children. Both parents were consenting to the extension. The consent was subject to the condition that the case be reviewed on a six monthly basis. The mother was not an Irish citizen.
The solicitor for the father stated that access was paramount and the father has been dissatisfied with access to date. No proposals were being made to vary the access plan in place at the moment. The father was not a position to care for the children at present. He was further dissatisfied with the diagnoses which had been made in respect of him. The diagnosis from the CFA doctor would be challenged by two consultant psychiatrists, his lawyer said.
The judge said that the father “did not like the diagnosis as it was affecting his access.” There was a history of threats and a feeling of being wronged by the diagnosis. The diagnosis affected the children and the access the father had with them. The judge said that it was “not the fact of the diagnosis but the threats that was a cause of concern.” There were multiple allegations of threats made by the father, including an allegation of maltreatment against the children. The father accepted that allegations had been made.
The judge stated that “access was managed and supervised due to the history of the threats.” It was alleged that the father was suffering from an illness. He was controlling especially with regard to money and had made several threats relating to burning houses.
The judge said that it was a “difficult diagnosis in that power was an issue.” He maintained that “power is not a diagnosis. A person may form the view that it is rational that they remain in control by making these threats. Insecurity made up for by threats, burning houses, giving the minimum amount of money, in order to stay in charge.” The solicitor for the father stated that the doctor had made the diagnosis and recommended that the father have supervised access with the children. The other doctors formed the opinion that the father’s behaviour was due to a period of depression and that he had made no threats since.
The judge stated when the Care Order was made the “threat was removed … the father may not have a psychological illness as opposed to a diagnosis. He wouldn’t do what he threatened to do because the integrity of his ego did not permit him to back down.” The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) stated that a short order would not give the children the necessary time to form bonds in order to develop into healthy adults. It was absent from the social worker’s report how the making of a shorter order would benefit the children, the children required “legal permanency.”
The father had an episode a year ago which necessitated the making of a Care Order. The dynamic of the relationship between the mother and father was difficult and both parents had to undergo therapy. The mother had a difficult upbringing in that she was “abandoned and suffered physical abuse.” Extensive work had been carried out with her and the mother observed that intensive therapeutic work was needed. The work explored the mother’s own experience of being parented.
She was engaging with the children but the mother had her own difficulties which needed to be addressed. She had undergone intensive therapy but that work had been unsuccessful. The mother and father were living together the previous year and there were high levels of stress in the home. The mother was coping with the father being dependent on her.
The guardian ad litem gave evidence. She stated that the placement had had a stabilising influence on the children. Both children had been referred for therapeutic intervention as they suffered from attachment disorder. The children were gradually becoming “open to sharing their feelings and anxieties.” She maintained that if the eldest child were to remain in her placement “she would be allowed to build relationships and the outcome will be far greater.”
The eldest child, of primary school age, was described as “bright, chatty, articulate and bubbly but she had a lot of worries for her young years.” She was described as “confused and conflicted”. The social worker maintained that she was “aware that things were not right and she was in need of a satisfactory base.”
The child was an angry child who took her anger out on her peers. “She was hyper vigilant of the mother and craved a family life. She had expressed feelings of wishing that she had never been born and questioned whether her parents ever loved her.” The GAL stated that the child had undergone four mental health examinations.
The children had been moved to live with their grandmother. However, that placement had failed. They spoke very little of their time with their grandmother. The eldest child described the placement as good until an incident which occurred on her birthday. She said that it was the “worst day of her life.” She was also distressed at the prospect of moving to another placement and told the social worker that she “did not understand how it felt to have to live with strangers.” Her attachment disorder was precipitated by her relationship with her mother.
The eldest child frequently described the mother as having “changed”. She was often stressed and was “very vigilant of the mother’s needs.” She was very eager to please her mother. The GAL explained that she had concern for the child’s well-being in that she was in need of support which she hadn’t received to date. She needed intensive assessment. The child was now in a secure placement. The GAL stressed that a short order would give the child a sense of focusing on going home. She stated that the child “would not understand an order for five years and such a short order may affect work with her, she needs a strong relationship.”
The judge asked what the appropriate placement would be for the children. The GAL stated that the eldest child was in need of legal permanency and that the CFA had denied the child legal permanency.
With regards to the younger child, there had been huge differences in her since she left her placement with her grandmother. The GAL expressed huge concerns about her attachment and relationship experiences. The child had been at home when the Emergency Care Order was made and it impacted on her. The child was stressed and angry at her mother and father. There had been improvements with the younger child in that she was undertaking play therapy. She was “focusing on being five years old instead of being consumed by her circumstances.”
The GAL was asked what signal the five year order would send to the children. She stated that the younger child would not understand what five years would mean. She stressed that both children were very loyal to their parents and loved them. They wished that they could be provided for by their parents. The children needed the permission of the mother to agree to the five year order.
The GAL said that she agreed with a Care Order but struggled with the idea of an order for a five year period. She said that “a limited order could affect the children’s relationships.
They needed to develop into healthy adults.”
The judge asked what was the source of the problem. The CFA doctor had said after initial tests in 2011 that there was no serious problem. Only when the older child presented with difficulties in 2013 were there serious concerns raised, leading to the Care Order application. The GAL replied the social work department had huge concerns relating to the father and his threats. He had no insight into his problems or into parenting.
Following a two-week adjournment of the case the CFA doctor, who was recommending supervised access, gave evidence of the father first coming to his attention in 2011, when he received treatment for mental illness. While in hospital he made reference to the children, and there was a social work referral and a risk assessment.
The doctor thought his mood was low but that he was not clinically depressed. “He has a depressive disorder, which is in remission, plus a borderline personality disorder, an antisocial personality disorder,” he said.
He said the father had improved significantly due to receiving psychotherapy. His (the doctor’s) role had always been in relation to risk assessment and to support his treating doctor. The father had expressed concern for the welfare of the children while he felt suicidal, he felt the mother would not be able to care for them if he went.
He said the borderline personality disorder had improved significantly and there had been no suicidal ideation for a considerable time. However, the doctor said he was still concerned about his relationship ability. When he was with the mother the relationship was characterised by control, she was often very afraid. This type of personality disorders arose when a person had very punitive parenting or had suffered trauma. “People have huge difficulty in dealing with any challenge to their self-esteem or what they regard as disrespect.”
He said the reports from the other psychiatrists were very good, but did not contain risk assessments. When one looked at the father’s history, it showed that when he was under financial pressure or pressure in his marriage there were crises. The impact could be catastrophic for the children. He said he would need to see at least five years’ stability before considering re-integrating the family. He did not support unsupervised access at the moment.
The father’s solicitor said that he was now retracting certain things he had said in the past.
He says he never had a gun and never went to the home of his daughter’s friend and threatened the child’s mother.
The doctor said the issue was not whether or not he had a gun, the fact he said he had a gun showed a real empathy problem. “When he describes the incident there is a lack of remorse, empathy, understanding. The fact that he said this before and is now retracting it indicates significant instability.” He said that while the father had made significant progress in relation to his depressive disorder, he still exhibited anti-social personality disorder, especially with regard to professionals.
Solicitor: “If he has a relational issue with the professionals, is that in itself a risk to the children?”
Doctor: “The stability of the care system for the children is what I’m concerned about.” Asked why the father was referred for therapy, he said it was because of the clear anger expressed towards one of the social workers and towards his siblings and the threat to burn down their houses.
Solicitor: “He never followed through on that.”
Doctor: “I accept that. But it shows a pattern of thinking. The choice of retribution is very, very serious – to burn down someone’s house. I put to him that there be young children in the house and he said he would try to warn the children, but would still burn down the house. He did have a very difficult childhood, he was bullied by his brothers, he never went into more details.”
Asked about his diagnosis in 2013 and 2014 he said that every time the father expressed concern for his children’s future along with suicidal ideation, he feared he would take the children with him.
He said he was also concerned the father could de-stabilise the care arrangements for the children. Asked by the judge how supervision would assist in the stabilisation of the children’s placement, he said monitoring the visits would support the father in maintaining his progress.
The solicitor said the father was not looking for anything dramatic, just a relaxation of the access regime with less intense supervision.
Asked about the GAL’s position that there should be orders until the children were 18, he said he thought five years was proportionate, it would allow five years of information in order to plan the next five years and see five years of sustained recovery. He wanted the father to have hope and thought five years was reasonable to protect the children and give hope to the father.
The judge said he had a difficulty in that problems emerged in 2011 and the children were left at home and nothing happened. Should they have been left in the house?
“My concerns developed over time,” the doctor said. “There were events in 2013 and 2014.”
A psychiatrist called on behalf of the father said he had read the CFA doctor’s report and interviewed the father. He found him quite open. “People with personality disorders are usually very cold.” He said the father had had a very troubled upbringing. He had a difficult relationship with his father and brothers and was a victim of sexual abuse. In relation to the threats to his brothers, there was an older brother he had difficulties with.
He had had a reasonably successful career, where he met his wife. Then the business got into trouble and he lost his job. There was a crisis, he became depressed. He said he had started to resolve some of the issues he had.
Asked about the diagnosis of personality disorder, he said that during hospitalisation a person’s behaviour can be different to what it normally is. In relation to the suicide threats, he said that obviously this was a very sensitive situation when children were involved.
Asked what his diagnosis would be, he said it would be a depressive disorder. There was obviously a personality issue there. “There is a spectrum. I don’t have all the information [the CFA doctor] has.”
Asked whether he had seen anything in the father’s behaviour that would pose a risk to the children, he said: “Apart from the remark around suicide, No. In relation to unsupervised access, I don’t see any risk factor there, other than the suicide threat.” The CFA solicitor said the father showed a lot on anger around the children being in care.
Did he think this was normal?
“I have not had the experience of my children being taken off me. How do you define a normal reaction to that?” the psychiatrist asked.
Asked if he could be sure there was no risk, he said no-one could ever be 100 per cent sure.
The father’s treating psychiatrist then gave evidence. He said he was dealing with the father since 2011. He was in a voluntary programme and had consistently identified a motivation to change and build a relationship with his children. The programme of therapy was specifically designed for people with personality disorders, looking at their childhood and adolescent experiences.
He had had difficulty in attaching to his parents and had suffered abuse. As an adult when he perceived other people opposing him it acted as a bridge to his own past abuse and he showed a lot of aggression. He was working on more adaptive coping skills. Particularly over the past 16 months there had been a significant amount of change. He met siblings with whom he had historical disagreements in the past.
Asked about the structure of the therapy sessions, he said that they tried to explore the basis for the problems, looking at how people developed coping strategies. The father’s strategy was to be powerful and stand up for himself. The solicitor asked if he felt angry and embarrassed about not being able to protect himself when he was younger and was now conceptualising what he would have liked to have done.
The psychiatrist agreed and said he found it difficult to move away from that response, but he had now moved away from it. He had faced a number of stressful situations and had coped differently.
He told the father’s solicitor he had no significant child protection concerns about unsupervised access, the father had made significant progress.
The judge said he would review all the evidence he had heard and give his decision later.