A Care Order until 18 was granted for a young child whose two maternal aunts had already been taken into care. The child had already been taken into care on foot of an Emergency Care Order when she was only 13 days old.
The parents were not contesting the application and neither parent was legally represented or present in court. The only parties in court were the Child and Family Agency (CFA) social workers and their legal representatives and the guardian ad litem (GAL) and her legal representatives. The GAL supported the application, but was questioning the circumstances by which the child care came into care in the first place, and remained in care. As a result the case took x days.
The father was a foreign national who had expressed his view that he did not intend to care for the child. The court heard that the family had lived in many places which had included a number of women’s refuges in different countries.
During the course of the hearing it became clear that the GAL was questioning the circumstances by which the child came into care in the first place and remained in care. This issue became a dominant source of contention between the CFA and the GAL and the parties eventually agreed to refer the circumstances by which the child came into and stayed in care to an independent review.
The GAL told the court that she believed that no opportunity was afforded to the young mother to form a relationship with social workers before her baby was taken into care. She said that the duty of a social worker is to balance needs and to know when to act and said that she did not think that the child’s needs were adequately assessed. It was the opinion of the GAL that an adequate parenting capacity assessment had not been carried out.
The older girls had come into care when their sister (the baby’s mother) had made disclosures to the social services about physical violence in the home. The baby’s grandmother had later contacted social workers to express her concern at her daughter’s pregnancy and ability to care for her baby. Further investigations by social workers were completed and soon after the mother gave birth the baby was taken into care. The court heard that the mother’s younger sisters had made statements to social workers that their mother (the baby’s grandmother) had beaten the young mother (her daughter) at least weekly when she was pregnant.
The court heard that the grandmother had told the social services that she thought her daughter suffered from serious mental health difficulties. This remained speculation and was not confirmed by any of the medical professionals that saw the mother.
The mother herself seemed to believe that she was suffering from a disability and told a social worker that she believed that she would not be able to live independently after she gave birth. The court heard that the grandmother was often dominant in meetings when the baby’s mother was meeting social workers. A clinical psychologist described the sinister effect of the mother’s influence on the daughter as “quite pernicious”.
The court heard that the grandmother had invited a homeless man to come into the family home (that she shared with her three daughters) and sleep on the couch. The grandmother had allegedly asked the man to leave the house after she caught him going upstairs at night in his underpants as she felt it was his intention to abuse one of the children.
The court also heard that the young mother had allegedly been seriously sexually assaulted by a family member a number of years previously and that the same person had followed her and stalked her for a period of time after he left the family home. There was also an allegation that the same person had threatened to physically harm the young mother when she was pregnant. One doctor confirmed that the mother was suffering from an emotionally unstable personality disorder but was not suffering from schizophrenia, as had been alleged by the girl’s mother.
The court heard that when the social services sought and were granted an Emergency Care Order in respect of the two younger girls, social workers encouraged the young mother, who was the older sister of these girls, to move out of the family home and move into a women’s refuge. Evidence was given that, upon giving birth, the young mother went straight to a women’s refuge where she had stayed previously. The court was also told that when the young woman was in hospital giving birth nobody came to visit her. A clinical psychologist described this situation as “sad and dreadful”.
It was during this time that social workers were trying to persuade the young mother not to return to her mother’s home as they believed that it was not a safe place for a newborn baby to be brought to. Social workers gave evidence of the young mother returning to the house of her own mother (the grandmother of the baby) on a number of occasions.
A social worker gave evidence of the two younger girls describing various men that their mother brought through the house and that some of these people “do bad things”. One of the girls had apparently described being knocked against a wall by one of these men. When asked what she took from these descriptions, a social worker said that she got the impression that they were living in a house where they were sometimes afraid and that she thought they were being subjected to inappropriate sexual behavior. “We got the impression they were living in an unsafe environment.”
A clinical psychologist told the court, in relation to the issue of men coming in and out of the house, that this denoted a lack of boundaries and where this is happening the potential of picking up someone with predatory tendencies is much higher.
The court heard that an Emergency Care Order was sought and granted after the baby was discovered to have a bump to her head, acquired while he was in the refuge. Asked whether applying for the ECO was a matter of last resort, a social worker replied that it was and that she believed there was no other option.
The social worker said that the concern about the baby’s safety stemmed from the fact that the baby was regularly being brought back to the grandmother’s house, which was, in the eyes of the social work department, unsafe. This, combined with the bang to the baby’s head, precipitated the application for an Emergency Care Order. The court heard that teen parenting programmes and supported lodgings were discussed as alternatives to taking the baby into care but that the young mother was not amenable to these suggestions as the only place she wanted to live was with her mother.
The court heard that, after the baby was taken into care, the mother’s attendance at access deteriorated and that the mother, when asked why this had occurred, had said that she felt she had no chance of getting the baby back. The barrister for the GAL, when cross-examining a social worker, said that it appeared that there was no proper planning for the young mother at the time she was being discharged from hospital.
The court heard that the social work department felt that the house was not safe and that the girl’s mother was physically and emotionally abusive. The social workers had suggested that if the young mother wanted to see her mother (the baby’s grandmother) they could meet at the refuge but the staff at the refuge had not allowed this as the mother was the alleged perpetrator of domestic violence.
The barrister for the GAL said that while she was recommending a full Care Order that was not the end of the matter. She said that it was hugely important for the child’s development, welfare and psychological needs to know how it came about that he was removed from his mother at 13 days old. She went on to say that there was no alternative to a Care Order being made but that it was incumbent on the court to inquire into the circumstances by which the child came into and stayed in care. She said that this was important for the child’s life story work further down the line.
The judge, in making his decision, made a number of observations. The judge stated that he was satisfied that the criteria under section 18(1)(c) of the 1991 Act had been met and that it was his belief that a Supervision Order would not be sufficient. The judge also said that the court accepted as a matter of fact that the mother loves the child and that she had demonstrated this on a number of occasions. He went on to say that the mother was a victim of the environment that she grew up in and found that as a matter of fact she was a victim of emotional and physical abuse and neglect by her mother.
The judge recognised the courageous actions of the mother in reporting certain matters to the social services which resulted in her own two sisters coming into care. The court found that it would be in the mother’s interests to avail of appropriate therapeutic interventions and services to assist her in coping with the consequences of the emotional abuse and neglect perpetrated on her. The judge, in this respect, ordered the CFA to provide all appropriate therapeutic interventions, supports and services to the mother.
The judge made a number of further orders when granting the care order until 18 in respect of the baby. The GAL was ordered to remain in the case until the report of the independent assessor was completed. The court ordered that the CFA save the booklet of papers and other documents handed into court with a copy to be placed on the child’s file and the court file. The court ordered that the child’s speech and language development be reviewed every six months and if necessary the child should be referred for a speech and language assessment. A child-in-care review was directed to take place at least yearly, after which reviews the CFA was ordered to prepare reports.
The CFA was directed to update the mother on a monthly basis as to the child’s progress and to update the father on a quarterly basis. The judge directed the CFA to encourage the father to register as the father of the child on the birth certificate. Both the mother and father were directed to be encouraged to participate in life story work. The CFA was directed to investigate the granting of an Irish passport to the child.
A written judgment of this case can be found at www.courts.ie.