A father who was in custody awaiting extradition to face an assault charge in another country withdrew his opposition to a care order for his son when the judge told him that the order would be reviewed in twelve months. The mother was not present in court and her solicitor said she was in another country but was consenting to a full Care Order (until the child reached 18 years) subject to a review in a year. The child’s guardian ad litem supported the HSE application for a full Care Order. When the case began, the father, who was not legally represented, said he was opposing the HSE application.
A social worker with the HSE told the court that the young boy had been in care for one and a half years. Both parents had a number of children from previous relationships and there was a history of involvement with social services in this and in other jurisdictions. The father had no contact with any of his other children. The mother had been married and had lived in another country where she had also been the subject of social work concerns. After the parents commenced their relationship, they lived in different counties in Ireland.
The HSE social services were contacted by a hospital after the mother had threatened to throw the child under a bus. There had been issues concerning the feeding of the child and it was stated that attempts had been made to spoon feed him when he was just three months old. There had also been concerns about the parents’ coping skills and about the mother’s mental health.
On one occasion the father said he would kill the child by putting a pillow over his head and had described him as “a fucking pain in the arse”. One hospital had contacted the Gardai about the possibility of taking the child into care under section 12 of the Child Care Act as it was felt that it was not appropriate or safe to return him to his parents but he had been returned. The social worker said he “fell between two stools, between two HSE departments”.
The court was told that an older child had been taken into care in 2009 after he said he was afraid to go home. His mother had admitted she struck him with a plate during an argument with his father. On one occasion the parents had been contacted by the crèche which the younger boy was attending because he was unwell. The mother had refused to collect him and an ambulance was called. Since then there had been various referrals about concerns regarding his welfare.
The father had been arrested on foot of a European Arrest Warrant to face charges of assaulting his former partner. He was in custody but his extradition had been deferred so that he could attend this court application for a full Care Order.
In 2012, the parents had consented to the child being placed in voluntary care but that consent had been withdrawn a few days later.
In order to secure family reunification, the HSE referred the father to a course which dealt with domestic violence. A report stated he had admitted he had slapped his partner “on a few occasions”. He had contacted the course organisers again in 2013 because, he told them, the social workers said he had to go to them again but he still had no insight into his own difficulties. The counsellor who was conducting the course said that, based on the information supplied by the father, no further appointments were necessary as the father did not see that he had an issue with domestic violence.
The social worker said that supervised access for the father had to be suspended on three occasions because of his aggression and his verbal abuse of HSE staff. He had separated from his partner earlier in the year and she had obtained a protection order against him. She said the young child was settling very well with his foster carers and in school. He believed he was in care because his parents were cross with him.
The HSE was seeking the Care Order, she said, because of the father’s lack of insight into the effect domestic violence and substance abuse could have on the child and because of the history of physical abuse and emotional neglect. The mental health history of the mother was another factor. The father had denied that he had any issue with substance abuse and the family had not engaged with social workers. Reunification was not an option.
A clinical psychologist who carried out an assessment of the father told the court that the father had a very limited understanding of the professional concerns about his son. He had tried to present himself in a very positive light and was concealing any difficulties he might have. He was the type of person who would be reluctant to accept responsibility for his action. He was likely to struggle with managing his own difficulties and might not notice some of the difficulties his son might have. He did not believe he would be capable of caring for his son on a full time basis.
When the judge asked the psychologist why did the father not take the advice of the professionals seriously, the psychologist said he did not believe the father misunderstood what was being said to him but any kind of criticism was seen by him to be a slur against him.
When the father commenced giving evidence the judge said to him: “The way I see it is that the Health Board, the guardian ad litem and your ex partner are all following the advice of the professionals and want to take him into care. Why do you think that is?”
The father replied that he had given the professionals all the answers. He said he did not have a substance abuse problem and denied he had threatened to put a pillow over his son’s head. “I never said that. All we wanted was the best for our boy.” The judge told him he was likely to be going to jail in another country. “I’m trying to be fair to you. The professionals say you can’t take care of your child. How would you feel if I granted a care order for twelve months? Will you consent?”
“Yes,” replied the father.
The judge made the care order with a review in twelve months. The father asked the judge if he could see his son before he was extradited. When the judge said he thought it was a reasonable request, the solicitor representing the GAL said it would be upsetting for the child to see his father in prison. The HSE solicitor said it could not arrange his release from prison and it would be up to his barrister in the Criminal Court of Justice to see if access could be arranged before he was extradited.