A Full Care Order was granted in the District Court for a young child (B) who had run away from home six months previously to live with her grandfather. She continued to worry about her younger brother who was still at home. In a letter to the court, B had written: “I’m scared for [my younger brother], who is getting him dressed and bringing him to school?” During the ICO hearing, the guardian ad litem (GAL) had told the court that B had lived in a home of “utter chaos, criminality, neglect and poor parenting”.
B had an older brother also in care [A] and they were living in the same foster family at the time of the Full Care Order hearing, while the younger brother [C)] was still living at home.
The child told her social care leader that when she lived at home her younger brother had told her many times that he did not want to live at home but she had been too scared to tell her teacher.
Neither the mother nor B had wanted access since she had gone into care.
The Full Care Order hearing
The social care leader, who had interviewed B when she moved into her foster mother’s house, read out a summary of statements to the court. She had asked B what had happened and was told: “I want to live here because most of the time at home I’m being hit by my ma, she calls me a ‘scruffy little knacker, a disgrace and a scumbag.”
She told the social care leader that her mother had got rid of the sofa in the sitting room and when she lay on some cushions instead, her mother had “booted” her in the torso and ribs.
She said she had alopecia and when her mother had brought her to the GP she had told the GP that B was “’costing her a fortune in dresses and earrings’, but I don’t ask for dresses or what people think.” B said most of the food money was spent on drink.
B told her that for Christmas last year she had asked for new shoes, but when she got up at 9.30 “there were no presents under the tree”. Her little brother got very upset because he thought that Santa had not come. Their mother got up and told them to go back to bed, then they heard noises in the attic and when they went downstairs “there weren’t as many presents as we’d hoped for”. Her mother had been out all of Christmas Eve night.
B told the social care leader that her mother “drinks in the house all the time, there were always loads of parties”. At one party, an adult sat on the sofa beside, then “touched her in her private parts and asked if she was ok,” said the social care leader.
B did not tell her mother about this for a few weeks in case she would give out to her and she asked her mother not to tell anyone about it: “I told my ma and told her not to tell anyone but she told all her friends when she was drinking, then she rang [the named person]. Afterwards me ma told me to get on with it, that it wasn’t that bad.”
When asked to outline a typical day, B told the social care leader that she herself set an alarm, then she would get her younger brother up in the morning. “He’s tired and cries. I get him up, we go downstairs quickly, we go to school, we go to the breakfast club. We get a school lunch. [C] always asks for ma to make the lunch.”
B told her that sometimes she would ask her mother to help, “but she doesn’t. She’s hitting us and doesn’t do anything for us and she’s asleep until 1.30 and gets a 13-year-old friend to mind us.”
She told the social care leader that most of the time her mother was asleep on the sofa after school. B was often sent to the shopping centre a mile from home and one time when she went to get mince, she got the wrong kind and got into trouble. When her mother did cook she said “if we didn’t like the dinner tough luck”. B said that she was always hungry and that for one week there was no food in the house.
“My little brother says the whole time he doesn’t want to live with my ma, I was going to tell the teacher but I was too scared.” B herself had told the social care leader: “I don’t want to go home, if I am sent home I will run away.”
“My friends were telling me to call Childline. I didn’t say anything when she was hitting me, she mostly hit every day, me and my little brother, she would clatter me, smack me in the body, smack me in the arms and legs, once I whacked my head off the wall because I slipped on a cushion, it was in her bedroom.”
Once she got home from school at 3pm and there was no one there, the person that had been meant to mind her had left. She had to wait outside the house in the cold with no food until 7.30 pm when her mother came home.
She told the social care leader that different friends of her mother were often sleeping in the house; that they would sleep on a broken bed or on the sofa. Her mother had “big parties till 2.30 in the morning, we have school in the morning, I barely get any sleep. I go down and ask for the music to be turned down.” She said the adults were drinking Tennants, Bulmers and Heineken in cans.
Her mother would not buy her costumes so she could do freestyle dance. When asked about treats and family life she had said that sometimes they would get a bag of jellies, but otherwise there were no treats. She went swimming with her friends, but a family friend paid for that. Her friends paid for her in the cinema.
When asked to draw a “caring circle” and who she was close to, she had put her mother and father on the outside of the circle. In the inner circle she had put her brothers, her foster mother, her grandmother and her friends.
She had last seen her father four years ago. He had sent her a Communion card which she thought her mother had ripped up.
Regarding hygiene, B had told her that: “I ask every day for a bath, ma says it is too much for electricity. I’m not allowed deodorant. Most of my clothes are from my friends.” She described the home laundry as “scruffy, horrible, smelly and off colour, washed but not properly washed.”
She was strikingly mature for her age, said the social care leader. There was no sense of playfulness which was age inappropriate. The caring tasks she had been given were also not age appropriate. She had been distracted from her milestones because she was caught up with caring for her brother. B needed to be allowed to be a child, “she may have gaps in her development, she may have to regress back and move forward as she achieves them, she has had exposure to parental alcohol misuse and strangers in the home. Child neglect has a more severe impact on child development than [physical/emotional] abuse,” she told the court.
She was also travelling to school by bus, “at such a young age this has the potential for risk. There was a level of wide-ranging words in relation to being hit by her mother; clatter, smack, hit”. Her mother could not read her child’s signals and there was no emotional availability.
There had been previous involvement with the HSE social workers between 2008 and 2009, when there had been a list of concerns. Presently, B was giving them a “broad and detailed account of different various concerns with consistency, her concerns and problems and descriptions are credible”, said the social care leader.
The social worker told the court that she had been allocated to Child B earlier this year, but had also been allocated to two of her brothers since 2013, who were in care.
She said that B’s mother would not engage with the social work team or services offered, and that she had denied all of the allegations put to her. She had been quite glib and said: “I never hit her, maybe I should have.” When asked about being out at night, the mother had responded: “What do you think I’m out doing, prostituting myself?”
The social worker told the court that the risks to B were relating to physical abuse, sexual assault and emotional abuse. She said the department had a long history with the mother, she had been offered supports and mediation but she did not want to see her daughter again.
“She says she never wants to see her again, that she’s a liar,” said the social worker.
The Gal told the court that there was a file on the mother since her first child in the late 90s. She said that Child B had “experienced chronic neglect from her birth, the cycle of neglect has continued as each child has gotten that little bit older, past the toddler years. Ms [X] struggles, the mother has a lot of needs herself, she can contain babies, but when they start walking and talking is when we get into problems.”
The judge remarked that “in the absence of any other appropriate adult in this child’s life the state must step in and care for the child, it’s absolutely proportionate, she has nowhere else to go.”
The judge granted the Full Care Order until the age of 18, under Section 18 1 b. and c., she was satisfied that the mother had had every opportunity to participate and had chosen not to do so. She had also told the Gal that she never wanted to see Child B again.
“It is a sad situation for [B] but the professional opinion and evidence before the court mandates a court order be made,” said the judge.
The judge asked the Gal to assist in endeavouring to create a plan for sibling access with C, her appointment was extended for a further two months in order to facilitate this.
A review was scheduled for six months’ time in order to get an update on the placement, a finalised care plan and information from the child sexual abuse therapy unit as regards B’s therapy needs.