A Care Order for two very young children where there was an allegation of sexual abuse was granted in the District Court.
The mother’s solicitor said she was seeking an Interim Care Order for six months instead to allow the allegations to be investigated. The HSE solicitor said that the application for the Care Order was not being grounded on the allegations, but on the circumstances which led to the children being taken into care. The mother and a relative had been arrested and questioned by the gardai, but it had not gone any further.
The judge said the court would not be inhibited by the existence of criminal proceedings.
The social worker said a Supervision Order had been made in July 2012 for the two children, aged one and three. The conditions of the order were that the mother engage with services and her GP, deal with substance abuse issues, send the older child to the crèche and deal with the domestic violence she was subjected to.
In November gardai were called to where she lived and found six or seven adults in a very intoxicated state with the children. The three-year-old (A) was on the bed, wet, dirty, crying and very hungry. She was removed to a local hospital. The HSE considered the children were at serious risk and a four-month Care Order for both children was obtained.
The mother had attended meetings with the social work department and access with the children. She was open to engaging with therapeutic services to deal with her drug addiction. However, in February things took a downwards turn when the mother was in conflict with her family and left where she was living. She relapsed at the end of February and re-started taking benzodiazapines.
She engaged consistently with Barnardos service, but did not seem to realise the seriousness of the incident that led to the children being taken into care. The level of violence where she was living affected her ability to deal with these issues. “Addiction and domestic violence alone would give rise to concerns, but combined with all the problems [in the area] I don’t think she can guarantee the safety of the children. We looked at options for the mother away from [the area] but she does not appear to have the motivation. A further risk factor is her engaging in criminal activity,” the social worker said.
Turning to the children, she said A was very bright and chatty. She was very independent and did not seek comfort from adults. If she fell, she didn’t cry. In December she stated making disclosures about her mother and grandmother hitting her. In February she disclosed that a male relative had sexually abused her. She was referred to hospital for examination. Her disclosures were considered to be credible and consistent. She also spoke of a “bogeyman” who hurts her mother and hurts her, and said she does not want to go home because of fear of the bogeyman.
Her disclosure of child sexual abuse was considered very credible and access was suspended. The response of the mother was to consider the impact of the disclosures on her and her relative, and not the experience her daughter had had. She did not believe them and said the foster parents were putting the idea in to her head.
The problem was that the relative used to bring the mother to access. Social services were considering access with the mother alone. A protective factor here was that the mother was very affectionate with the children and did engage with services. The risk factors were that community detox was not working for her, there was no stable or consistent family support and there was domestic violence in her maternal family and her own relationship. A had a heightened sense of the need to protect her mother, her brother and herself.
The mother had been very inconsistent in dealing with the services. She had a lot of trauma and chaos in her life which contributed to the problems she had and her ability to care for her children. Work on addictions like this takes on average two years, the social worker said.
The guardian ad litem said that an assessment of the mother’s parental capacity showed that her addiction had impeded her ability to parent the children. They were left alone and not fed. She was desensitised to domestic violence. Most of her support network was engaged in inter-familial violence.
She was not really able to respond to the needs of the children, especially the baby. She had placed eight blankets on him, along with a coat and hat, which was very dangerous as babies could not regulate their body temperature and they could overheat leading to cot deaths.
The mother told the court she had agreed to residential drug support but was told there was no funding available. “When access stopped with the kids I did step back because I didn’t see the point. I had hopes of getting them back and then with allegations and everything I just broke down. I know my kids are in care because I put them there. I’d do anything to get them back. I’m not giving up on them. I’ll do whatever it takes.
“Judge, I’m not a baby. I’m not here to point fingers. There’s no love like a mother’s love. I know I have to go away to deal with issues and be the parent I know I can be.”
“I’m convinced you love your children,” the judge said. “You have had a very harsh life and the lessons you learned not only did not help you in rearing your children but prevented you from taking proper care of them.
“The culture in [the area] is one of alcoholism, drug abuse, family feuding, domestic abuse and violence including sexual abuse, mental health difficulties, poor accommodation, poor health, unemployment and criminality. It is scarcely surprising you would lack awareness of the basic requirements to protect your children. What does it give to the capacity of the children to grow up and be happy and contribute to society? Very little.”
He said he would grant the orders sought because he did not think the mother would be able to address her problems within a reasonable time frame that would allow the children to thrive with her.