A judge in a rural town granted a six-month care order for two young teenage children, Child A, a girl and Child B, a boy, who had travelled to Ireland from a war-torn country. He decided that the allegations of physical abuse made by the children against their grandmother and uncle were credible.
He stated that while the whole family had suffered serious trauma and grief, the safety and welfare of the children necessitated making the care order. He directed that access between the children and their family was only to take place in a manner that was in the children’s best interests.
The lawyer for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said that she was applying for a six-month care order for the children. The lawyer for the grandmother said that the grandmother was not consenting to this order.
The children’s social worker described how this family was brought into Ireland from a war-torn country. Their mother had died a year previously and the whereabouts of their father was unknown.
An interim care order had been granted for the children four months previously. The children had been placed on a temporary basis with a foster family. It was intended that the children would be moved to a more long-term foster placement. However, both children became extremely distressed when they found out that they might be moving to a different foster family. The children were reviewed by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), who concluded that moving the children to a new foster family at that time would have been a cause of extreme distress for the children. Consequently, the children stayed with the original family and may remain there long term.
The CFA lawyer said that the primary reason for the interim care order was the alleged physical abuse of the children by their uncle under the instruction of their grandmother. The children had made disclosures of abuse to their school teachers, social workers and members of the Gardai. During the previous four months the children had never retracted their original allegations. There was an ongoing Garda investigation into this matter. Specialist interviews were held with the children. The children’s grandmother and their uncle both denied all allegations.
There was serious concern about the mental health of the children and as a result of this they were seen urgently by CAMHS. The initial referral was made following the suicidal ideation of A because of the stress of living with her grandmother. A second review of the children’s mental health had now taken place with CAMHS. Child A was reported to be more stable than B but the files on both children remained open in CAMHS. Child A was ready to progress on to some grief therapy but B was not progressing as well in his mental health. He was still struggling with his mother’s death and would require ongoing input from CAMHS before he could progress to therapeutical grief supports.
The social worker described the relationship between the children and their uncle as “very difficult”. It was alleged that the children’s uncle referred to B as a “dog”. Child B was very hurt regarding this name-calling but his uncle denied all allegations. The social worker reported that inappropriate conversations had been happening between the children and their uncle.
She said that it was important for the social workers to meet with the family the following week to agree the terms of access with the children. There needed to be a discussion about what topics could be discussed with the children and what topics should not. She said that if this contract was not adhered to properly, the social work department would seek to implement supervised access. At present the children were in contact with their family and they especially appreciated the contact with their aunt and cousins.
The CFA lawyer informed the court that when the children were with their grandmother B was expected to help with the all the upkeep of the house and to do lots of chores. A had spoken to her teachers in school about her worries regarding her brother having to do lots of jobs in the house. Now both children were very happy and they played sports and attended swimming with their foster family. Both children were reported to be very content in their foster placement and very happy in their school.
Their foster mother was described as competent to speak with the children about the grief they were suffering for their mother. She marked the first anniversary of the children’s mother’s death by planting a tree with the children in her memory. She was very anxious to learn about the children’s culture and the foods they liked. The children’s aunt had been teaching the foster mother some recipes so that she could cook some foods that the children liked.
The children were very clear in expressing their desire to remain in care with their foster family. The CFA lawyer said that it was hoped that the case could be transferred to the long term ‘child in care’ group. She stated that due to the allegations of physical abuse, it was not safe for the children to return to their grandmother’s careThe social worker pointed out that the children’s grandmother also had to cope with her own personal grief as the children’s mother was her daughter.
The grandmother’s solicitor asked if there had been a huge emotional impact on the family due to moving countries, and in the grandmother’s case, the death of both her daughter and her own husband. She pointed out that the grandmother had always worked well and participated in the care reviews with the social work department. She also pointed out that the grandmother had been involved with the rearing of the children and had gone through a lot of hardship for them. The social worker replied that she believed the children’s allegations as they had spoken to teachers, social workers and members of the Gardai and they had never retracted any detail of their allegations.
The grandmother’s lawyer said that B had gone to his grandmother’s home where he had met with his grandmother and uncle in an attempt to build bridges with them. The social worker pointed out that there had been a different interpretation of the meeting by different members of the family and that the use of the name-calling, especially being called a “dog”, had been a source of deep distress for B. The social worker told the court that B was very hurt and that she would be very cautious about speaking about bridge-building in the family at that point in time. She said that all issues needed to be examined and there needed to be certain safety matters in place for the children in the grandmother’s home before any discussion could take place about family reunification.
The grandmother’s lawyer said that there was a very important religious period coming up for the family. This was a very important time for the family and the children’s grandmother was seeking additional access to be allowed for the duration. The social worker replied that there was a difference between the grandmother’s views and the children’s views. Child A had said she would like to join in the celebratory section of the special religious period but B had been unsure about his wishes. The children’s grandmother had requested a lot more access during the special period but the social worker advised that the children would be attending school for a section of the special period. The grandmother’s lawyer pointed out that two of the weeks would be during the children’s Easter holidays. The social worker replied that the CFA would not be disrespectful towards the family’s special religious period.
The children’s guardian ad litem (GAL) gave evidence and said that she had spoken a number of times to the children. She described the serious and severe hurt that B was feeling and said that he had been very upset by his family. She said he felt betrayed and also felt that both children were “pitted against each another”. A was protective of her family whereas B said he believed his uncle should be punished for what he had done. The GAL said that both children had been through a lot of suffering and that their views needed to be taken on board. They had expressed the view that they wanted to stay with their foster family. The GAL said that during her conversations with the children they discussed the comparison between living in the cold, emotionless and loveless environment with their grandmother and living in a warm, loving environment with their foster family.
The judge said that this family had suffered greatly and that on their journey to Ireland they had lived in a shipping container for a period of time. The GAL said that the trauma had not even begun to be explored with these children as yet. She said that the clinical psychologist had informed her that the children needed to deal with the trauma in a safe manner.
GAL: “The need for emotional support is the greatest need for children with trauma.”
The GAL reported that the children’s grandmother did not have one positive thing to say about them during the meeting with her. The access needed to be in line with whatever was in the children’s best interests. During the ‘child in care’ review, the social worker spoke with the children’s uncle about the appropriateness of the language that he was using in meetings with them during access. Subsequently the uncle proceeded to ignore B at the next access meeting.
The social worker said that if this were to continue, the next step would be to progress to fully supervised access arrangements. She said that the grandmother and the uncle found it difficult to follow a contract for access arrangements. The grandmother’s lawyer asked if some of the children’s behaviour was typical of the behaviour of young teenagers but the GAL replied that their behaviour had nothing to do with being teenagers. She described how child B used to curl up and use his hands to protect his face.
The grandmother gave evidence and said that A’s threat to end her own life was not true. She added that a lot of what had been said in court was wrong and that people needed to “listen to the adults in the family”. She recounted that on the long journey from the children’s home country to Ireland, they had stopped in another country for a period of three months. She said that during that time the children had to stay in an orphanage for one night. She said that if she had not cared so much for them, she could have left them behind in the orphanage.
When her lawyer asked her about hitting the children and not allowing them to play sports, the grandmother answered that she had asked the psychologist to help her but that she had done nothing for her. She also said that she had not been able to afford the money needed for the children to play sports. The grandmother’s lawyer asked her if she would be willing to sign an agreement about behaviour during access and the grandmother replied that she would. She was asked if she was willing to have a better relationship with her grandchildren to which she replied: “They are a part of me”.
The CFA lawyer asked the grandmother if she had instructed the children’s uncle to hit them. The grandmother replied that she used to call the uncle to come and talk with the children because they were very difficult. The CFA lawyer pointed out that the children had bruises on their bodies. The grandmother replied that these bruises were as a result of playing very rough games. The CFA lawyer asked the grandmother if the children had been lying to their teachers in school and to the Gardai.
The judge said that he had listened to the credible evidence that the children were assaulted. He said that the GAL and social worker had given very credible evidence. Consequently, the judge said that he was completely satisfied that the threshold for a Section 18(1) care order for six months was reached. He added that access between the children and the family should only take place in a manner that was in the children’s best interests. He stated that unless the appropriate care order was made, the children’s health, welfare and safety would be at risk.