Judgment was reserved in District Court in a rural town following a four-day hearing of a Child and Family Agency application for full child care orders for five children. The mother of the children, who was from another EU country, contested the application. Her barrister argued that under Article 15 of European Union legislation the case should be heard in her home country. This was dismissed by the judge and the case proceeded. Judgment will be delivered in September.
The solicitor for the father of the youngest child told the court that he was consenting to the care order application and would not be participating in the proceedings as he was out of the jurisdiction. However, he wished to resume contact with his child when he returned.
The mother, whose first language was not English was present in court with her interpreter. The mother’s barrister made an application to the court under Article 15 of European Union legislation that the case should be heard in the mother’s home country as she and her four older children had habitual residence there and the fifth, who was born here, has this through her mother.
She informed the court also that child care legal proceedings had commenced in the mother’s home country with respect to the oldest child. She said the District Court had power under Article 15 to stay the proceedings and handed the CFA solicitor and the judge copies of her submission and the Supreme Court cases involved.
The court heard that Article 15 involved a three stage test, where a child had a particular connection with another member state, where the court there had seisin and was already dealing with the child’s case, and it was in the best interests of the child. The other member state would be better placed to assess the case in circumstances where the children moved here in 2014, and have family members there, a grandmother and uncle who can support the mother.
In respect of the best interests of the children who were in three separate placements, and keeping them together, the mother’s barrister said this was the only and best option. She referred to Irish Supreme Court case law and requested the case to be listed for transfer.
Judge: “This is most peculiar at the 59th minute. The case was ready to go ahead a year ago. I specifically requested that all the paperwork would be submitted in advance. I’m very surprised at this point in time and submissions only [being] given to the Child and Family Agency (CFA) today. Was it mooted to the other parties? “
Mother’s barrister: “This is common where EU issues are involved. The issue was raised before. My understanding from the previous judge is that the jurisdictional issue would be heard today. I’m not trying to blindside my friend. My solicitor wrote to the Child and Family Agency (CFA) last week.”
CFA barrister: “It is of note that I have to take specific instructions. I know that the issue of repatriation was mooted at some point in connection with welfare and the mother refused to enter into negotiations. At least on one occasion this was mooted and she refused to address it at all.”
Judge: “[This is] an application late in the day.”
Mother’s barrister: “I’m only following the direction of the previous judge.”
Judge: “But it is your client’s instructions.”
CFA barrister: “The children are in care and there has been no attempt to engage until the last moment. The CFA are fully contesting this.”
The court heard the mother was an EU national who had come to Ireland in 2014 with her children, three of whom hold passports from her country of origin and the fifth child was born in Ireland. The mother applied for social welfare and housing and was refused as she did not meet the habitual residence test. A CFA social worker attended the social welfare offices with the mother and she was now receiving a basic social welfare allowance while she was engaging with the court service.
Both the solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) and the CFA barrister opposed the application to transfer the case.
GAL’s solicitor: “All the assessments have been done here and the mother’s mother and brother were deemed unsuitable carers by the court in the mother’s home country. It will be the GAL’s evidence to the court that it is in the best interests of the children to remain here as they have been here for an extended period of time.”
CFA barrister: “[I’m] at a loss to see what is before you. There is no application under article 15. There has been a hearing date set on May 2017. If my friend could point that a care order application would seize so that article 15 could be made. Respectfully, the court is here to hear an application under section 18.”
Mother’s barrister: “Judge, the issue of article 15 has been raised and a judge is obliged where multiple jurisdictions have been raised.”
The court heard that the eldest child is bi-lingual and speaks the mother’s first language. The second child has an understanding of the mother’s first language and the other children have no understanding of the mother’s first language. The youngest child who was born in Ireland and who has been in care from she was three days old was never in her mother’s home country.
There was an engagement at some stage with social services and court authorities in the mother’s home country, but the maternal grandmother informed the court that the mother left the country and the case was not heard.
The judge observed that there had been a pattern of airbrushing in relation to different moves and “a lack of candour as to what happened in relation to different jurisdictions.” She said the mother elected to move to England on the basis of having a dream to live in the UK for a number of years and this materialised by moving.
Judge: “Absolutely no assessments were carried out with the authorities in the mother’s home country. The police reported non-attendance at school. With regard to the UK there were assessments and a lack of candour and at the point where the UK proposed to apply for a care order the mother left, went back to her home country and then to Ireland.”
The court heard the children have been in foster care in Ireland since 2015, on a voluntary basis, then subsequently there was an interim care order and various renewals. An assessment of parental capacity had taken place in Ireland and the full care order had been adjourned because of difficulty in accessing information from abroad.
Part of the assessment process involved the CFA investigation as to the possibility of the children returning to the mother’s home country to reside with the maternal grandmother and two half-brothers and a sister. This assessment concluded that neither the grandmother nor the siblings were in a position to provide parental responsibility.
There was no evidence put to the court relating to the transfer of the children. The children had an opportunity to put forward their views through the guardian ad litem. The children all spoke English.
The judge said that the best interests of the children must prevail and she was satisfied that there were no proceedings before the courts in other jurisdictions. The proceedings seemed to be struck out in the mother’s home country in which the mother had elected not to participate. The judge said she was satisfied in proceeding with the case.
The CFA barrister informed the court that the UK social worker was not available to attend court and she was expected to join by video link. The judge accepted the mother’s barrister’s request that no reference be made by the CFA social worker to the UK evidence until the UK social worker gave evidence.
The social worker’s evidence
The social worker outlined to the court that in September 2015 there was a referral from a midwife. The mother was seventeen weeks pregnant, in financial difficulty, and she had five children. The next day there was a call from the public health nurse who received a referral from a crèche regarding one of the children D who was covered in head lice. The PHN called to the house, two children were hanging out the window, and the mother was evasive and drove off in a jeep.
A member of the public called An Garda Síochána with a concern that the mother appeared intoxicated when she had the children with her. The Garda went to speak to her. She had the impression of drink taken, but no smell of drink. A, aged 14, was at home when the Gardaí brought the children home and they asked the mother to nominate a friend to take the children.
The next day there was another call to An Garda Síochána regarding a toddler asleep in a buggy outside a pub. When they arrived the mother was going down the street with the buggy. She was evasive and refused to accept there were any difficulties and the Gardaí sent in a referral to the CFA.
There was a telephone call to the CFA from a person involved in a local church which the mother sometimes attended. She reported that the children appeared unkempt and hungry and appeared to be attending church just to be fed. The mother was in rent arrears of €2,400. The woman reported calling to the house and finding its condition “not great”.
Around this time there were also three calls to the CFA from members of the public regading naked children climbing in and out of broken windows, and a call from the landlord’s wife regarding concerns about neglect, no food, children being left unsupervised, and different men coming in and out of the house.
The social worker invited the mother for an appointment the next day during school hours. The mother did not attend and later that day presented with three of the children, the youngest of whom, D, was two years old at the time. She asked the mother about the Garda concerns regarding her drinking.
The social worker said she found the mother evasive. She asked the mother if she could encourage the children to go with the social care worker and the social work student during the interview. There was a child climbing on the table and it was difficult to conduct the interview.
The mother informed the social worker that there had been rent arrears. The mother told the social worker she had been involved in her home country with social services, but she left because “social workers killed families”.
The social worker said the mother was not clear on time frames. She did not give an address for her time in the UK. The social worker said the chronology of addresses was unclear. She had no social welfare payments and was receiving money and food parcels from the St Vincent de Paul, a local church and the Irish father of her unborn child. The mother went to see her TD who offered assistance with repatriation, but the mother then refused to return to her home country.
The mother said she only wanted announced home visits. The mother told the social worker that she came to Ireland in November 2014 through a host family. She had been in a mental health hospital in her home country for ten days a number of years previously but could not give any further information on this. The social worker contacted the homeless officer and made contact with UK social services requesting information.
The mother refused to give the contact details of the father of her unborn child to the social worker, but the mother agreed to ask him to contact the social worker. The father rang the social worker stating he wasn’t sure that he was the father, was married and agreed to meet the social worker. (A DNA test later revealed that he was the child’s father)
The father of the youngest child met with the social worker and explained that he met the mother through doing renovation work for the landlord at the rental property in which the mother lived.
He reported the mother had no money and there was no food in the fridge. He had seen her shout at the children and had seen her slap C, aged six, on the face, which he found out of character. He stopped giving her money when she looked for cigarettes. He did not have concerns regarding alcohol or mental health. He told the social worker if the DNA test was positive, he would stand by and support the baby.
The social worker contacted the landlord who confirmed that he was willing to forego rent and was prepared to write a reference but wanted the mother and family removed. When the mother’s barrister objected to the social worker recounting what the landlord said as hearsay evidence the judge allowed the evidence as it was, “documented and essential regarding the position of the children.”
The social worker said she made an announced home visit to the mother and asked to look around the house. She described the walls and condition of the house as filthy. The mother told the social worker that the children were not in school as they were ill. The children were not registered with a GP.
The oldest child, A then aged 14, had not attended school since coming to Ireland the previous year. The house appeared chaotic, with children jumping on the TV and the couch. The mother did not correct them and there were cats running in and out. There was a smell of urine and no food in any of the presses. There were cat faeces in the shower tray. There were no bedclothes. Child C had asthma.
The mother told the social worker she was pregnant and she advised the mother of her concerns regarding the condition of the house and the neglect of the children. There was evidence of a broken window on to the street.
After the home visit, the social worker received a further referral from a housing charity where they reported observations of child neglect when the mother called to collect a food parcel. The mother confirmed with the CFA barrister that there had been a lot of referrals in a short period of time.
The social worker outlined to the court the initial screening assessment process. A check is made as to whether the family is previously known. A Garda referral would be seen as credible. There is a risk assessment and, depending on the decision, the case is closed if there are no child protection concerns.
If the case involves abuse then a further assessment is done by the child protection team or the children are taken into care and the case is transferred to the children in care team. The social worker told the court that she completed an initial assessment document.
On the next home visit less than a week later, the social worker told the court that she and the student social worker arrived after the landlord left. He had changed the locks on the house and the Gardaí were present.
The mother was in a car with three of the children and a man who was hostile towards the landlord. The social worker tried to talk to her and the man was aggressive towards the male student social worker. The mother told the social worker later that she met this man a few weeks previously.
The social worker entered the house with the Gardaí. When a door was opened upstairs a cat jumped out of a wardrobe. The social worker called the social work team leader who spoke to the Gardaí about a section 12 application. The Gardaí advised the social worker to apply for a section 13 emergency care order. The social worker discussed the situation with the mother who signed a voluntary consent agreement with the CFA in regard to her children.
The mother’s barrister put it to the social worker that it could be seen that she assisted the landlord with an illegal eviction.
Mother’s barrister: “The day they were evicted the landlord was in your office and went to the house followed by you, called the Gardaí and in the midst of all that she placed the children in care. You told the judge about confusion. Did the CFA contribute to this? Is there another way this could have happened? A pregnant mother with four children?”
Social worker: “Sorry, I don’t understand.”
Two different foster care placements
A then aged 14 and B then aged eight years went to one foster family and C aged four and D aged two went to another foster family. The foster carers raised concerns regarding B hiding under A’s bed. B would sleep on couches and wouldn’t wash unless with A. There were concerns in relation to B’s feeding. After a few days B agreed to be washed. A was subsequently moved to another placement where she currently resides.
The foster carers said C was very upset that evening. He had head lice. He refused to go to the toilet and to get into his pyjamas. He woke up at 1.00am in the morning upset. D, who went to the same foster carers as C, presented as bright and friendly.
The three younger children had no underwear, all had nits, were very hungry, and were wearing inappropriate clothing. The social worker told the court the children were not registered with a GP. The mother gave her some vaccination records, but she was concerned the documents were altered.
On the day that the children went into care the social worker received some information from a social worker in a UK social services department who said the department had been involved with the mother and her children between 2011 and 2013. The social worker said that she was able to ascertain that the mother arrived in Ireland in November 2014 approximately.
Concerns from the children’s schools
At the time of going into care the three older children were attending school. The social worker spoke to the school principals of the schools the three children were attending. She was concerned regarding A’s presentation as A could not say when she started school. It was later confirmed she started in a local secondary school in September 2015.
A’s school principal had a concern about A bringing condoms to school and that she may have been sexually active with older men and self-harming. In the foster care placement, A said she thought she had a heart beat in her tummy and was brought to the GP. B’s school principal had concerns regarding B’s erratic behaviour and his sexualised language. He was running in and out of school and hitting staff.
Initial assessment of the case
The social worker told the court that part of her initial assessment involved the mother’s health. She asked the mother to attend the GP for free medical care. The mother told the social worker that she did not need psychiatric care. The mother’s barrister asked the social worker if it would give her any comfort to know that E’s father, who had no agenda and no ties, said that he had no concerns regarding the mother’s alcohol consumption or mental health.
In response the social worker said that concerns arose from his reports of the mother crying, the children being hungry and no money. She said the mother presented as flat and evasive and she was aware that she had been detained for a period in a mental health hospital in her home country. When asked by the mother’s barrister, the social worker accepted that the mother was open to attending a psychiatrist and had attended for a mental health assessment after the social worker’s initial assessment.
The social worker’s assessment fell under different headings such as parent and children’s health, social and family relationships, and the parents ‘ capacity to provide emotional warmth and stability.
CFA barrister: “Part of your assessment was dealing with the information from the UK.”
Social worker: “The mother gave me some information that C had asthma and told me about inhalers and a similar query regarding A.”
CFA barrister: “What did she tell you about involvement with social workers in other jurisdictions?”
Social worker: “She told me she didn’t want to co-operate as they destroyed families and killed them.”
CFA barrister: “Were you able to put the pieces of the jigsaw together?”
Social worker: “No, other information had to be corroborated from professionals and the Gardaí, and information from the school. “
When the mother’s barrister put it to the social worker that there might not have been a need to register the children with a GP if they were not sick, the social worker said that the mother told her that two of the children had asthma and they had been sick for some days. The social worker agreed with the mother’s barrister that it was possible that the mother may have had a distrust initially with the PHN as she did not know who she was.
The social worker supervised access with the children for the first month the children were in care and then the case was transferred to the children in care team. She supervised two or three access visits. During the access visits with their mother the children trashed the room. The mother did not say anything.
When the foster carers sent in the children with food, the mother would take the food from the children. The mother appeared to have a distant relationship with C. The social worker told the court that the mother appeared passive and did not engage with the children in any way. She observed B and C being violent towards each other and B slapping C.
In terms of looking after the children’s needs, the social worker told the court that at the time of her assessment in October 2015, the children had been in the country for twelve months. They were not registered with a GP and had ongoing head lice. A did not enrol in school until September 2015. C would bring food vouchers to the shops and bring back food.
She told the court that she visited all of the children in their foster care placement. The social worker said she was concerned about A’s presentation of her hair and clothes and her inability to shed light on when she started school. She was concerned that she may have had an undiagnosed disability.
B presented as bright and told her that when he had money for the bus he would bring his younger brother aged six on the bus. If they did not have money there was no bus or lunch. She said C would not look at her and would speak through the foster carer or their adult child and presented as a child with great needs. D presented as pleasant and happy and did not appeared distressed.
The social worker told the court that she also offered appointments to the mother to meet with her. In discussing the family history, the social worker told the mother about the children saying they had to leave the UK, bundled into a taxi, and came through another European country to Ireland.
She said the mother took the view the children were taken into care because she was homeless and had no money. At the time of the assessment the mother had no fixed abode. The social worker said the assessment was completed in November 2015 and the case was handed over to the CFA children in care team.
Social worker’s recommendation
CFA barrister: “Do you make a recommendation?”
Social worker: “There is an analysis of the mother’s lifestyle and concerns relating to mental health and acknowledgement that she was sectioned in her home country. [She had] lack of insight into the needs of the children. The mother abdicated responsibility for the children onto A. [I had] concerns about her introducing people into the children’s lives and the misuse of alcohol. [I had] concerns relating to not managing the children’s behaviour. The protective factors were that she wanted the children back and agreed to co-operate and had to that date. I recommended that she have a mental health, housing and parental capacity assessment and advised that the father of the unborn child would care for the unborn child if the child came into care.”
The social worker disagreed with the mother’s barrister that there were no concerns regarding physical or sexual abuse. She said there were concerns that the children were being coached and also about some of the men in their lives. She agreed with the mother’s barrister that the allegations about the man related to the UK and not Ireland.
The social worker said there were eight referrals and two of these had been from an anonymous male caller who said two young children were climbing naked in and out of a window. The social worker could not say whether it was the same caller. There were three referrals from the Gardaí.
The social worker agreed with the mother’s barrister that the Gardaí may not have considered their referrals as urgent. The social worker was unable to say whether the landlord’s wife had made an anonymous call.
When the mother’s barrister asked the social worker about whether the landlord had used the residential tenancies board process, the social worker said she believed the landlord had an eviction order. The social worker informed the court that the mother approached the local authority‘s section on homeless housing and a housing charity but she was not eligible for housing as she did not have habitual residence.
Mother’s barrister: “Is it possible what you see as no co-operation was her way of protecting herself in the way she finds herself?”
Social worker: “Perhaps.”
The children’s social worker
The children’s social worker gave evidence that she had been their allocated social worker since November 2015. She produced a comprehensive assessment report and an addendum for the court.
The social worker told the court that the mother stated when she met her that the reason the children were in care was because she was homeless. She said the mother could not accept that there were other problems when she was here and in England. The social worker said she was concerned that the mother would withdraw her consent and she spoke to her team leader about this.
After E was born in February 2016, the social worker spoke to the midwives in the maternity hospital who reported that the mother was leaving the baby unwrapped, not following the directions of the nurses and handling the baby when she was asleep. The CFA held an emergency child protection conference and a decision was taken to apply for an emergency care order for E who moved into foster care from the hospital at two days old. E was still in this placement.
The social worker told the court that she supervised the family access meetings for six weeks until the access team took over. The family would meet three times a week and she described the meetings as chaotic. She said the mother took little notice of what the children were doing. The children were getting out the window and the mother would not ask them to stop.
She said if D wanted to go to the toilet, the mother would ask A to take her and she would become verbally abusive towards her as a social worker in front of the children.
CFA barrister: “What is the CFA assessment of the caring position A would have been put in?”
Social worker: “Should one of the children need to go to the toilet she brought them [and] would expect this. A worries about her mother, contacts her and asks her mother where she was going to go. I asked the mother about not putting A on the phone to unknown men and C would run to A before he would run [to his mother].”
When asked by the CFA barrister if she thought the mother had issues with her as a social worker, she said she believed these were to do with the child protection conference and the emergency care order. She said for the most part the mother would not engage and answer her phone calls.
The social worker said the mother told her “a bit about her own background.” The mother’s father had an affair and she had a half-sister about the same age as her older brother who received stitches after being hit by his father. Her mother met another man and she had a half-sister from that relationship.
The mother said she was in a relationship with A’s father. He denied that this was the case with the social worker. She told the social worker E’s father supported her having E and they were going to live together and then he asked her to abort the baby.
The court heard that the social worker contacted the social workers in the UK and the mother’s home country about the mother and her children through the International Association of Social Services (IASS).
The social worker made contact through the mother with A’s father who lived in another European country. He spoke on the phone to A and agreed to take a DNA test which confirmed he was A’s father.
He invited A to live with him in his country. A said she did not want to be separated from her siblings and wanted to visit her father but not live with him. She told the court that A’s father consented to her being in care and gave her 100 euro a month pocket money. In B’s case the social worker said B’s father made contact with her in January 2016 and before this he did not know B was in care.
B’s father contacted IASS saying he wanted to care for B. She said on a number of dates he told her and the GAL he was going to meet B. She prepared B for meeting his father, but the father did not meet him. On one occasion he came to Ireland and left a teddy with her to be passed on to B.
In C’s case she said she could only establish the father’s first name but believed that he knew the mother was pregnant and did not have contact. The social worker said E’s father called numerous times but she felt this was more about himself. Initially he told her he wanted to care for E. She told the court he had the foster carer’s number and consented to the care order.
When asked by the CFA barrister about her experience of the mother’s view of going back to her home country, the social worker told the court she had pleaded on a number of occasions with the mother to go back to her home country. She said the mother said she hated her home country.
The social worker told the court that the maternal grandmother played a role with the children. She had been attending court with the mother and asked for access when she was in the country. The social worker told the grandmother they needed four to six weeks’ notice to schedule an interpreter and this has been done on a number of occasions.
The court heard that the CFA requested an assessment of suitability of the maternal grandmother with social services in the mother’s home country through IASS and she was deemed unsuitable.
The social worker told the court that her comprehensive assessment was completed in February 2016. When she was asked by the CFA barrister about the mother’s level of insight, she told the court the mother showed no insight, believed she was an excellent mother and the social work department were causing difficulty.
She said the mother could not take correction on anything. Sometimes she would leave the building if the access team said something to her. She found her unpredictable.
When asked about access the social worker explained to the court that access with the mother had been suspended with the four younger children after an incident in January when she tried to encourage the children to run away from their carers at the end of family access, blocking one of the foster carer’s cars and pulling D’s arm and scratching her.
On that occasion the mother asked C why he wanted to stay with the foster carers. Subsequently, she gave an undertaking to the court not to approach the children outside access. The social worker told the court that a further incident occurred in April when she went to one of the foster carer’s homes with the maternal grandmother and looked through the window at the children.
She said the children were upset after these incidents. D was frightened of witches at night afterwards and began soiling. C started locking doors. There was also an incident where she was seen outside the younger children’s school. The social worker said that she and the GAL met with the mother afterwards and that she somewhat accepted she had frightened the children.
CFA barrister: “Have you been caused to have contact with the Gardaí?”
CFA social worker: “Four weeks ago when the judge directed her not to seek out the children. After the incident with the mother and grandmother I gave a copy of the court order to the local Garda. Given concerns from UK social workers, a strategy meeting was held with the Gardaí. The main concern was neglect and mental health and following the parental capacity assessment I went back to the Gardaí. I put my concern to her about associating with an unknown man and the mother thought this was funny. “
CFA barrister: “What is your evidence by summary for meeting physical and emotional needs of the children? “
CFA social worker: “The mother can’t meet them. She doesn’t believe there are any issues, and the issues in the UK and her home country mirror this. “
When the judge asked the social worker about whether the children born in the mother’s home country had spoken about going back there or had any affinity with it, the social worker said that although A can speak her mother’s first language, she speaks English to her mother and the children speak English to each other.
When asked by the mother’s barrister about A’s father’s invitation to live with him, the social worker said A only met him once, she was not sure how realistic this was. She said if A’s father had a genuine interest, she believed he would have engaged further.
B was unable to hold a conversation in his mother’s first language. The social worker told the court that B identified as having the nationality of his birth country but considered Ireland his home and told her his first preference was to stay with his foster carers, his second preference was his maternal grandmother and his last preference was to stay with his mother. When asked about whether B wanted to live with his siblings, the social worker said he wanted to live with E and visit his other siblings.
The social worker disagreed with the mother’s barrister that an option of going to live with his father had been put to him as a possibility. She said B’s father said he travelled the world and he was not in a position to care for B.
The mother’s barrister referred to the bond being severed between E and her mother at three days old and put it to the social worker that the mother was trying to breast-feed E and this caused E’s alleged distress at access. In reply the social worker said she witnessed E crying for forty minutes after access. She told the court that the relationship between E and her foster carers was extremely close and they “absolutely adore her”.
When asked by the mother’s barrister whether she thought any of the children missed their mother, the social worker said they did so initially. The barrister put it to the social worker that the escalation of incidents with the mother was because she felt “nobody was listening to her.” The social worker disagreed and said the mother “had been treated more than fairly. I listened. I assisted with her payments under the HAP scheme. “
The social worker told the court the mother had lived at different addresses since the children went into care. She said that, according to the Gardai, the man she lived with had mental health issues and picked up rubbish and brought it home. The sociaI worker visited the house and it was not very suitable. The man had now left. At a previous address the man the mother lived with stabbed her in the foot.
When asked by the CFA barrister, the social worker said the children’s needs were being met by their foster carers and her application was for the children to remain in care until they were eighteen years of age.
Parenting capacity assessment
A counselling psychologist gave evidence to the court on a parenting capacity assessment she conducted at the end of 2016 at the request of the CFA. She received a number of reports and conducted a number of interviews with the mother, foster carers and the schools. The court heard that the assessment uses a multi-disciplinary approach and integrated a lot of data from a number of sources.
The psychologist took a comprehensive history and looked at the parent’s mental health, personality, and psychometrically tested her ways of coping and cognitive ability to see whether there were any areas of concern. She carried out six access observations and spoke with the stakeholders such as the guardian ad litem, teachers and foster carers. She met with the four older children and used psychometrics to look at the children’s emotional wellbeing. She did not assess E as she was eight months old at the time.
The psychologist said parenting was a dynamic process with no one way, but there are certain dimensions applicable to all children, such as basic care, emotional warmth, insight into one’s parenting, acceptance of difficulties and willingness to work on these, and willingness to impose boundaries.
The psychologist told the court the parenting assessment used well proven methods and a standardised assessment and took into account a cognitive assessment, the coping method a parent used, and parental consistency and predictability.
She gave an overview of the assessment which covered five headings, a psychological cognitive standardised assessment, a parenting stress index, coping inventory styles, personality assessment measure, interviews with the mother. The psychological and social assessment looked at the parenting profile, personal family history, perception of parenting, mental health and wellbeing, how a parent coped and insight into child rearing practice.
There was psychometric testing with the children where appropriate and she looked at their emotional well-being, strengths and difficulties. She saw the children in access, in foster care and met with their teachers. The psychologist explained to the court that inconsistent parenting could lead to confusion and was a component of insecure attachment and had long term implications.
She said that providing a sufficiently secure attachment, emotional bond and predictability was how a parent should engage and in terms of predictability what children experience from nought to three years was crucial in terms of attachment. The court heard that parenting capacity could be impacted by violence between the parents.
There were also concerns about A having a parenting role with the younger children, the mother’s misuse of alcohol while caring for the children, the children being reported as hungry, the mother’s unwillingness to accept responsibility and not following child protection plans.
When these issues had been raised with the mother she left her home country and then the UK. In response to the GAL’s solicitor asking how the mother’s friendship with a convicted sex offender was raised, the psychologist said when she asked for an explanation the mother did not believe the allegations were true and thought the concerns were unfounded. There was no insight coming from the mother who denied the issue was a concern.
Mother’s barrister: “The mother will say she ceased a relationship with the man when he said he had a conviction.”
Psychologist: “Yes, [I] accept that, if that is what the mother says, but [it is] in contradiction to reports from the UK.”
When asked by the CFA barrister to give a summary of her opinion on the mother’s background as a parent, the psychologist said the mother was consistently unable to provide a safe and consistent environment for her children and managed by moving and not engaging with professionals’ advice and putting her children at risk of harm.
In terms of the mother’s cognitive and executive functioning the psychologist told the court that the mother scored above the threshold for a narcissistic personality disorder. She explained that a narcissistic personality typically included not empathising with the opinion of someone else and a sense of arrogance. It would apply to a difficulty in understanding the opinion and advice of professionals. The mother also had above average scores for avoidance, which meant avoiding dealing with the issues at hand as a parent and facing them head on.
In terms of the parenting stress index, the psychologist said it was unusual that the mother was experiencing a minimal range and maybe because the children were in care there was less stress. The psychologist confirmed that the mother attended all appointments. The psychologist reported the mother as nervous, hostile, erratic and unpredictable when she was on a home visit, but she engaged well when she attended her appointments at the CFA offices.
In the first part of the clinical interview with the mother, the psychologist told the court that she dealt with the mother’s childhood. The psychologist said the mother’s father leaving the family home when she was seven years old and having a sporadic relationship with him could have had an impact on her.
She said the mother described her childhood as “lovely” and her mother as a best friend and able to implement boundaries. The mother told the psychologist that she used similar parenting practices and said she found moving every two years hard and difficult to maintain friendships and keep up school work. She said it was important to give children stability.
The psychologist said that the mother did not show any meaningful insight into why her children were in care and told her that that there was nothing she would change about her parenting. When the psychologist asked her what life was like for her in the UK, the mother cited neighbours, discrimination and jealousy about her children.
The psychologist told the court that at times it was difficult to follow the mother. She spoke about moving around a lot, different fathers and the emotional impact when the relationship with B’s father broke up. The mother found it difficult to talk about relationships.
When the mother spoke about B’s father she became tearful and said it was a planned pregnancy and the father was married. The psychologist said that the relationship felt important to the mother and upsetting when it ended. The psychologist was unable to get much information on C and D’s father and was told by the mother that E’s father was a local man.
The psychologist said it was difficult to get the reasons behind the mother’s admission to a mental health facility in 2008. The mother told the psychologist that she had no issue with drink or alcohol abuse, contrary to reports.
In describing the children, the mother seemed to care dearly about them and described B as having sad eyes, C as also being sad and having speech and language difficulty. The mother attributed this to the shock of being in care. The mother alleged that she thought the CFA were giving the children medication to help them sleep and D was overweight and she worried about her crying a lot.
The psychologist said what was the most significant finding was that the mother did not understand the reasons for the children being in care. She said it was concerning that the mother did not see the impact of multiple moves, denied any difficulties with her parenting and did not show insight into current and past parenting practices.
The psychologist told the court that it was a grave concern that the mother was not showing insight and that she had a psychological cognitive and executive functioning difficulty with using logic and memory and used avoidance and dismissal of difficulties. The mother’s narcissistic personality traits meant she wanted to be seen in a socially desirable light.
The psychologist told the court that this was an important finding. If a parent did not show insight, they would not have the capacity to engage and make any meaningful change. She said in that situation with a parent, the children were at risk and the parent was likely to revert to previous parenting behaviour.
Assessment of the children
In evidence the psychologist outlined her findings in relation to her assessment of the four older children. E was an an infant at the time of the assessment.
The psychologist told the court she found A to be pleasant and engaging and to have settled well into foster care. A’s school attendance improved since going into care. She found that A struggled with feelings of anxiety and with identifying and solving problems. A was clear in communicating her wishes. She did not want to return to her mother and the psychologist recommended that a stay in her placement and access with her siblings be increased.
A described her life in her mother’s home country as a good experience with her grandmother being around. When she moved to the UK, A described a deterioration with her mother drinking and her being left at home with younger siblings. A wanted her mother to be more mothering and to have more routines. A challenged her mother about her drinking, but A said she was not willing to accept there was a problem. A missed her siblings a lot and found it difficult to be around them.
In relation to B the psychologist said that the foster carers reported B initially as having a problem using a toothbrush. He was unable to flush the toilet and wanted to give things away. He had problems with self-care and basic hygiene. This had improved once he was placed in foster care.
B’s teacher reported a huge difference in B when he moved to foster care. B’s punctuality and attendance, overall appearance and ability to focus on work improved. B missed 25 days of school before he came into care. The psychologist found B to be a likeable quiet nine- year-old who had settled well into foster care and was particularly close to the foster father through their interest in sport. The assessment suggested he might have difficulty identifying and solving problems and this might have been due to his experience. B scored high on stress and anxiety and the psychologist told the court he might need emotional and therapeutic support.
The psychologist outlined to the court that when C, aged six, went into foster care he showed signs of trauma and used one word answers. He had cavities in his teeth and was on a waiting list for dental care. The foster carers reported that he would soil himself and the floor and not clean himself. C refused to change clothes, had head lice, scratches and wasn’t wearing underwear. Since C was referred to speech and language therapy, his speech improved improved hugely. C was tested for hearing and had some difficulty.
At first when he came into care C had no concept of numbers and letters, but this was improving. The psychologist found C quite sociable. He had most of his school class at a party in his house and got on well with his peers. C’s school teacher told the psychologist that C appeared withdrawn for the first few months and this had improved when he went into foster care. C was behind in school work before he went into care and the psychologist said in the absence of any underlying difficulties this was indicative of C experiencing neglect. C was reported by his teacher to be bright and not behind at school. The psychologist recommended sibling access and monitoring of C’s speech and language.
In terms of D, a three-year-old, the psychologist said the foster carers’, only concerns were her attachment style. They reported her as having no secure attachment to any one adult, and biting her nails until they bled. The psychologist found D to be a friendly sociable child who settled well with her foster carers and who was quite fond of the foster family and their dog. The foster carers were concerned about tantrums but these appeared to be easing off. D’s preschool teacher reported her to be very clever and having no issues. The psychologist recommended the foster carers support D around any emotional difficulties arising.
The GAL’s solicitor referred the psychologist to her report on A and B as being in parentified roles and asked: “Is there a mechanism as to how they can be assisted to going back to being carefree children?”
Psychologist: “[A] was placed in that position, in terms of reverting back to a sibling role, [she] needs to be reassured, perhaps ongoing sibling access. “
Observations of access
The psychologist told the court that she observed the mother showing positive and genuine warmth with her children. It was clear she loved them very much. She found that the mother had put no thought in to how she would interact with the children and her behaviour was erratic and unpredictable. When the mother’s barrister read out a section of the report where the mother was observed as being calming and soothing with E and asked “would you accept that she was able to put her child’s needs first before her own?” the psychologist replied, “yes”.
In response to the GAL’s solicitor asking about the impact of stopping and starting access the psychologist said this was emotionally challenging and could be difficult for the children.
GALs solicitor: “From your involvement was [the mother] open to supports being put in place?”
Psychologist: “Unfortunately not.”
Conclusion and recommendations
In conclusion the psychologist said she found the mother to have a narcissistic personality and a lack of understanding about how others are feeling. An ongoing protective factor for A was a close and supportive relationship with her mother going forward, however, the psychologist said the capacity to change was quite complex and cannot happen unless a person engages.
Mother’s barrister: “Would it satisfy you if the mother were to leave Ireland and return to her home country and live near her mother and be eligible for accommodation and social welfare, would that ease your mind or concerns?”
Psychologist: “No, there were multiple concerns. “
Mother’s barrister: “You heard the only concerns in the mother’s home country were about schooling. Does it ease your mind somewhat that the only concern brought to the attention [of the authorities] was A needing special education. “
Psychologist: “No, it doesn’t ease my mind.”
When asked by the mother’s barrister if she saw the mother being able to parent in her home country with the support of the maternal grandmother the psychologist agreed that “things were going better” for the mother then, but she did not think the mother was an adequate parent.
The mother’s barrister said that C was drawing pictures of her mother and grandmother and asked about the possibility of C mimicking the other children
The psychologist recommended “largely progressing with the children remaining in care in order to achieve their developmental milestones and their full potential.” She strongly recommended the mother undergo further psychological assessment, that her housing issues be addressed and she receive ongoing parenting work.
Judge: “There are three children born in the mother’s home country, one in the UK and the last child in Ireland. The first four resided with the mother before [going into] care. E was never in the care of the mother. You indicated regarding risk factors, would they pose concern for the future care of E?”
Psychologist: “[There is a] pattern, a particular risk factor, [the mother has] not shown any insight, acceptance of support, or change. [This] poses a risk to E. [The mother’s] parenting practice is of grave concern.”
The children’s access with their mother and siblings.
A CFA access manager who had been involved with the children since shortly after they came into care gave evidence to the court of her experience of facilitating access up until the court hearing.
Initially she facilitated access once weekly for the mother and the children in a purpose built room. She had another colleague with her. She found the children to be “quite feral”. There was no eye contact and no communication and the mother was laissez faire.
When asked about the purpose of access over and above the family seeing each other, the access manager said that her observation fed into an overall social work comprehensive assessment. When E came into care, additional access was facilitated three times weekly with her mother, and then reduced to twice weekly.
Family access with all of the children was once fortnightly and then monthly. The access was reduced to smaller numbers of children because the access was chaotic and the CFA was trying to facilitate the mother’s relationship with the children. The maternal grandmother was also facilitated with access and advance notice was requested as they needed an interpreter.
The access manager outlined a pattern of decreasing access and the reasons. She said there were concerns about the mother’s presentation at access in terms of her mental health, and the smell of alcohol from drinking the night before. B asked his mother on one occasion if she had been drinking vodka. In order to address these issues, the access manager set up an arrangement in November 2016 where the mother was met beforehand to plan more of a quality type access and met afterwards to look at the positives and how it could be improved.
She recalled one occasion when the mother had consumed alcohol and access had to be cancelled.
There was another occasion which caused great concern about E’s safety when the mother placed E as a baby on top of the football table. The mother’s behaviour appeared volatile and the access workers felt if they intervened it might have made the situation more volatile. The access manager said access between the mother and A at a café had progressed to being supported with just spot checking by staff. It was highlighted to the mother that she had passed cigarettes to A and the mother did not see any issue with that.
There was a meeting held in 2017 with the mother to discuss her wishes and some changes were made to access and it was changed to monthly. The access manager and the social worker co-facilitated access.
On one occasion when there was an argument between A and B while they were playing pool the social worker stepped in to respond. The mother was not happy with this so another worker stepped in. The mother did not engage hugely with the children. She was very focused on the social worker being present.
Access manager: “She wants to be the one that engages with the children, [it is] difficult at times as [there is] limited engagement as [the]children might come up to us. She requested we didn’t engage, but sometimes it is difficult to maintain.”
CFA barrister: “Does she take opportunities when speaking to the children to undermine the placements?”
Access manager: “Yes, she has expressed discontent with care, discussed weight, not to eat sugary sweets, yet a lot of sugary items going to access. She will often check the children’s clothes tags, their hair, and their nails. She has complained about the length, too short, specific to B. She asked to speak to the foster carer’s about his nails being too short and the foster carer said B was biting his nails.”
The arrangement agreed with the mother was that she would stay in the access building while the children went out to their foster carers. Last January when B needed to leave access, the mother pursued B to his foster carer’s car and began to question him about what was so good about his foster carer and stood in the doorway of the car. B said the foster mother cared. The mother left eventually.
When C and D went to leave access the mother tried to grab the children and run. D was crying and the access manager said the incident was quite distressing for the children. The social worker and the access manger asked the mother to leave and told her if she did not leave they would have to call the Gardaí. The mother was not irate or agitated and was driven home on request. The mother said it was traumatic for the children being in foster care.
At a meeting afterwards before the next scheduled access, the social worker, access manager and the mother discussed what happened and the impact on the children who said they did not want access. The access manager told the court a decision was made to suspend access. They reassured the mother they would discuss with the children when they would be ready to meet her. They highlighted that the children needed time to get over the trauma of the previous access.
CFA barrister: “Did she show any insight into the trauma she caused the children on that access?”
Access manager: “No. Unfortunately she didn’t show insight into the impact of her actions. I explained the children are not ready but the GAL and social worker would be linking with them to see if their feelings would have changed.”
The access manager stated the incident had a significant impact on D and how she presented. The foster carer could not get her to change out of her school uniform and she was clinging on to the foster carer at the next family access with her siblings. D was very clingy on that date, and she tried to reassure her that her mother was not coming and she was just seeing her grandmother. The grandmother had a little bag for each of them from their mother and a card. The card stated “hello how are you keeping? I will get you home ASAP stay brave.” The cards were removed to prevent further anxiety.
After this access the mother, who appeared to be waiting nearby, followed one of the foster carer’s cars. At the traffic lights B noticed. She banged on the windows of the foster carer’s car. The mother said afterwards she was waving at the children. The access manager said she was disappointed as both she and the social worker had highlighted the children were still upset and she needed to give them time. She reported that some of the children had nightmares in the aftermath of the incidents at access.
The positives were that the mother attended most access. The mother celebrated significant dates, birthdays, Christmas and Easter. There were plenty of presents and home baked goods when the grandmother attended.
The mother discussed the activities with the children, but participation in play was limited. She said the mother became upset and teary at times. There was a strong bond between the mother and A. They connected and there was a lot of laughter.
The children’s social worker agreed with the GAL’s recommendations that the social work team should try to help A modify her parentifed role and encourage a sibling relationship to develop.
GAL’s solicitor: “Do you think that extra access by way of an activity could be fostered [such as] going to an activity centre or playground?
CFA social worker: “[A] is on guard because of [B]. The GAL made a recommendation about the relationship with [A] and [B] and [B] had agreed [to meet her] but after the incident with the mother and grandmother he changed his mind. He makes it clear he doesn’t want to be around [A]. I asked him about his feelings. I can’t force him.”
When the GAL’s barrister asked the children’s social worker about whether not having access with her brother B might be punitive on A, the social worker said that she mentions A to B and A had a review in six months’ time to ensure that access is promoted.
She told the court that the CFA facilitated twice monthly supervised contact for the siblings and that the foster carers also organised informal access between the siblings. A sometimes opted not to attend. She said the foster carers of the other children expressed that they don’t feel comfortable around A.
Access was considered important for A who had concerns for her mother’s mental health. The social worker met with A and access recommenced. Access was unsupervised but supported by checking in and out with A and her mother at a local café. When asked by the mother’s barrister whether A was happy, the access manager said she reported that she is happy where she is, but wasn’t sure of her ability to say that to her mother. She said the children have been observed as happy to return to their placements when access is over.
An access safety plan was handed up to the judge and the access manager explained to the court that after the January incident at access she sat down with the social worker and developed the plan. When asked by the CFA barrister why the plan was developed, she said given previous experience when access was suspended, there was a risk the mother could turn up at the foster carers’ homes or at sibling access where the staff had felt intimidated on a previous occasion.
When asked by the mother’s barrister whether it was possible that children in care would never see their mother, the access manager said she would hope not and the query was very much alive with the social worker and the GAL.
When asked by the CFA barrister how progress could be achieved regarding access, the access manager said this meant sitting down and discussing issues and the mother needed “to show insight into the best interests of the children and she needed to be able to reassure the children they were not going to experience trauma” She said the children, “needed to get back to a positive experience [of access] and being comfortable with the identity of their mother.”
The mother’s barrister said that some chaos would be expected where you had four children and a pregnant mother and asked if she was aware the mother had requested outdoor facilities. The access manager said she had managed larger groups. The access house had a garden and she was not aware of the mother’s request. She said the access team made recommendations regarding activities.
Mother’s barrister: “There were concerns raised about her mental health continuously, what was the reason you were raising queries about mental health?
Access manager: “The reason was how she presented, access [was] suspended on one occasion, [she] presented as garbled, how she was interacting with E and [its] impact. [I] know the children are attuned to the mother’s mood, I can see it in A’s facial expression. She was aware that her mother was homeless, at times she didn’t even have the money for the bus.”
The access manager said it was to the mother’s credit she attended access in all kinds of weather and once with an injured foot. She responded when asked whether the mother was committed to her children: “Yes, she clearly loves her children.”
The mother’s barrister referred to directions being given by the CFA to the mother on what to say to her children and how to interact with them at access. The barrister read out different access agreements between the mother, the social worker and the access manager: “Has to speak English. Be in the room when the children arrive. Leave afterwards. Follow staff direction on changing and winding E. She has to intervene when the children are fighting. No nude photos of E’s body when changing her nappy. Interact with children and [give] the five children equal time. If the mother is unhappy agree to talking outside the room. “
The mother’s barrister referred to a positive report of access at the time of the parental capacity assessment where the mother was observed to be soothing E and putting her on her hip. The mother told the children things were going to change.
The access manager said her observations were that the mother was on her best behaviour and it wasn’t what she and the access team observed. She disputed that her view of the mother’ interactions with the children was not balanced and said, “I have been fair, but I have to be realistic.”
Mother’s barrister: “Do you accept [she was] a mother since age twenty one with three children in her home country and never came to the attention of social work there?”
Access manager: “Yes.”
The mother’s barrister said the mother came to Ireland hoping for a new life and asked her if she could understand what it was like to be taking direction at access from not just one person. The access manager responded that she understood that it was difficult for any person, but she knew access with E was traumatic with the mother trying to breastfeed her while the baby was screaming.
The mother’s barrister referred to the staff smelling the mother’s breath and asking the mother to sop chewing gum. “Is that a bit extreme?” and whether this was a policy of the CFA. In reply the access manger said it would have been discussed at a meeting whether the mother had consumed alcohol, “she was not completely comfortable [with it], but [it had been] highlighted by the children that they could smell [it].” The mother had also given the children chewing gum.
Mother’s barrister: “Despite having access to the mental health records of the UK, you insisted in persisting she had some difficulty with alcohol. “
Access manager: “She was unstable, that was our concern.”
The mother’s barrister asked the access manager about her view of the mother returning to live with her children in her mother’s three bed apartment?” The access manager replied: “If there was a low level of risk to the children, they wouldn’t be in care, those risks are still alive.”
Evidence given by telephone link by UK social worker
A social worker in the UK provided for the court documents dated May and Nov 2012 and March 2013 and a statement for the UK court when she was making an application to go to court. She said she was involved with the mother and her family for about a year. The social worker first met the mother in December 2011 as a result of a referral from the probation service regarding the mother’s involvement with a convicted sex offender.
The man was convicted of downloading sexual images of children. The social worker visited the mother and explained the risk this man posed to the young children in her care. The social worker said the mother understood there was a risk and continued seeing this man, despite advice to the contrary.
The social worker gave the court an overview of her involvement and other concerns. The family came to the UK in December 2011. School attendance was good and it was 200 yards from the house. A took B and C to school. They attended a breakfast club. The school was concerned regarding the children.
The children were subject to a child protection plan from February 2012 regarding concerns about the lack of supervision, the mother going out leaving the children with A .The children were unsupervised on the street. The house was empty of furniture. The mother was distrustful and would not take on advice. As the children were the subject of an initial child protection plan the social worker said this meant seeing them at least every 10 days.
The mother failed her habitual residence test and this meant she ran up rent arrears in a private rented house. When the mother became pregnant and had baby D, he was also made subject to a child protection plan pre-birth. The health visitor raised concerns about his lack of weight gain. She advised the mother to attend a clinic to see a paediatrician but the mother would not attend. She kept D covered up in a heavy quilt.
The social worker said the mother would not take on any concerns. For example she was told not to overheat the baby but the mother wanted to do it her way. The social worker said it was difficult as the mother did not allow people into the home. D was being monitored by a health visitor. The social worker was concerned that the children were not being fed. There were concerns about accommodation arrears. The landlady was incredibly supportive, but it was not a secure tenancy.
The social worker agreed with the mother’s barrister that the authorities’ only concern before the mother left her home country was in relation to A’s schooling. The social worker said when A came first to the UK, there were concerns regarding her ability to learn and agreed this may have been to do with language. The social worker told the mother’s barrister that the children did not particularly identify as being from their mother’s home country.
When the children were a year on their child protection plan the social worker invited the mother and her solicitor to a meeting. Social services made a decision to go to court to apply for care orders for the children to go into foster care. The weekend after the meeting she said the mother “fled” with her children.
CFA barrister: “Was she, [the mother] aware of the decision?”
Social worker: “She was aware of that decision. [The] last contact the social services had received was an email from her mother to her solicitor to say she was back in her home country.”
The social worker said she prepared a statement for the court in the UK which knew that the family had left, but she wanted to put her concerns to the court and have them forwarded to the mother’s home country.
The social worker agreed with the mother’s barrister when asked that a psychiatrist in 2012 “felt [the mother was] not presenting with mental health difficulties at that time. He indicated no paranoia no delusions or psychosis.” The social worker disagreed with the mother’s barrister that there were no mental health difficulties apart from the mother’s breakdown in 2008.
Social worker: “A community mental health nurse had concerns even though a psychiatrist had met her and felt she needed another assessment.”
The social worker denied that there was a language barrier as there was always an interpreter present. The community mental health nurse wanted the mother to go for a further assessment. However she did not attend. The social worker did not accept that this was because she had a one-month old child and three other children, as there was support available for her to attend.
The mother’s evidence
The mother, whose first language was not English, gave her evidence to the court with the assistance of an interpreter. She told the court she was born in 1979 in a small town in Europe. She has a brother who is five years older and a younger half-sister who both still live in the area where she grew up. She told the court that her parents separated when she was ten years old and they both remarried. When she finished school, she worked at child minding and went abroad as an au pair for six months, then she came back to look after her younger sister who was aged four to enable her mother to work. She took her sister to live with her for two years until her mother joined them.
The mother outlined the background information on each of her children before they came into care and her previous contact with local social services in her home country, the UK and Ireland regarding her five children.
She became pregnant with her first child A who was born in 2001 when she was 21. A’s father said he was not ready for parenthood. She described her mother-child relationship with A as very close.
Mother: “As a baby, [A] was great, cute [and] beautiful. [I was] proud of her, very close, breastfeeding for five years, closer than [with the] other children. We did a lot of activities [together] with my younger sister. [I’m very] close with [A]. [We have an] open relationship and [we] tell each other everything.”
Mother’s barrister: “What do you say to the judge [about] wanting [A] to parent the other children?”
Mother: “She always liked to look after the little ones. She is mature.”
Mother’s barrister: “What do you say to leaving the children alone with [A]?”
Mother: “[It is] no problem going out once or twice so she can stay with the little ones. [It is] normal in my culture.”
Mother’s barrister: “Do you think that it is an appropriate behaviour?”
Mother: “My big brother looked after me. I did. [I was] born into that.”
Mother’s barrister: “What role does your mother have in [A’s] life?”
Mother: “Important, there from the beginning, very close to [A], [she] can talk to her. My mother is delighted when she can see her.”
The mother told the court she went to Spain for three or four months, every summer with A to work until A went to school. She said the first time she had contact with social services in her home country was when she was unhappy with A’s school placement in a special school.
CFA barrister: “When was the first time you had contact with your local social services?
Mother: “2010 when [I was] unhappy with [A’s] school placement. “
When asked by the CFA barrister about the involvement of her local social services the mother told the court that she took A out of the school placement and moved to England in 2011 with her three children.
The court heard that B was born in 2005 when the mother had been in a relationship for two years with the father. The mother told the court that as a result she had a breakdown and was in hospital for ten days while the children went to her mother.
Mother’s barrister: “What role did this man have in [B’s] life?”
Mother: “[He] met him once as a baby and on his first birthday and a third date, a court date in [the mother’s home country] for a DNA test. He brought a present and left.”
Mother’s barrister: “How did you feel [about that]?”
Mother: “[It was] the longest and the best relationship, still sad [that he is] no more in our lives, and not seeing his child.”
Mother’s barrister: “He was due to come to Ireland on numerous occasions, he was in Ireland and didn’t meet. Did [B] know?”
Mother: “No, the social worker told us we are not allowed to talk about the children’s father. [B] when [he was] in my care, [he was] happy, open minded, no complaints, happy and healthy compared to now, very quiet, anxious a different person.”
Mother’s barrister: “[C] was born in 2009, the father was from the same town, what type of relationship [did you have]?”
Mother: “Just mates. [C] was quite a shy baby, didn’t like to speak a lot.”
Mother’s barrister: “Did you have concerns about health?”
Mother: “His speech, always wondering, didn’t find a serious issue, I went to the GP in my home country and England.”
Mother’s barrister: “What is you view on the current diagnosis of his hearing?”
Mother: “When coming from England, believed because of the situation involved with social workers, [he was] traumatised and it is his way of showing how he feels.”
Mother’s barrister: “What was life like for [A, B and C]?”
Mother: [We lived in a] two-bedroom apartment, private rented, outdoor activities, cycling, playing ball, speaking English, because [I] wanted to go to a country where people were speaking English, and because of A’s father who was living in England.”
The mother described the children’s routine as up early, school, break, snack, homework, meeting friends and having a structure to their day.
Mother’s barrister: “How do you like to parent your children?”
Mother: “I’m very flexible, important to bring them to school, in free time I’m open with them [about] what they like to do.”
Mother’s barrister: “Did you work?”
Mother’s barrister: “Why not?”
Mother: “[I] think [it is] more important to spend [time] with your children. Especially when [they are] small.”
The mother was asked by the GAL’s solicitor to explain her parenting style.
Mother: “The way I bring them up is instinctive, their needs, listen to them when they have problems, solve problems together. [I’m a] natural mammy. [I] do everything that is in their best interest.”
GAL’s solicitor: “In terms of their independence how would you approach, laissez faire or [rules]?”
Mother: “No, house rules, when free time after homework, time for themselves, [they are] allowed to do what they want.”
GAL’s solicitor: “The GAL will say in evidence you said children [are] independent from one without a nappy from one years old.”
Mother: “Yes, from [my] parents, [it is] easy enough to train.”
GAL’s solicitor: “From independent, I mean parental care, would you be monitoring, observing them or letting them do their own thing?”
Mother: “No, generally let them do their own things but under a certain point. “
GAL’s solicitor: “You brought a present for [B] from Uncle X. Had [B] seen him?”
Mother: “In the car [they had] spoken yes. [It is] perfectly alright for a partner to send a card. [If they] love me, love my children too. Yes, [X] turned up at [E’s] birth. Generally, [I] always tell a partner, to make sure [they] must respect my children as well,”
The court heard that the mother moved in October 2011 to the UK and she funded this through savings. When she was asked why she chose a certain town, she said she searched the internet and found it to be a nice place. She told the court she had been dreaming about going to England. She had been on holiday in England at different times before A was born.
She said she wanted to have a fresh start as she had been unlucky with the fathers of her children. She rented privately, and had no furniture for a couple of months and slept on mattresses until her furniture was moved from her home country. The mother told the court that she got a crèche place for C who was then one years old and places in the same primary school for A and B. In terms of social security benefits in the UK, the court heard that the mother received housing benefit, child benefit and lone parent’s benefit. She shopped twice a week for food and bought fresh milk.
The court heard from the mother that after a year in England social services became involved regarding her contact with a convicted sex offender. This was disputed by the CFA barrister who said that the UK social services’ evidence was that they had contact with her three months after she arrived with regard to a convicted sex offender with whom she was in contact. The mother agreed and said she believed it was later than that.
When asked by her barrister how she responded when the man’s probation officer informed her that the man was a sex offender she told the court that she told him she did not want any contact as she wanted to protect her children.
Mother: “They wanted to advise us that the man visiting us was potentially a convicted sex offender.”
CFA barrister: “No, no potential about it, he was a convicted sex offender.”
Mother: “No, they said they thought he was. “
CFA barrister: “The evidence was you continued to let the man into your house.”
Mother: “No, he followed us.”
The mother told the court that the man spent some time over Christmas with her and the contact stopped a few days after Christmas. The mother told the court that it was not easy as the man turned up at B’s preschool and followed her. She said she told him she was sorry, but she had to protect her children and have no contact. When asked by her barrister, the mother told the court that when the man turned up again, she ignored him and kept going.
The court heard that while in the UK the only man the mother had a relationship with was D’s father whom she met in a nightclub. D was born in 2013 and D’s father had no involvement with him. The mother described D as very bright and talkative and speaking English and his mother’s first language well at two years.
The mother said that her UK health visitor wanted her to have a mental health assessment. She did not agree as she felt she didn’t have any mental health issues. She told the court that she had not been treated for any mental health issues since 2008 in her home country.
When asked by the CFA barrister if she attended any meetings in February 2013 in relation to UK social services taking her children in to care, the mother said it was possible that she had attended a meeting when D was a new-born.
The CFA barrister asked the mother about the circumstances of her mother turning up and helping her to move the children back to her home country.
CFA barrister: “Did you ring your mother that the children were going to be taken into care in England?”
Mother: “I told her social workers were coming to the house. [I was] stressed, wanted to be alone with my children seriously tired and distressed. “
When asked if she told the schools and the crèche about the children not coming back, the mother said she sent emails. She told the court that she spoke to the letting agency and her mother and sister packed up her belongings and drove them back to her home country.
The court heard that the mother left the UK in March 2013 and returned to her home country where she lived with her mother until she got her own apartment nearby. When she was asked by her barrister why she left the UK the mother told the court that she disagreed with the reason given by UK social services which was that the children were going to be taken into care.
When the mother returned to her home country she was contacted by local social services who weighed D, who was a baby at the time. She told the court that she was told the baby’s weight was fine. She considered the visit happened because UK social services contacted the local services. Local educational services wanted A to attend a special school and made a court order to that effect.
When asked by the CFA barrister why local social services in her home country were in contact with her in 2013 and in 2014, the mother said this was because a neighbour had been taking the children’s toys and harassing her. She said social services were happy with her children and denied when asked by the CFA barrister that social service involvement had anything to do with why she left her home country in 2014.
The mother described her life in her home country as providing stability and support especially with her mother and siblings always being around. She described having a good relationship with her older brother, who she said was there from day one playing a “daddy’s” role with her children. The mother went on to describe why she moved to Ireland with her four children in October 2014.
Mother:” [The] first reason, [was] my dreams, it wasn’t possible to live in England. Ireland [is] similar and [A’s] father has some connection. [I was] hoping to find [A’s] grandparents.”
Judge; “I want the dates the mother left her home country, England and arrived back in her home country and the date she left her home country and arrived here.”
The mother’s barrister confirmed for the court that the mother left her home country in October 2011 to live in the UK, then in March 2013 she returned to her home country. She left her home country again in October 2014 to live in Ireland.
On arrival in Ireland by plane the mother told the court she stayed in a guest house with an elderly couple, which she found on the internet. She stayed for a week. The couple then drove her to a hotel where she stayed for three weeks while she was looking for rented accommodation into which she moved in November 2014.
The mother told the court that she enrolled B and C in primary school in January 2015 after the Christmas holidays and finally in September 2015 she managed to find a secondary school place for A because all the local schools were full. C was happy with his brother in school.
She informed the court that C had some soiling accidents. The mother attributed this to being badly treated by social workers and her landlord. The mother said it was too much for the little boy. Before he started in his Irish school, the mother said she brought the boy’s difficulties with speech and language development and toilet training to the attention of the school.
Mother’s barrister: “What was the first interaction with social workers?”
Mother: “[My] first interaction was in September 2015. “
The mother told the court that she was not given notice of the visit. She found the social worker a very friendly person and she asked the mother about her situation.
Mother: “I told her straight that I had difficulties finding a house, [I didn’t have] enough money, [I was] expecting a baby, [going] everywhere trying to sort money. [I was] expecting her to help.”
At the time, the mother was expecting her fifth child, E and she told the court that she met E’s father through him doing some maintenance work on the house she was renting. He started calling around regularly and a relationship developed.
Mother’s barrister: “You would have heard evidence from the midwife nurse manager that she had concerns about [you] not receiving child benefit and being pregnant with your fifth child. Do you recall the date the public health nurse (PHN) called?”
Mother: “Yes, I would not let her in, [I] don’t want people turning up.”
Mother’s barrister: “Did she identify herself?”
Mother: “[She] said she got a referral from a crèche manager regarding head lice.”
Mother’s barrister: “Why did you react like that?”
Mother: “[I] told her I will treat [D] and said good day and closed the door.”
When asked by her barrister about the two Garda reports of the mother appearing intoxicated in public the mother explained that in one instance where E was reported in a buggy outside a pub, she had gone for a 20-minute walk leaving A with the younger children. She said the Gardaí went back to the house with her and then left.
In responding to a question from her barrister regarding a local church referral to the CFA regarding the children being hungry, the mother said it was normal that little children are hungry all the time. When her barrister asked the mother about the local church’s concerns about her rent arrears of €2,400 and her eviction, the mother disputed the figure of arrears and said that her parents supported her with rent in July but she had not paid in September.
Mother’s barrister: “How did you think you were going to support your family when you came to Ireland?”
Mother’s barrister: “How was your landlord?”
Mother: “All right until the pregnancy.”
Mother’s barrister: “Was the relationship with E’s father a problem?
Mother: “He told the landlord.”
Mother’s barrister: “In what way did the landlord change his attitude at this point?”
Mother: “He started to act strangely.”
Mother’s barrister: “In what way?”
Mother: “He acted differently, wanted to get rid of us, even more quickly. [He] told me he would refund me the deposit.”
Mother’s barrister: “At the same time anonymous calls [were] made to the CFA that your children [were] climbing nakedly through windows.”
Mother: “There was a hole from throwing a stone. We used to climb out the window every day for a week. The landlord locked us in after he asked us to leave.”
Mother’s barrister: “Did you report problems?”
Mother: “I called the key doctor and the Gardaí.”
The mother told the court that in October 2015 when the children went into voluntary care, the landlord stole her laptop, the children’s toys, and €3,000 in cash which was hidden. She had no electricity and went to the shop and bought a new switch button. She met a friend who drove her back to the house. He called the Gardaí, but they were already on their way.
The mother told the court that on the day of her eviction, she had an unannounced visit by a CFA social worker and a social work student. She thought that when the social worker offered help, it might mean help with paperwork and advice. The landlord and the police arrived at the same time.
Mother’s barrister: “What happened next?”
Mother: “[I] left the two little children staying in the car. I asked the police what was going on. [I asked them to] let me go in, collect documents and things for the children. I got five minutes to do that. The boys and my daughter were in the car with a Garda. “
Mother’s barrister: “Can you tell me about agreeing to voluntary care?”
Mother: “Yes, I agreed to voluntary care so that I can sort out my house. “
Mother’s barrister: “Was there anything you could do, any emergency accommodation?”
Mother: “No, fully booked. “
When asked by the CFA barrister what the mother meant as home when she told the court she wanted the children to go home, the mother told the court that home was in her home country near her mother.
CFA barrister: “What is your understanding of why the children are in care?”
Mother: “My landlord organised it, and [the] personal interaction between the social worker and myself. “
CFA barrister: “You mean, you don’t get on, but she wasn’t involved then”
Mother: “But she makes sure they stay in care. “
CFA barrister: “Do you think your behaviour in January and April caused distress to your children? “
Mother; “I do. “
When asked by the CFA barrister why, if she realised this, she went back in April, the mother said she “only wanted to see her mother and didn’t see any harm seeing the children.”
CFA barrister: “Would you do it again?”
Mother: “Not on purpose.”
CFA barrister: “Do you appreciate the difficulties the social worker has with your behaviour?
Mother: “I don’t know why, but I appreciate it.”
CFA barrister: “Are they, [the children] being looked after?”
Mother: “They look better now but in general [they are] better off back home. “
CFA barrister: “Have you attended the school?”
Mother: “Once passing by, not going into [the] school.”
CFA barrister: “Are you suggesting that the time you appeared at [B’s] foster home was just a coincidence?”
Mother: “I didn’t know the address.”
The Mother was asked about her future intentions if the judge gave her children back into her care.
Mother: “[I would] go back to my home country.”
CFA barrister: “Why?”
Mother: “For future stability. Generally, happy in my home country, very sad about leaving Ireland, but unlucky here with some people that is why I would go back to be fully supported by the Government.”
When asked by her barrister about receiving information about her children from the social work department, the mother said she “rarely received information” and had no update on her children’s wellbeing since February.
CFA barrister: “Is this part of your own fault, not answering the phone?”
Mother: “I don’t answer the social worker, [I have] a better relationship with other professionals.”
When asked by her barrister the mother confirmed she was in receipt of €198 a week from the Department of Social Protection since 2017 and this was being paid to her as long as she continued to cooperate with the courts’ services. If the children returned to her care she would receive child benefit.
The court heard that the mother found the first few accesses with the children “crazy” and the children were “unusually distressed”.
Mother’s barrister: “Unusual in what way?”
Mother: “Not normally like that.”
Mother’s barrister: “How did it impact the children not seeing each other?”
Mother: “[I] tried to calm them down. [They] wanted to have access all together.”
Mother’s barrister: “How did you find it?”
Mother: “One hour [is] not enough, five children, [it is] not fair.”
Mother’s barrister: “How did you feel about the level of supervision?”
Mother: “Mostly, in our way, not enough time to have a cuddle and have a play, upset when we have to say good bye. The children always came with the hope they are coming home.”
Mother’s barrister: “Why do you think they felt that way?”
Mother: “They aren’t supposed to be there.”
The mother said the level of access with A had increased to unsupervised access once weekly and the access staff were checking in on them during the access to see how it was going.
The mother said she was more worried about B and he was quiet, anxious and the opposite of how he had been. They were normally close, the last time she saw him was in January.
Mother’s barrister: “Have you any idea of why the relationship has deteriorated between [A] and [B]?”
Mother: “I feel he holds [A] responsible, [he is] abused by [his] care parents and manipulated by social workers.”
Mother’s barrister: “Why abused?”
Mother: “Because he is behaving so quiet, not normal.”
The mother said she was less worried about C and D. She said D was in a good family. When asked about an incident where she had taken D’s hand to walk away and the social worker had tried to stop her, the mother said she started to calm down. She was also asked about turning up at C’s house.
Mother’s barrister: “Why did you think you got to that level?”
Mother: “It wasn’t necessary to take the children into care, [the] way things [were] organised by the landlord. The social workers found issues, little issues, any parent can do something wrong, no one is perfect “
When asked about how the breast feeding of E went at access, the mother said it was difficult as she wasn’t doing it all the time. The mother had concerns regarding E’s foster carers. She was worried about her wellbeing. She said E seemed not well looked after, and was always crying at access, and “was not how I expected her.”
She said the last time she saw E was in January. When asked how this impacted on her relationship with E, the mother replied that she thought E was too small to understand.
When asked by her barrister whether the children if returned to her care would be at risk of being assaulted, neglected or abused, the mother replied: “No, they have had a good time with me, [we are] friends, mostly happy healthy children, no complaints in my home country.” When asked if she had made enquiries with schools in her home country about her children going back the mother said she had done so in April.
Mother’s barrister: “Have you anything to say to the judge? “
Mother: “I hope everything returns to normal and [they] return to grow up happy together as a family.”
The grandmother’s evidence
The grandmother told the court she was 62 years old, in good health, and lived in the mother’s home country in a three bed-roomed apartment with her daughter who was in her final year of studying physiotherapy.
Grandmother: “I spoke to the social worker looking after the case in [another EU country] and [they] asked questions, [such as] how I would imagine things would go [if the grandchildren returned]? They didn’t ask too many questions as they knew me. “
Mother’s barrister: “[Do you have] any concerns about your daughter’s alcohol intake?”
Mother’s barrister: “What happened to her mental health in 2008?”
Grandmother: “In 2008, [she had a] kind of breakdown when the father of [B] left and [she] was on her own. “
Mother’s barrister: “Was there any other treatment you are aware of, not mental health, but situations [where] she needed help.”
Grandmother: “Sorry, I meant mental health practitioners or doctors. No, she didn’t need any [help].”
Mother’s barrister: “In July 2015 a request was sent to the authorities, I don’t know if you are familiar but in Ireland, it goes from the case worker in Ireland to the IASS office and then to the country abroad. In the booklet there was an article 15 application and the assessment commenced.”
Mother’s barrister: “Did you ever see a copy of your home country’s report?”
The mother’s barrister passed over the document for the mother, counsel, solicitor and the judge to read. She said international social services wrote to the children’s CFA social worker and advised the grandmother was assessed as not being suitable to care for the children by her local social services.
The mother’s barrister read out to the court form the report, “the grandmother was deemed to be very concerned about the grandchildren’s wellbeing and very supportive as a grandmother but she showed no understanding about her daughter’s problems, therefore it is consequently to be inferred that in relation to the grandchildren’s upbringing the maternal grandmother is unable to sufficiently distance herself from her daughter.”
The grandmother said she was never informed of the outcome of the assessment and when she contacted the local social services, she received a letter saying “they can’t and won’t do anything.” The grandmother confirmed that a letter was sent by her local social services to international social services saying she “was desperate to see the children.”
Mother’s barrister: “What role can you play if the children are brought back to your home country?”
Grandmother: “I’m willing as I did before to support them. I’m always there for them, always.”
The grandmother told the court the mother was back in her home country in April and spoke to the administrator of housing where the mother lives. She was told when housing becomes available, she will be notified immediately.
When asked by the mother’s barrister about available funds for plane tickets for the mother and the children, the grandmother said the family would pool together their money for that.
The grandmother was asked about her understanding of why the children were taken into care in Ireland. The grandmother said it was because of “a criminal landlord [wanting] to vacate the flat and nothing else.” She said the social workers told her daughter they were going to help her.
CFA barrister: “But it is the case that the landlord has nothing to do with the children being in care.”
Grandmother: “I’m certain he did everything for the children to be taken into care.”
CFA barrister: “Are you aware your daughter hadn’t paid rent for a significant time?”
Grandmother: “The rent was paid in July by my son and my daughter was frantically looking for accommodation and for some reason everywhere she was turned down.”
The CFA barrister put it the grandmother that an email she produced from her local social services to the Irish social services appeared to indicate that she remarked that her daughter had sometimes fallen in with the wrong people.
Grandmother: “They weren’t wrong company as such. For instance, the last person was a neighbour who didn’t like the children speaking English with each other.”
The CFA barrister referred the mother to the e mail which read “My daughter is the victim in the situation and then unfortunately she has often fallen in with the wrong people but she loves her children and takes good care of them.” The grandmother disputed she said “the wrong people”.
When asked by the CFA barrister to explain why her daughter had had involvement with social services in two countries and IASS, the grandmother replied, “I can only comment that why she had involvement with international social services is to do with anonymous calls. Social services had a look around, spoke to us and everything was ok.”
When asked about a decision taken at the end of 2013 by the UK social services that they were going to make an application to court in respect of the children, the mother said she did not know, and learned of this from reading a letter sent to her daughter after she had returned home.
CFA barrister: “How did she return?”
Grandmother: “My daughter told me that social services came to visit. They were coming without announcing. She felt under pressure and completely exhausted by then. I decided to fly over and then I wrote to social services and management and the police that the children returned for a break and to recover. I also did this for an additional reason as the English social worker attacked me personally and said I was mentally ill.”
The grandmother informed the court that a social worker, psychologist and interpreter visited while she was there. The mother was invited to meetings.
When the CFA barrister asked what the social services concerns appeared to be, the grandmother said she was concerned that they “wanted the baby”. The grandmother told the court that when she brought her daughter and the children back to her home country that they “had only arrived home” when social services contacted them.
When the CFA barrister put it to the grandmother that the social services in her home country continued to receive referrals and had concerns about the children, the grandmother said: “There was no reason for concerns as the authorities knew I was there at all times to accompany them to the authorities if there are problems.”
The grandmother told the court that her daughter came to Ireland as she always had a “grá” for an English-speaking country.
When the CFA barrister put it to the grandmother that the children were going to be taken into care in her home country because they were not attending school, the grandmother said she didn’t know. The judge and the grandmother were handed up a translated copy of a court application regarding the children in the mother’s and grandmother’s home country.
Judge: “You have had an opportunity to read [it].What do you have to say?”
Grandmother: “A number of things [are] not correct. This is only the application to court.”
CFA barrister: “Do you accept there was an application to remove parental responsibility from your daughter?”
Grandmother: “Yes, I was invited by an official who looked after the proceedings on behalf of the children.”
CFA barrister: “You have told me the file was closed by local social services.”
Grandmother: “No, that happened after England in 2013.”
Judge: “To be clear from the evidence, her daughter and children came back to the mother’s home country in March 2013. They were contacted almost immediately by English social workers.”
When the CFA barrister put it to the mother that the case was not closed as she stated after a few months as the copy of the court application indicated otherwise, the grandmother accepted that complaints were made to social services.
In conclusion, the grandmother said, “Please give us back our children. The children are suffering and I don’t want to see them suffer anymore.”
The guardian adlitem’s evidence
The guardian ad litemgave evidence that as part of making her report to the court she met the children, their foster carers, E’s father and his wife, the children’s teachers, CFA staff involved, the mother and grandmother and the church referrer. She met the mother and the children a number of times. She confirmed she was supporting the care order application regarding all the children
The guardian ad litem’s solicitor asked her to outline the concerns about of the children when they were in their mother’s care. She said there were concerns about the failure to thrive of the younger children. That was one of the reasons she visited the church referrer as she knew the mother had a lot of contact with this person.
The GAL gathered a lot of information about neglect and the lack of food. She felt A was a protective factor for the children.
She said E had lived with her brother B in foster care since she was three days old. She said E got on extremely well and was a happy little girl. She met her a number of times, observed access a number of times, and observed her interaction, and said she seemed happy, and securely attached to her foster carers. E reached all her developmental milestones. She needed a secure environment.
Originally D was in a different foster placement and a lot of consideration was given to a change of placement. D now lives with her brother C. The GAL described D’s physical presentation when she was taken in to care as wearing shorts and a T-shirt in October with wellies which were too small. It took D two months to settle into her placement.
She described D as chatty and bubbly. She loved attention and could act the “princess” to get this. The guardian ad litem said this was “cute” now but may not be so in adolescence and was a sign of insecure attachment. At first D was prone to tantrums, but these have reduced over the last twelve months. She said the foster carers were attuned to her emotional needs and their strategies appeared to have worked.She said she met D 14 times.
When the guardian adlitem’s solicitor asked about D’s indication of her wishes and feelings, the GAL said she was aware D was upset after the incidents at access in January and April. After the April incident, she said D described her mother as “scary “and it was clear she did not want to see her. The guardian ad litemhad seen D twice since the April incident and on both occasions D said she did not want to see her mother and does not see why she has to. She said D wanted to see all her siblings.
C was placed directly with the current foster carers where he resides with his sister D. He has teeth cavities and a heart murmur and is on a waiting list to be checked out by a heart specialist. He attended audiology for an extended period and had his adenoids removed and grommets put in.
He has made huge progress. The foster carers told the guardian ad litemhe was a dramatically different little boy since he came in to care. He has developed a close and trusting bond with the foster mother and gets on well with an older child. The guardian ad litemsaid he had completed first class and had made steady progress socially and had friends.
The child had a significant speech and language difficulty and she said he had clearly developed a lot of confidence and capacity in his communication skills in school. As he gained confidence his stammer improved.
The guardian ad litem said she used an activity cloud where he could write in his feelings about access with his mother before, during and after access and he wrote in “bad, sad, sad”. He wrote his feelings in the activity cloud about his grandmother and siblings, “happy, happy and happy”. She said it was clear he did not want to see his mother.
The guardian ad litem believed he had similar experiences before coming into care to the other children, but she believed the impact on him was more severe. When he came into care, his physical condition was very concerning. He was filthy and resisted being washed for a number of days and would not change into his pyjamas. He had a chronic infestation of lice and his clothes were caked with faeces.
He could not use a toilet and did not have the self-care of a child of his age. He defecated wherever he was and was unaware. The guardian ad litem said C was a child who had experienced chronic neglect. He was referred to an assessment of need in a disability service, but found not to have a disability.
Since coming into care he had thriven. She described him as an emotional and sensitive child prone to emotional dysregulation. In Dec 2017 after access he had regressed. There were no special presents and he took a number of days to tell the foster carers. Since the incident at access in January he wet and soiled himself and had become more easily upset and dysregulated. He was back to his baseline now, but it had taken him a couple of months.
B was making relatively good progress. The foster carers found him to be a very closed child who didn’t talk about his feelings. He was very self-reliant and extremely compliant. He was in fourth class and got on well at school. There were ongoing concerns about his emotional wellbeing. The guardianad litemmet him 14 times, including a number of times on his own. She met him with the foster carer recently.
She informed the court he always engaged well, but she picked up he was quite anxious and in recent times he was extremely clear he wanted to remain in foster care.
In June B told his social worker he did not want informal access with A. On the request of the social worker the guardian ad litemarranged to meet with B to discuss this and to update her report. At first, B did not want to see her, but then agreed to meet with his foster carer present.
She said B appeared more relaxed than at previous meetings. He said he found access boring and preferred A not to be there for informal access between the siblings but still wanted to see her.
He knew the full care order hearing was happening. She asked him if this worried him. B told the guardian ad litemhe was tired of questions from her and the social worker.
The court heard B had started to call his foster mother “Mam” and started talking about his background. He had engaged in play therapy for a while, loved school, pantomime, football, physical activities and his play station. He developed a bond with his foster father around football. The GAL said his experience of harm had impacted on him somatically. He sleep walked and did not talk about his feelings.
She said he had very complex emotional needs. When asked by her solicitor about the impact on B of his experiences of harm the guardian ad litemreplied: “My observation is that this attachment style is consistent with children who have experienced abuse and neglect.”
She said A was getting on well and had completed her Junior cert. She wanted to do her Leaving certificate and go to college, but her grades were not great. She had missed a lot of school. She said this was not surprising and transition year might be an opportunity for A to move forward. A’s social worker had agreed on the GAL’s recommendation to discuss A staying in the foster care placement when she turns eighteen.
A had unrestricted telephone contact with her mother and weekly visits. She also had telephone contact with her father and grandmother. She had supervised sibling access, which was now community based. She wanted access to be fun and activity based and was happy with access arrangements.
In terms of emotional and physical health needs, the GAL said there were concerns about emotional abuse. She was quiet, but she told the guardian ad litem about her experiences. She said she was never hungry. She attended a youth health service and talked about the “heartache” of missing her siblings. B did not engage with her and this upset her. She had started counselling.
In an ideal world A said she would love to live with her mother and siblings if her mother had a house and was able to care for them. A knew this was unlikely in Ireland and in that instance she wanted to stay in foster care.
When asked by her solicitor about the impact of her previous experiences on A, the guardian ad litem said A lived with her mother for 14 years and a considerable amount of time was spent on moves and what compounded this was inadequate food and clothing. She spent long periods of time not in school and her educational needs were not being met.
The court heard she was entering fourth year in secondary school in September and wanted to finish her education. She struggled with not being a parent and not having control. The guardian ad litemsaid it was evident she took on a parenting role. She asked the guardian ad litemif when she turned eighteen and got a job she could care for the children.
The guardian ad litem said A opened up, but then closed and retracted. She said she was close to her granny and had access last week. She told the court she believed A took on some responsibility for her mother’s situation, “my observation is she takes on a level of support for her mother.”
Judgement was reserved until September to allow the judge to consider the issues involved in the case.