Following an adjournment that lasted a year, a court in a rural town resumed hearing a Child and Family Agency application for Care Orders until the age of 18 for four children ranging in age from four to 14. The children had initially been in voluntary care and then interim care for four years, prompted by an incident where the youngest, then a baby, was brought to hospital with a head injury. Two older children of the family [with different fathers to the father in this case] were over 18 and not the subject of the proceedings. Where these older children are referred to here, they are referred to with the initials A and B, and the other children are identified by the subsequent letters of the alphabet, in chronological order. (See Archive, 2016, Volume 1, report 2, for a report of the earlier proceedings.)
The proceedings resumed the following January and continued for 25 days, with four adjournments. They have now been adjourned again, with two days set down in June and three weeks in October for hearing. The case has been interrupted several times due to a dispute between the CFA and the Garda Siochana about the admission of evidence obtained by the Gardai who are investigating an allegation by one of the children against the father in the case, who is the father of the two youngest children. The allegation was made at the beginning of 2016.
The court heard evidence from social workers, access workers and an attachment expert. It has now been adjourned until later in the year.
When the proceedings resumed after the year, counsel for the CFA asked the judge to read a letter concerning the first witness, a social worker. After reading the letter, the judge said the witness had to be present to give evidence and be available for cross-examination. If she needed a break during evidence she could have one.
The witness was giving evidence on the parenting capacity assessment, which followed the taking of the children into care after the baby [F] was brought to hospital with a head injury. She said she had been allocated the case in August 2013, about seven months after the children had come into care, initially voluntarily following the injury to the baby. However, the parenting capacity assessment was not written up, incorporating the observations of her predecessor, until February 2014.
The judge said it was for the agency to prove its case, requiring care orders until the children were 18. However, the barrister for the CFA said that it was the responsibility of the agency to bring evidence to the court, which was conducting an inquiry into the welfare of the children. The social worker had given her evidence at the earlier part of the hearing, and was now being cross-examined by the mother’s barrister.
The mother’s barrister recalled that the baby had been brought to hospital with a suspected head injury. When asked if she could explain it, the mother had said she had put the baby in a carry-cot on a shelf, wedged with a chair, and gone to the toilet. When she came back into the room the baby was on the floor and she thought the next oldest child, a toddler [E], may have hurt the baby.
Asked if her story tallied with that of the public health nurse, who had called to the house a couple of days later, the social worker said it did. She agreed that the public health nurse had not suggested bringing the child to hospital, but to speak to the GP, which the mother did, and he said the baby should be taken to hospital.
Referring to the children going into care, the mother’s barrister said: “She was given the option of the children being taken [under Section 12, with an emergency care order] or going to foster care voluntarily.”
“That option would be given. We usually do that,” the social worker replied.
She agreed with the mother’s barrister that the mother’s story of what may have happened to the baby had remained consistent throughout, and there was no evidence she had told any untruth about the injury. She agreed that by the time she had taken over the case the baby’s injury was not of concern to the social work department, but it had concerns about the family’s “chaotic life-style”. Yet when they came to court last year they had said their main concern was a suspected non-accidental injury.
Turning to the other concerns, including that the oldest of the children [C], 10 when taken into care, was “parentified”, the mother’s barrister said he had been taken with his toddler brother to a strange house, it was quite natural he would take care of his younger brother. “He was changing his nappy, feeding him, and only 10 years of age,” the social worker said.
“What is so strange about that? The mother will say he was able to change a nappy under supervision. You have a child who wants to go home. He is not interacting well with the foster parents. It is natural for two brothers to cling together under such circumstances.”
Judge: “Are you asking me to take significance from the fact he could change a nappy?”
The social worker said he was also kicking furniture and appliances.
The barrister said that she had told the mother that, having got to know the child, the social worker no longer thought he was parentified, that his behaviour was due to his personality. The social worker said she did not recall this conversation. The barrister asked if C had been referred to a specialist with suspected autism, and the social worker said she did not recall.
The barrister indicated that the mother had obtained her CFA file from the area in which she had previously lived through a Freedom of Information request, and she was quoting from this file. She said she only got a very slim file from the CFA initially, though the previous week had got a longer one.
Judge: “When was it ordered?”
Barrister: “During the proceedings, last year. I sought it in court.”
Judge: “Every case I’m dealing with runs into these issues of files being produced. It’s not satisfactory, but it has not been raised as an issue for an adjournment, so keep going.”
The barrister said that the specialist had not made a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in relation to C. Asked if the mother had behaved like a responsible parent in raising her concerns about her son’s obsessive behaviour with her GP, who referred him to the specialist in children’s psychiatric services, the social worker replied: “Yes.”
The judge asked the barrister what was the significance of this, and the barrister replied that it related to the CFA position that the mother used health concerns about her children to deflect from deficiencies in her parenting.
Moving to the mother’s concerns that C had dairy intolerance, she said the mother would say that when fed dairy products he threw up. Was she not right to infer he had a problem?
“She said he did. Following his reception into care he did not,” the social worker replied.
Barrister: “Did you ask the doctor if he could grow out of it? Were there any investigations?”
Social worker: “No.”
Judge: “This is the point at which we stopped the hearing. The question was whether the fact that the children were presenting in a certain way was organic or environmental. Let’s talk about ‘good enough parenting’. If a parent is concerned for a child when she saw him throwing up sour milk and having a tummy pain would it be unreasonable to consider dairy intolerance?”
Social worker: “No. But it was presented as a real threat for [C].”
Judge: “I am proceeding from the presumption that a child’s best place is with his parents, and come from that. Do you still maintain that dairy intolerance was a deflection?”
Social worker: “Yes.”
The barrister then turned to the mother’s claim that the child suffered from fibromyalgia. “It must happen all the time that children come into care with a suspected condition which turns out not to exist. It is not a major issue.”
She pointed out that the second child [D] had a diagnosis of global developmental delay. He was bed-wetting when he came into care, and when he wet the bed he re-made a bed on the floor, which was commented on by the CFA. “Do you think it strange that he would do that in a strange house with people he didn’t know? Imagine how embarrassing it would be. In relation to the concerns that he lacked confidence, this was a child with some difficulties.”
She then said that allegations had been made concerning D, of which the CFA was aware. “In hindsight, I’m aware that these are just allegations, but if true, do you think the issues could have been linked to child sex abuse?”
Social worker: “I have no specific knowledge of the allegations, so I don’t think I can answer that.”
The barrister referred to the CFA’s concerns about behavioural problems on the part of the third child [E]. “A specialist has detected a chromosomal abnormality in relation to E. That has to be further investigated.”
The barrister said that the social worker had raised concerns about the child’s behaviour after access. However, he also demonstrated bad behaviour around toilet-training, which was taking place at this time. Toilet-training was also going on at access.
Barrister: “Do you think it would be fairer, rather than laying this at the door of the mother, to consider the role in his dis-regulated behaviour played by toilet training?”
Social worker: “Perhaps it would have been fairer but I was concerned about a conversation with the foster-carers.” She said the foster carer had reported a conversation with this child, when he was worried about “the other daddy” and said his mother was waiting for him “at the house.” She said she was concerned about this conversation.
Barrister: “Alleged conversation. It is hearsay.”
Judge: “I don’t accept as a matter of fact or of law that foster carers should be excused from giving evidence. Foster carers are under contract to the CFA. Reasons need to be given as to why people to whom disclosures are made should not be called. I have to balance the rights of the children and the rights of parents. I can’t see how in every case a social worker can say this is what the foster carer told me.”
The barrister then asked the social worker why a card written by the mother to the child at the suggestion of the CFA, after access was suspended, was never sent.
Social worker: “I did have a conversation with them about the letter. [E] did call the foster-carers Mummy [X] and Daddy [Y]. The purpose of the card was to give him permission to be happy in the foster home with the foster parents. The mother said she took legal advice that she did not have to refer to [Mummy X and Daddy Y] in the letter. We took the view that otherwise the child would get the message they [the parents] are waiting for me, and it would be upsetting for him. The mother did acknowledge the rationale for the request. She said she would refer to them [the foster parents] by their names [but not mummy and daddy].”
Barrister: “As a result of the row over the card there was no access for four months.”
Social worker: “We were seeking an update of an attachment assessment.”
There then followed a discussion of the status of a guidance document for parenting capacity assessments drawn up by Dr Helen Buckley of Trinity College. The social worker said it was not prescriptive, it was just a guidance document. There was no prescriptive document for parenting assessments.
Asked why the parenting capacity assessment was written up in February 2014, rather than earlier, when the recommendations had been made the previous summer, the social worker said it was because of her case load at the time.
Asked when she shared the recommendations with the mother, she said she did in April 2014. Asked what had happened to the social work involvement with the family in the part of the country where they had previously lived, she said the case was closed. “Would it not have been fairer to put it all into the report?” the barrister asked. “She co-operated fully and the case was closed.”
Social worker: “It may have been fairer.”
Judge: “Why is that not in?”
Social worker: “I don’t know. I had numerous child protection cases on hand at the time. It would be wonderful if I could just have concentrated on this case.”
Judge: “Does that not compromise the agency’s ability to meet its statutory duty to protect children?”
The barrister then examined the report on the family that had come from the other area, which stated: “The mother maintained a very protective attitude to her children” and referred to her previous husband [who had abused her oldest daughter] being out of the family home. “Do you remember reading that?”
Social worker: “I can’t remember. I’m not saying I didn’t read it.”
Barrister: “Do you not think now it would have been fairer to make reference to that child protection conference and would have given a more balanced picture?”
Social worker: “It would have been fairer, yes. The document could have been much better written, judge.”
Barrister: “In relation to [D], there is a reference to global developmental delay. Yet that is not in your report. Would it be better if it was?”
Social worker: “Yes.”
The judge asked what the purpose of a parenting capacity assessment, and the social worker said it was to identify gaps in parenting capacity and the supports needed. Asked if it would inform applications for an interim care order, she said it would, as an addendum.
The barrister said that, in relation to D, the mother had come to the CFA with concerns. Yet that was not in the report. There were a number of recommendations, which were all followed through on. That was not in the report. There was a reference to D smelling of faeces, but the mother had said he was unable to wipe his bum. This was not in the report.
“Are all the reports being prepared now being dealt with in a better manner?” the judge asked.
“Absolutely, judge,” the social worker replied.
Barrister: “Would you agree that in your report there is not one positive word about the mother? It is all negative.”
Social worker: “I listed the concerns.”
Barrister: “It was all negative.”
Social worker: “Just the concerns, yes.”
Barrister: “Looking back on it now, would you have changed the way you did it?”
Social worker: “I should have balanced it more, yes, I should.”
Barrister: “So it is not really an accurate assessment.”
Social worker: “It is not a balanced assessment.”
The barrister referred to Dr Buckley’s guidelines, which referred to “clear evidence”, the need to “cover strengths as well as weaknesses” and to go back to the parent to discuss issues. “You didn’t do any of them.”
Asked when she shared the report with the mother, she said she did in April 2014. Asked if she gave her a copy, she said not that day. She said she was prepared to go through it with her, but the mother just wanted to know when the children were coming home. It was a very emotional meeting.
The barrister asked her was she aware of Dr Buckley’s guidelines on how to present such a report, including holding a number of meetings with parents and an opportunity for them to challenge interpretations. “It was not followed,” the social worker said.
Asked by the judge why the procedure was not followed, the social worker said it was because of her case-load. “Who decides the case-load?” he asked. “The team leader,” she replied. Judge: “Can we assume this is happening now?” he asked. “I only know about my case-load,” she said.
The barrister returned to the parenting capacity assessment, pointing out that it contained no reference to the child having been enrolled in various sporting and leisure activities. It also omitted reference to the absence of domestic violence or to the fact that the mother suffered from a disabling condition. The Buckley framework also references the impact on a family of having a child with complex needs or a disability, or being a member of an ethnic minority, both of which applied in this case, and neither of which were referred to in the assessment.
Barrister: “Can you point out one positive statement under headings like emotional warmth?”
Social worker: “No.”
Barrister: “So instead of evidence of capacity to parent you showed none.”
Social worker: “No.”
Barrister: “So there is only evidence of inability to parent?”
Social worker: “Yes.”
She said that some of the recommendations in the parenting capacity assessment were being acted upon, including a referral of the child to a specialist. However, the specialist’s report was not written up until November 2014, after the completion of the assessment. Asked if it would be better to have waited for his assessment, she said it would be better for all professionals to write up their reports as soon as possible, but this was not always possible.
Asked if overall it was a fair report, she said the quality of the report was poor, but she believed the information in it was pertinent to the overall running of the case and she stood by the facts in it.
The judge asked her if the reason for taking the children into care was the head injury, and she said: “Yes, initially.”
“The question still arises in this case as to whether taking all the children into care was proportionate,” he said. “The child was going to be in hospital anyway. What sometimes happens in these cases is parents are evasive. But the parents were giving you information about possible autism, etc. [C] and [E] were split up, how many days after going into care? Why?”
Social worker: “We were concerned [C] was parentified. They were split up five days after going into care.”
Judge: “Parenting styles differ.”
Social worker: “Yes, but we do expect routines.”
Judge: “We are now looking at judging what is good enough parenting. In relation to [D] bed-wetting, that continued for two and a half years after going into care.”
Social worker: “Sporadically, yes. The concern was his response to the bed-wetting.”
Judge: “If the mother gives me a reasonable explanation, and you give me a reasonable explanation, I’m bound to believe the mother. The Supreme Court has decided that.”
He asked about C’s reported fibromyalgia and dairy intolerance, and the social worker said there was no evidence of either since the child went into care.
The court took evidence via video link from the area in which the family had previously lived, in which a Garda outlined an incident involving one of the older girls when she was 12, in which she was found apparently intoxicated, dishevelled and suspected of having been sexually assaulted.
The Garda said there were various theories put forward about what had happened to the girl. She herself said nothing about it. There was a discussion about who she was hanging about with and whether the mother was aware of any sexual activity. She said she was aware the daughter had given oral sex to her boyfriend, but not that she had had sexual intercourse. A specialist interview was arranged, but the girl did not want to be interviewed on camera. The investigation never went to its end and the girl went to boarding school abroad. The mother withdrew her statement about the incident.
The mother’s barrister pointed out that this incident had occurred on a festival night in the town where there were fireworks at midnight, and the girl had a curfew of 2.30am. When she was not home at this time her mother and her partner had looked for her all over the town before contacting the Garda station.
Because of the suspicion of sexual assault they brought her to a specialist sexual assault unit, which found no evidence of internal trauma and none of sexual assault. After the girl had spoken to the child specialist interviewer she disclosed to her mother she had had sex with her boyfriend.
A second social worker, who had been the first social worker for the children, gave evidence of taking the children into care initially. About seven months after the children went into care she realised the case needed more attention than she could give it, so the case was allocated to another social worker [the one who had already given evidence].
She said a parenting capacity assessment was ordered. This looked at the style of parenting, identified deficits or gaps and looked at what services or social work interventions were needed in order to enhance the parents’ capacity to meet the children’s needs in the future. The mother was high functioning. She spoke openly of her concerns about the children. The key issue was her putting her own needs before those of the children.
She said that at the time she was giving the mother help with getting to access, so she had some informal discussions with her. She always found the parents very open and very willing to acknowledge issues. She [the social worker] saw this as quite a complex case which would involve a number of professionals. This was in her hand-over report.
The mother’s barrister said she had not seen it, and the judge commented: “This a feature in a lot of the cases I see, a document is missing.”
Asked about the report from the other part of the country, the social worker said she did not think there was a parenting capacity assessment. The mother told her she had completed a parenting programme there, and she was able to articulate what she had learned. However, there was concern about whether she was able to translate this into practice.
The first part of her discussion with the parents was about their own childhood experiences. She also discussed with them what had happened to the baby. The father said he was out at work when the incident [leading to the head injury] occurred. He said the mother controlled the house and managed the children, and did not see this as problematic. The mother said it was bad judgment on her part to leave the baby alone in a room with a toddler.
Discussing her children, she said the older boy [C] had dairy intolerance, possible fibromyalgia and possible autism, the social worker said. The second boy [D] had global developmental delay. He was clumsy and had issues with his balance. The third [E] had speech issues and was non-verbal. He threw things to attract attention. “That was not the feedback I was getting from the foster-carers,” the social worker said. The mother said she had sought psychological help for the children, and felt there must be some organic cause for the problems.
The mother also spoke of the disclosures from her oldest daughter [A] who had been sexually abused by her second husband. She was very upset about what had happened, and acknowledged that at the time she prioritised her relationship over her daughter’s needs. She later ended that relationship. The social worker told the mother that the department was concerned about lack of supervision, which could constitute neglect.
In relation to her oldest daughter, she said at the time of the abuse the mother was working out of the house and her husband was in the house with the children. She found it difficult to accept the allegations. The girl then went abroad for a time. She said they had a difficult relationship, but became closer when the girl became pregnant (for the third time, she had two miscarriages in her teens).
The mother had described her own childhood [in another country] as very happy. Her father was a professional man who worked very hard. Her mother spent a lot of time in her room. She had a very positive relationship with her father, though he worked very long hours. However, she was emotionally abused by her brother.
When she married her first husband she had to move away from where her parents lived. Her first daughter was born. This man had a lot of sexual relationships with other women, and the marriage broke up, the social worker outlined.
Her second husband was Irish and they were together for 12 years, though the relationship began to deteriorate after five years because of his drinking and domestic violence. A daughter and two sons were born. The family moved to Ireland. The son [C] was very protective of her and his other siblings, and she acknowledged this was as a result of the domestic violence. Eventually this marriage broke up, following the allegation of his abuse of her oldest daughter.
She met her third husband online, as she did not want to go to pubs. He moved in with her, which C found very difficult, though the second son, D, quickly developed a very good relationship with him. She ran the house and looked after the children, while her husband worked to provide for the household. They moved to their present location because he was offered a job there, where he worked long hours in shifts.
The father described his childhood, the social worker said. He had been raised by a relative on a farm until he was five or six. Then the relative died and he moved to his parents’ home in town. This was a time of immense upheaval. His mother was physically abusive, and his older brother was involved in drugs. He was bulled in school.
The social worker said that when she spoke to him he constantly reverted to general issues, like his work and politics. He was very happy in his relationship with the mother, but was not aware of her previous history, regarding it as “a no-go area”. He said he did not judge people.
The social worker said there was nothing he did not know about his area of work, which was highly specialised, but he had no experience of what the children did, what time they went to bed, etc. He said the mother looked after all that.
Judge: “Did he have a traditional idea of parenting?”
Social worker: “Yes. This reflected his early experience on the farm. He saw [the mother] very much as nurturing. He was vague in terms of his interaction with the children.”
Judge: “It is a traditional rather than a modern style of parenting. Does that cause a difficulty?”
Social worker: “Yes, judge. He didn’t realise the mother needed help.”
Turning to the children, she said that the concerns of the mother about their issues [dairy intolerance, etc.] were passed on to the foster parents, and they went to great lengths to buy suitable products for the children to eat. But gradually C started to try new foods, including those containing dairy, with no adverse reaction. This child had seen himself as only interested in academic pursuits, but was now involved in sport and music.
The second boy was described by the mother as having global developmental delay. He had hygiene issues when he came into care. The mother described the children as grazers and said it was better for their digestion. In the foster home there were very definite mealtimes with cooked meals. The boy said his mother never did this.
The third boy [E] was extremely aggressive when he came into care, biting, scratching and screeching as a method of communicating. It was very difficult to get him to sit at mealtimes, and bedtime was very difficult. The social workers looked at what support the foster carers could have in order to sustain the placement.
Asked by the mother’s barrister if his behaviour could have resulted from being taken into care, the social worker said it went beyond the impact of being taken into care. The parents acknowledged his behavioural problems, but said he was not so bad with them.
The baby did not require any further medical treatment after her hospitalisation and examination following the head injury. She was being kept under observation. She was being breastfed when she came into care and the social work department tried to facilitate that by the mother expressing milk. There was access twice a week for breastfeeding.
Judge: “Do you think twice a week is best practice if the mother wishes to breastfeed?”
Social worker: “No, judge.”
Judge: “I feel some of the European Court [of Human Rights] judgments might assist in relation to this. In an ideal situation, the expression of milk would be the second option. To re-state – considering the child’s age, the mother’s wishes and the fact that she was breastfeeding, was twice a week optimal in terms of the mother’s wishes and the best interests of the child?”
Social worker: “There were three accesses with the opportunity to breast-feed. There were difficulties for the foster carers, it was reduced to twice a week.”
She said the first access was chaotic – C was seeking his mother’s attention, and the mother was trying to feed the baby. D was looking for the father’s attention and they clearly had a close relationship. E was constantly running around the room not seeking anyone out. The social worker discussed it afterwards with the parents and said that if this was a snapshot of what happened in the house the situation needed work. The purpose of access was for parents to have quality time with their children.
It was decided to separate the children at access and try to explore ways both parents could interact with the children. They had the older boy and the toddler at one access, the second boy and the baby at another. The mother said she enjoyed access more. She had better interaction with C [the oldest boy], the second boy gravitated more to the father.
The children’s presentation subsided in care. She said that when looking at the parents’ capacity, the social work department looked at the parents’ own childhood experiences, and their impact on their ability to be available to the children physically and emotionally. The father’s main focus was on his work. He accepted that home was chaotic, especially around bedtime routines, and that intervention was needed.
The mother spoke of the parenting course she had undertaken, but the social worker said she did not see its results in practice. The mother said she would have parented each child individually, providing an array of food they would have eaten in the course of the day.
The social worker felt there was a need for a psychological assessment of both parents in the light of what they had told her. The mother struggled to understand the impact of her style of parenting on the children. The social worker’s recommendations were that the oldest boy, C, be referred to a psychologist; that E be immediately referred to the early intervention team and that the foster carers have support in managing his behaviour; that both parents be assessed by a psychologist and have a parenting capacity assessment; that access continue to be supervised so that the parents could demonstrate what they learned from the parenting course.
She said that throughout her involvement with the parents she never encountered any hostility. They were disappointed there was a change in social worker, as they had built up a relationship with her. While C was referred to a psychologist in April, it was June or July before he was seen. “I hoped the issues would have been dealt with in a more condensed way,” she said.
Asked by the judge who decided on the change in social worker, she said there would have been a team discussion. She felt the case needed more social work involvement than she could give it, as she was heavily involved in court work at the time. She agreed that she had done most of the parenting capacity work. “I was very concerned at the lack of insight of the parents that their parenting style might have contributed to the children’s presentation. I felt therefore that this needed much more intervention than I could give.”
It then emerged that the case would be adjourned again before finishing, and the judge asked why the case had taken over two years to come to hearing. The solicitor for the CFA said that the children had been in voluntary care until the summer of 2014, which was for 18 months.
Another social worker gave evidence that she discussed concerns in relation to the hygiene of the house with the maternal grandfather and that as a result, he had employed cleaners to assist in the upkeep of the house. The social worker was concerned that the mother could not manage without the financial support of her father.
The barrister for the GAL criticised this social worker for her failure to ask more questions about F’s injuries in January 2013, when the mother first brought the injuries to her attention. The barrister for the GAL also criticised the limited access which the mother had with F when she was initially taken into care, especially in light of the fact that F was being breastfed. She also asked the social worker about the decision to separate the siblings during access and the social worker responded by saying that there had been ad hoc contact between all four children once per month, which was arranged between the foster parents.
The GAL’s barrister questioned the social worker on her finding of neglect and the social worker said that she based her finding on the HSE Child Protection Handbook 2011, which provides 14 indicators of neglect. The barrister reported that 10 of those indicators were present and the social worker agreed with the GAL’s finding and provided examples of neglect such as; E smearing faeces on the wall, D’s bed wetting, and C looking after E. However, the social worker said that there was no evidence of the children being hungry, unattended medically or substance misuse.
The GAL’s barrister asked the social worker about the mother’s ability to identify and deal with risk. The social worker replied that the father of the youngest children was moved into the family home following a very brief period of time, in spite of the fact that there were teenage girls living in the home. Further evidence was given that the mother saw her previous husband kissing her eldest child but refused to believe the daughter’s allegations of sexual abuse until several years later. Counsel for the GAL asked the social worker if she did any work with the mother regarding sexual boundaries and sexual abuse and the social worker said that she did not, but admitted that she should have, as it was important.
The social worker was questioned by the barrister for the mother. Immediately an issue in relation to documentation arose and it appeared that the social worker’s hand written notes were shredded when she left the CFA. The judge expressed dissatisfaction with this practice and the CFA solicitor replied that is was due to data protection concerns.
The mother’s barrister questioned the social worker on her Parenting Capacity Assessment Report. She highlighted the failure of the social worker to include the impact of the mother’s childhood history on her ability to parent, the failure of the CFA to question the mother further on her reaction to the abuse allegations against her eldest daughter and the lack of balance in the reporting of C’s dairy allergy, fibromyalgia and potential Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
Evidence was given by F’s treating consultant paediatrician who was concerned that neither the mother nor father could give any possible reason for the baby’s injuries. The doctor said there was a suspected fracture, however that was ruled out in Temple Street Children’s Hospital. The doctor reported that F’s general health was completely normal and she had no other injuries.
The barrister for the GAL asked the doctor if the swelling would have been more obvious immediately following the incident and the doctor replied that bruises are very difficult to time or stage and swelling might not happen immediately after an injury. The GAL’s barrister asked if the mother should have sought medical attention immediately and the doctor replied that she did show the bruising to a public health nurse and he was anxious to point out that the mother was not a medical professional. The doctor said he did not have a big problem with the delay, but he did have an issue with how the injury occurred.
The judge asked the doctor what the diagnosis of F’s injuries was and the doctor said that the bleed was not on the brain and therefore the baby did not require surgery. The doctor reported that F had fully recovered from her injury. In relation to how the injuries were sustained, the judge asked if the doctor would always expect parents to know how an accident happened and he replied: “I don’t always expect them to know how, but they should know that it did happen”. The doctor said that it was significant to see a trauma by a non-mobile baby and this was compounded by the fact that nobody knew of the trauma or knew if the child cried after the injury.
The social worker who facilitated the Parenting Plus programme from mid-2013 to early 2014 gave evidence. The social worker described the Parenting Plus programme as an evidence-based programme where a topic is introduced and the parents watch a DVD and then discuss the issues raised with a view to developing the skills needed. The social worker said she met with the parents to explain her role and was immediately concerned by the mother’s belief that the presentations of the children were personality based and innate within each child.
The social worker observed several access visits during the summer of 2013 prior to commencing the Parenting Plus programme. The social worker reported all of her negative observations following the first access visit. The judge interrupted and asked: “Did anything positive happen during the access” and the social worker outlined the positive observations and from that point on provided a much more balanced picture of each access visit.
The recurring theme of each access visit was the mother’s favouritism for C. The social worker gave evidence that C should not have been helping his mother with the younger children and on one visit reported that C said if he returned home he did not want to look after E because “that’s what people have said, that it’s my time to enjoy my childhood”. The judge took a note of what C said and questioned the social worker about the attitude of the CFA towards children helping with their siblings. The social worker said it was not OK that a ten year old knew how to change a nappy. The judge asked if the social worker followed up on C’s comment and the social worker replied that she had not.
The social worker gave evidence that during access the father’s relationship with D was much more fluid and relaxed than the mother’s relationship with D. She said that the mother appeared to have a different relationship with D than C and ignored D on several occasions in spite of the fact that he was trying to interact with her. On one occasion the social worker reported that the mother had told D to “shut up”. The social worker said that the father was awkward in his interactions with the two younger children and advised both parents that they needed to balance their time evenly between all of the children. The judge criticised the fact that feedback was not provided immediately following access but rather before the next access visit and the social worker agreed that this system was probably not fair.
After the social worker outlined her observations of access, the judge commented: “It didn’t seem that they needed much advice” and described one of the access visits as “text book access”.
Following the observed access the social worker started the Parenting Plus programme. During the first session, entitled Tuning Into Your Child, the social worker pointed out the mother’s parenting deficits, which she believed to be: favouritism towards C, lack of emotional warmth at times, inability to tune in, failure to react to challenging behaviour, balancing time between children and inability to deal with all four children at the same time.
The next access was during one of the children’s birthdays and all of the children were present. The social worker said that neither parent balanced their interactions with all of the children and she commented that access was chaotic. The social worker was particularly critical of the parents’ inability to manage E’s behaviour. The judge asked “how can you compare the behaviour of the children if you don’t also observe the children in their foster homes for example – a control sample”. The social worker replied by saying that her focus was not to analyse the children’s behaviour, but rather to give the parents the skills to manage the presenting behaviours there and then.
The social worker carried out six sessions with the parents and noted improvements in both parents. In particular she reported that they balanced their time between the children more appropriately, were much more affectionate and spoke to D in a more appropriate manner. The social worker highlighted a particular instance when she believed the father reacted well when E refused to come to the table for dinner. The father brought E’s toy to the table and then E joined the family for dinner. However, the social worker was critical of the mother who said she wouldn’t allow E to bring a toy to the table and would let him scream out the tantrum instead. The judge asked why that was not good parenting and the social worker respondent that “when there is an alternative not to escalate the behaviour, I would like the parent to take on board the alternative”.
Toward the end of the Parenting Plus programme, the social worker reported that the parents did not engage or take on board the training as well as they had in the beginning. The social worker explained that children had been in care for almost a year at this stage and the parents were distressed at the contents of various reports by the CFA. Nonetheless, the social worker acknowledged that the parents loved all of the children and that while the father struggled with practical things like cooking, he was very nurturing towards the children.
The social worker finished the Parenting Plus programme towards the end of 2013, but believed that improvements needed to be made and identified areas which needed further work. The judge asked if further guidance or training was given by her when she supervised access after the Parenting Plus programme was complete. The social worker said that she did not think she could do a further piece of work with the parents because she didn not see enough of an impact following the first piece.
Before another social worker, who had prepared a number of reports on the children resumed her evidence, the solicitor acting for the Child and Family Agency told the court that she would also be relying on what was contained in diaries which the foster parent of child D had kept as well as what the foster parent had told her. The solicitor said she was not proposing to call the foster parent to give evidence. The mother’s barrister said she had not been given copies of the diaries and was seeking them. She did not accept the CFA reasons for not providing them. She said the social worker was seeking to make a conclusion based on the diaries and the foster carer’s comments. The judge said he would hear the social worker’s evidence and then decide on her request for the diaries.
This social worker gave evidence based on her observations of supervised access visits. On occasions Child C had been antagonistic towards F and he had made negative comments in relation to D and F. He had criticised his mother for forgetting to bring strawberries to access which he had requested. D appeared more relaxed at sibling access and he engaged with them. In the car after access, the children were conversing, laughing and talking together. F was more consistent in her interactions with her siblings.
The social worker said the mother had missed opportunities to correct negative behaviour by C and she observed her correcting D and F. When she was colouring a picture with F the mother had missed an opportunity to praise her work and she failed to correct C when he made negative comments about his siblings. Her playing with F was more rigid than with the other children. D had asked his foster mother if he would become an alcoholic and take up smoking. He appeared more relaxed with sibling access and he engaged more with them.
The social worker said it was easier for a parent to respond more appropriately to a child’s behaviour during supervised access. When asked if the mother would be able to enforce boundaries with the children if she was on her own with them, the social worker said that she certainly presented as being prepared to take them on board. The mother had told her that, if she was at home with the children, she would be able to distract them and go for a walk. “I put it to her that if she was getting them ready for school she would have to respond to the behaviour and not take them for a walk.”
The witness said the mother needed support when she was with all the children. Primarily her concern was about emotional well-being. The mother had issues about self-worth and self-esteem and there was a lack of positive responses to D and F.
The social worker said a neuropsychologist was consulted about how access could be best managed and he recommended individual access which was initiated on a weekly basis from 1st December 2016 with each child having one hour of access. Child D had concerns about attending and when C was told he “became terribly upset and tears began running down his face. He didn’t want it changed.” He said he had a positive relationship with his mother but he was upset at the notion of individual access with his mother. “He is not a child who would become easily upset. He didn’t see the reason for the change,” she said.
The neuropsychologist was specific that each child should be given the choice to attend or not. C had gone every week and the access reports were positive. He had said it was boring but there were no concerns about his presentation after access. The social worker’s observations of D at access with his mother were positive and his mother was able to maintain focus in terms of her interactions with him. She made efforts and was able to put in place some of the recommendations which had been made.
This social worker was a co-worker on the case and had been the primary social worker assigned to the four children for a period. When she had completed her reports on access and was about to give evidence concerning her main report for the hearing, the court was told that her evidence would include details of disclosures of sexual abuse by child D. The disclosures had been made by him to the foster mother and he had been interviewed by a CFA social worker and a Garda. The court had earlier heard that X, the father of E and F, and stepfather of C and D, had been arrested the previous week and had been interviewed about the disclosures.
The CFA solicitor told the judge that, while she did not want to jeopardise a Garda investigation, she had to prove her case and she was in a difficult position. The alleged abuse occurred when the child was living with his mother and stepfather and the solicitor told the judge that the foster carer to whom the disclosure was made would not be called to give evidence.
The judge said that ultimately it was the agency’s decision. “I don’t think it’s my role to issue a witness summons.” His view of the law, he said, was that “you had to prove facts.” He said the CFA may decide as a matter of policy not to call the foster parents “but I don’t believe they are immune from being called.” There could be an occasion when they should be called but the CFA lawyer had given a view that it was a blanket ban.
Counsel for the father would be entitled to cross-examine and the judge told him: “It’s your client’s name and reputation and you may want to make an issue of it. At the moment the issue is how the evidence comes in.”
The judge said the evidence had to be proven. There were no allegations of sexual abuse by the mother. However, CFA was raising the issue of the mother not being a protective factor for the children and the judge said that if the court was to make an adverse finding against her it would have to make a finding on the evidence. “If I were to find against her I have to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that sexual abuse did occur.”
The social worker then proceed to present her overall report which she stated concluded the children continued to require care and protection which they were unlikely to receive in the absence of a Care Order.
At this stage the father’s barrister objected to any evidence regarding disclosure by D to the foster parent.
Judge “We are at an early stage.”
Barrister for father X: “I am looking at the report and I know what’s coming. I am objecting to what is going to be given in evidence.”
The CFA solicitor said evidence about the disclosure would be given by a Garda, a medical expert and a social worker. The judge said the only evidence he wanted to hear was evidence which could be proved. “If the allegation is going to be made someone must be able to come in and give evidence to prove it.”
Addressing the father’s barrister, he said: “Events may have overtaken it by virtue of the fact that your client was arrested.” The barrister said the medical expert could not give evidence about the nature of the disclosure and the judge said it depended on whether the disclosure was made unprompted and, if prompted, whether it was prompted by leading questions.
The father’s barrister reiterated his objection to the social worker giving evidence of the disclosure as his client would have great difficulty in challenging her evidence and could not give evidence “in order not to taint his case in the criminal proceedings.” He had no difficulty with evidence from the social worker about parenting capacity but he would be objecting to how the disclosures had been made. He said a real difficulty arose because the CFA was saying there were protection issues. “We start with that and I have to object to that because the foster carers are not being called.”
The judge said the case was an inquiry and it could proceed in parallel [with the criminal proceedings]. It was the court’s decision to decide what weight to attach to it. He said the Garda evidence was very often that they took the interview or statement. “Very rarely can the guards say if this is truthful or not. If it’s not proven on the balance of probabilities, the protective factor in relation to that aspect doesn’t come in. The protective factor usually relates to something that has happened,” he said.
The CFA solicitor reminded the court that there had been a request the previous week that the case be adjourned pending the criminal investigation but the interest of the child was of paramount importance. The judge said they were all agreed it would not be in the best interest of the child to give evidence. The father’s barrister said disclosure was “only one plank in their case; parenting capacity is the other.” The judge said that in this circumstance he was yet to be convinced the foster carer could not give evidence “but if the CFA have decided not to call the foster carer, they are entitled to do so.”
On the following day, there were continued arguments about how the CFA intended to introduce the disclosures by child D.
The mother’s barrister said she should get all the documents which had been given to the neuropsychologist. These documents included the foster parents’ diaries. The CFA’s barrister said the evidence relating to D’s disclosures would be tendered by a Garda and a social worker and the diaries were not relevant. The mother’s barrister stated she did not have an issue about calling the foster carers. The judge said the child D was of an age that he could be called to give evidence and “that’s a consideration that I have to make.” The child’s stepfather X was not in favour of him being called.
In relation to D’s allegation of abuse by C’s foster brother, the court was told that the alleged abuse happened in March 2016. The allegation was still under investigation.
Judge: “Is the child in the same place?”
CFA barrister: “Yes.”
Judge: “You mean it’s almost 10 months after the allegation is made and he is still in the same foster placement?”
CFA barrister: “Yes.”
The judge said that in his experience the CFA immediately took action when abuse allegations were made in a family home. The judge said he was a great believer in consistency and “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” The barrister for the GAL said measures were taken and a safety plan was put in place.
The judge asked if the judge who made the Order was aware of this allegation and indicated he might feel a need to inform the judge. He said he was coming to the view that the foster carers would be required to give evidence. “The more and more we go into this case, the more issues there are. I’m intrigued at the different twists and turns this case takes.” He said he was expressing concerns with regard to C “and now I am hearing this has been an issue since March last year. My primary concern is for C,” he said.
In the course of further lengthy discussion about the issue of D’s allegations, the father’s barrister reiterated his opposition to D’s allegations being put before the court. His concern was that, if allegations were made against his client he would have to call him to give evidence in circumstances where a criminal prosecution might be pending.
The CFA wanted to tie in these allegations to a failure by the mother to protect her children so the court would have to find that the allegations were either true or untrue. The unfairness, he submitted, was that the court would have to come to a conclusion that it either believed or disbelieved the allegations. He said he had asked for a stay on the entire proceedings last week and he was now asking for the exclusion of the statement by the foster carer.
The CFA barrister referred to a Supreme Court decision which held that in circumstances where there were criminal and civil matters it was a case of “which ever gets there first” and there was no inhibition in law to prevent the case proceeding. Any criminal trial would be unlikely before 2018 and he did not see that it inhibited this procedure from continuing. “The welfare of the child comes first,” he said. The GAL barrister reminded the court that the children had been in care for four years and it was in the best interests of the children that delay be avoided.
The mother’s barrister said the context of the disclosure was important to her client and the father’s barrister pointed out that the CFA was prepared to go ahead on a certain basis in January 2016 and it would be unfair to his client if D’s allegation were to be included now. He urged the court to proceed on the basis on which it was proceeding a year ago. The CFA barrister said the decision of the court had to be informed by the events of the last year. The judge said the CFA was “certainly bound by the conditions that existed when they were taken into care.” It was agreed the child was capable of giving evidence but it seemed that it would not be in the welfare or interest of the child.
The judge said the court could take into account the statement of a child, decide on the weight to be attached to it and take account of all the circumstances. This would include the interests of justice. He said he had to weigh the rights of the mother and father with the rights of the child. The court could receive the child’s statement but it would also, in the interests of fairness, require something corroborative or additional.
“While I accept the statement, it doesn’t mean it is correct. The parties are going to give evidence as to what statement was given by a child. After that the question as to whether it can be proved remains up in the air.” Addressing the father’s barrister, the judge said that, while he would hear the statement, the fact was he would be looking for more. “The court has to weigh all the evidence,” he said. “I also take the view that the more serious the allegation the higher the evidence has to be.” He would not accept as fact something the child said just because he said it. “It’s not going to be lying there and accepted as proof just because the child said it.”
The judge said more evidence would have to be give as to whether the statement was truthful or not. He said he had to balance the father’s rights along with the child’s and “the fact that he said something doesn’t mean it has been proved to be true.”
A social worker who interviewed child D told the court how, in March 2016, he and a member of the Garda Siochana met with him at his foster home. The purpose of the interview was to deal with an allegation D had made against another child. After they had spoken with him about this matter, D then disclosed further information about his stepfather. The social worker said he was not aware of any allegation concerning the stepfather until then. “It was only when we were shutting down the interview he said [the stepfather] had done certain things to him.” At that stage they explained to him that they would need to get a DVD recording of further interviews with him and the child consented to this.
The social worker said two further interviews were conducted with the child in the interview suite of a Garda station. The child alleged that his stepfather had put his penis into his anus “between one and 20 times” in a number of locations in two counties when he was aged seven and eight. He said some of the assaults happened in the family home when he was living with his mother, stepfather and family. Some of the assaults occurred when the mother was not present in the family home but one assault had taken place while she was sleeping in the same room. He said the assaults had ceased because he was living in foster care now.
The Gardai had recorded the interview on DVD and they also had a written transcript. The judge asked the Garda who was present in court if there was an objection to allowing the transcript be read into evidence. The Garda told the judge that she had consulted her superior and he had indicated that, since there was a criminal investigation taking place, he would prefer if the transcript was not read out in court but the judge could view the DVD in his chambers. The barristers for the father and mother said they had, up to now, been unaware of the detail of the allegations.
A Garda inspector told the court on the following day that the investigation into D’s allegations was at a delicate stage. A file would be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions within two weeks. There was no Garda objection to the DVD of the interview being played for the judge but privilege was being claimed on the transcript and on the DVD being made available to the court until the DPP gave directions on whether or not to prosecute. He suggested that the proceedings be adjourned pending the DPP’s decision. The CFA’s barrister also suggested that the case be paused pending the decision.
The GAL’s barrister said the best evidence was the recording. “The words of the child, given by his own mouth, is the best evidence,” she said. The father’s barrister said the case could proceed on the basis that the CFA did not put forward the argument that the mother was not a protective parent. The mother’s barrister was concerned about the length of time which the case was taking and suggested that the rest of the evidence in the case could be heard: “The CFA have these children in their care … they are not anxious to push their case… my client was here last year… she has waited a year for this to come on … she now faces another six months… I don’t see any reason why we don’t go ahead with what we have… She is now four years without her children. This is an untenable position for our client.”
The judge said there was case law from the Supreme Court which suggested that there was a limit to the length of time the Gardai could claim immunity from disclosure of the DVD and transcripts and that was until a decision was made either to prosecute or not prosecute. The CFA was not prepared to discontinue its case in relation to the mother not being a protective factor and the CFA barrister suggested that the case be adjourned.
Following further discussions between the parties, the judge extended the Interim Care Orders for the children and adjourned the case to March. He ordered that copies of all documents including the foster carer’s notes which were given to the neuropsychologist be given to the parties in the case. The mother’s barrister had sought these diaries/notes and the CFA objected to their circulation. The mother’s barrister sought the diaries because she submitted the neuropsychologist had read them and had drawn conclusions from them. The CFA was unaware that the neuropsychologist had been given the foster carer’s notes and it was trying to find out how he had received them.
The judge referred again to his previous concerns that C continued to reside in the foster home where allegations of abuse by a foster child had been made by D and which were made in March 2016. The judge asked if the District judge who had made the Care Order [for the other child] had been told about the allegation of abuse. The mother’s barrister said it had never been discussed in court but it would have been in some of the reports prepared for the court. The judge said if he had heard of it “I would have come down on it like a ton of bricks.”
He asked if anyone else could recall it being raised and said he would give everybody an opportunity to examine the issue. “Did anyone else not think it was worth bringing it to the attention of the courts?” he asked. He said he was concerned that a GAL had been appointed and the GAL should bring any concerns to the attention of the court. “If I feel criticism needs to be levelled I will certainly level it.”
He said that people could bring a section 47 motion during Interim Care Order proceedings. “Where is the investigation?” he asked. “I’m not sitting up here asleep.” If the shoe was on the other foot, the CFA would be raising serious issues. “It may be something that needs to be referred to HIQA,” he said. He said he wanted to know if the allegation had been included in any reports “and if it wasn’t I want to know why it wasn’t.”
The hearing was adjourned to March when a witness would give evidence by video link from abroad.
When it resumed in March the barrister for the mother said she had a Section 47 application to move C from his placement, because of the serious allegation made against a child in that placement (relating to sexual abuse of C). At this point the other parties did not have instructions on the matter, and consideration of it was adjourned.
Evidence was taken via video-link from the social worker who had worked with the family initially, and who had already given evidence. She was now living abroad. The mother’s barrister asked her about her discussions with the mother concerning the injury to the baby, prompting the taking of all the children into care.
She said she met the mother about a month after the incident. The mother told her that the baby was on a shelf, her basket wedged with a chair, and she left the room. When she returned the baby was on the floor. She texted the father about the event, referring to Child E’s attempting to help. The mother brought the child to the doctor, who said that the injury was a soft tissue injury, consistent with a fall. The CFA barrister interrupted to say that he had said non-accidental injury was possible.
The mother’s barrister referred the social worker to the CFA Child Protection and Welfare Handbook, which stated that if infants presented with an injury the Gardai should be contacted. She asked the social worker if she had contacted the Gardai, and she replied: “Not that I can recall.”
Referring to Child C, the mother’s barrister said that a questionnaire, part of an ASD screening test, had been given to his teacher by the neuropsychologist called in to assess him for autism, and the teacher had answered “frequently” to the occurrence of a number of ASD traits.
“Were the mother’s concerns warranted?” she asked. “Yes, if the assessment has been completed,” the social worker replied.
Pressed further on the social work department’s attitude to the mother’s autism concerns, the social worker said that in the context of the overall views on C’s issues, it was felt that there were behavioural issues there. The department concluded the child had emotional, not sensory, problems and that there was no need for him to see an autism specialist.
Asked if the social work department had sought advice from a GP or dietary specialist about C’s suspected dairy intolerance, the social worker said they had not as C had himself moved on and was now taking dairy.
Referring to D, where his mother said he had global developmental delay, the mother’s barrister asked the social worker if the foster carers had reported similar problems. The social worker said that the foster carers had reported his problems had lessened.
Mother’s barrister: “Was it your thinking at the time that the problems were emotionally caused and not real?”
Social worker: “Not that they would not be real to the child. But we needed to look at emotional trauma.”
She said he had been referred to therapy, but did not know if he had gone. Asked if he should not have been referred to a psychologist, she said he should.
The social worker was then referred to the parenting capacity assessment that was drawn up from her notes and those of the social worker who had taken over from her. She said she was satisfied with it.
Asked why there were delays in assessments of the parents, she said the department had discussed the availability of a psychologist. She agreed this had contributed to delay in the case.
The barrister asked her about her use of the notes from the area where the family had previously lived in her parenting capacity assessment. There had been a number of referrals there, but eventually the case was closed. Asked if she had contacted the disability service to which D was referred, she said she had not. She acknowledged her report referred to a parenting capacity assessment in that area, but it was never carried out.
Barrister: “Do you not think it’s an error in the report to refer to it if was never carried out?”
Judge: “A significant error?”
Social worker: “Yes.”
Barrister: “According to Helen Buckley [author of a framework on parenting capacity assessments], it’s important that reports contain positives as well as negatives. Is there anything positive in your chronology?”
Social worker: “I think there are positive elements.”
Barrister: “Where is it written there?”
Social worker: “It’s not written there.”
Referred to the notes from the child protection conference in the other area, which had stated that the mother continued to be cooperative was protective, and that it was agreed to remove the children from the child protection register, she agreed that this information was not in her report. She said she was concerned about the injury. She acknowledged that it would have been better for the people coming after her if she had included this in her report. She also accepted that it would have been better not to leave her report incomplete for the other social worker to finish. Her evidence was adjourned pending the receipt of notes from the other area where the family had previously lived.
A consultant paediatrician told the court she had examined Child E. She was looking at the issues of learning difficulties and possible epilepsy, arising from concerns about his behaviour after access. He was also tested for a chromosomal disorder. He did have an abnormality on one chromosome, but she read this as not relevant to his behaviour or learning. The parents were also tested, and the father had a similar abnormality, but he had no learning difficulties. Her view was that this was not an explanation for his behaviour. However, she said she would like a specialist to have a look at it.
Following this, the video-link was re-established with the social worker who had given evidence the previous day. Asked if it would have been better to include the outcome of the assessment by the team in the other area, she said the pattern she saw emerging from the notes was one of a long involvement of the social work department with the family, though it was reduced to family support.
Pressed by the mother’s barrister on the incompleteness of her report, she said: “I accept the chronology was brief.”
“It is not just brief. It only draws on all the negatives. Were you disregarding the handbook which says you should include the positives?”
The CFA barrister said this line of questioning was based on the wrong premise. The report was listing the concerns.
Mother’s barrister: “It was my client who sought help, my client who engaged with the services.”
The social worker also acknowledged that she should have spoken to the older girl whose discovery in an apparently drunken state had caused concern.
At this point the video-link broke down due to a weak signal (having broken down a number of times already), and it was agreed her cross-examination would resume with her present in person.
The public health nurse who had seen the baby shortly after her accident told the court the mother had asked her to look at her head. The baby was otherwise settled and normal. The public health nurse suggested the mother show the bruise to the doctor, to which the mother agreed.
A social worker from the area in which the family had previously lived then gave evidence. The two children, C and D, had problems in pre-school. She met the mother to discuss them and offer support. The mother’s initial response was that she did not need help, she knew about various parenting techniques. The service is voluntary, and contact ceased. There was then a second referral in 2011 concerning child D, who was nearly seven and bed-wetting. There were concerns about his speech and language and the fact that he was not fully toilet-trained.
She met the mother, who continued to be very resistant to parenting advice. She insisted that the child’s learning difficulties were the cause of all his problems at home. However, there were no significant child protection concerns and the file was closed.
The judge asked her, in the light of this, how she came to the conclusion in 2015 that there were child protection concerns. “You are retrospectively trying to the review the matter when you did not have concerns at the time,” he said.
The CFA barrister said that the witness did detail the mother’s reluctance to engage in parenting support and accept responsibility for the problems in the family. The social worker said that the concerns were not child protection concerns, but welfare concerns. In relation to her report, she said she provided one in 2015 and updated it in 2017 when told she would have to give evidence. She felt her conclusion in the 2015 report was too long and she condensed it in 2017, but the conclusion was the same.
The mother’s barrister pointed out that the conclusion of the second report was longer than the first, and asked her to explain this. “Which do you think was the first report?” the judge asked. “I’m confused now,” the social worker replied. After a brief adjournment so that she could clarify this for herself, the social worker said the second report had never been sent. She thought it had.
Asked why she amended her report, she said: “Sometimes I amend reports if I feel they are not professional enough.”
Judge: “This is the second time in a week we have had a problem with the Child and Family Agency. If there is going to be an amended report there should be an addendum. I don’t rely on reports, I rely on evidence. I don’t read reports, other colleagues do.”
Mother’s barrister: “What did the social work department in [this area] ask you to do?”
Social worker: “To give an overview of my involvement with the family.”
The mother’s barrister said that the mother would say she had little or no contact with this social worker in 2007. The mother had been under enormous pressure at this time, and her counsellor had rung social services, resulting in this social worker being taken off the case and replaced by another social worker. The barrister also said that D had had a diagnosis of global developmental delay in 2007 and was referred to a specialist service. The mother had welcomed support for the child, and considered this was the main focus of social work involvement.
Asked about her referral to “significant and serious concerns” about the mother’s ability to care for the children, the social worker said this referred to her not taking up the services offered. “So failure to accept services is a child protection concern?” the barrister said. “No. But [it is] if a child is suffering and services are offered and not taken up.”
Referring to the discussion between counsel about what was and was not in the report, the judge said: “I had two social workers who gave evidence where social work reports were amended. It causes all sorts of confusion and concern. It’s better to just say there is additional information and make an additional report.”
An access worker gave evidence about access between parents and children. She said they watched parenting DVDs, but when supervision stopped their transfer of the learning from the DVDs also seemed to stop. She described a way of supervising children when there were a number together, called “scanning”, which meant making sure a parent knew where every child was and what they were doing. If a parent was not doing this it was hard to know if the child was doing something risky.
She said initially the attitude of the CFA was to see if all the children could be reunified with their mother, and access was managed accordingly. Now the CFA did not think this was possible and the purpose of the access was different. It had the dual function of strengthening the relationship between parents and children and assessing their parenting.
She acknowledged the mother always came very well-prepared to access, with food, games, birthday cake, presents and home-baking.
The mother’s barrister said it had been reported that C had said when asked what he would like if he went home that he would like not to have to look after E, and to “enjoy my childhood”. “Did you inquire why he said something so odd?” the barrister asked. The access worker said she had not.
The court then returned to the issue of the Section 47 application to move C from the foster home where D allegedly suffered a sexual assault from another child. The barrister for the guardian ad litem said that there was a risk, the question was whether the risk was being managed properly. C did not want to move. There was a need for further investigation, and she would like the application adjourned.
The CFA barrister said the CFA thought he should be moved. The child against whom the allegation had been made was in the foster home since he was six weeks old, and was now coming up to 18. C got on well with him.
The mother’s barrister said that there was an allegation of oral rape against this child. It was a very serious allegation. If such an allegation was made while the children were in her client’s care the CFA and the GAL would take a very dim view. The CFA was asked to adhere to a safety plan and had not done so.
The CFA barrister said they were minded to move C the following Monday and the risk assessment was to be carried out by the end of the month. If it was then decided to move the child back the court would be notified.
The case was adjourned until the end of April, when the court would be told whether the DPP was proceeding with a criminal case against the stepfather of D. When it resumed the court heard that no decision had yet been made and there was no timescale for making the decision.
The court then heard arguments as to whether the DVDs of the Garda interviews with D could be shown. Some of the reports from experts, relating to the mother as a protective factor for the children, made reference to the contents of the DVDs. The State was claiming prosecutorial privilege in relation to the DVDs. The GAL supported the showing of the DVDs as the best evidence of the child, because the child would be questioned on the DVDs. The CFA sought an adjournment so that the DVDs could be seen after the DPP had made her decision. However, the mother opposed further adjournment.
The judge ruled that the case should go ahead, commenting that the foster carers to whom the allegations had been made could be called.
The case then resumed with evidence from the social worker allocated to the children between January 2016 and May that year. She said she was aware that allegations had been made and interviews recorded, but had not seen the tapes. She said that there had been a meeting to discuss the assessment of C by the neuropsychologist and access, where he recommended that access should be on an individual basis. The mother did not agree.
The social worker conceded that not all of the recommendations of the neuropsychologist had been followed through, including that C should be assessed for autism or an attachment disorder. A referral had been made to CAMHS, but she understood CAMHS felt it could not share its assessment with the neuropsychologist. They were waiting for the CAMHS psychologist to come back to them. Asked when her report was sought, the social worker said it was in early March. “When I was sitting?” asked the judge. “This was six weeks ago.” The social worker said the psychologist had not yet responded.
The social worker described Child D making the allegation about oral rape by a child in his brother’s foster home in March 2016. He was medically examined and a meeting had then taken place. The allegation arose because the youngest child, F, had alleged D had touched her and he then made his disclosure.
The mother’s barrister pointed out that the CFA had made an application to admit this hearsay evidence under Section 23 of the Children Act 1997 and she had not resisted it. “There is no schedule of what is to be relied on in this case.”
The social worker said that following the allegation about the other foster child, the CFA met the GAL and discussed a safe care plan. It was agreed a credibility assessment should be carried out by a psychologist. The parents were apprised of the situation. Then D made further allegations. However, the credibility assessment was not done. It was intended in relation to the foster child, not the father.
The judge asked if D and F were still in the same placement, and if there was any risk to F. The social worker said this had been an isolated incident, she had said nothing else and had good self-care skills.
She said no credibility assessment was being sought in relation to the allegation against the stepfather. The procedures under Section 3 (where the CFA investigates sex abuse allegations) were being followed. The foster carers were given guidance in relation to the protection of the children.
At the end of March D was interviewed by Gardai. The father was involved with a service which provided support for people accused of child sex abuse. In response to a question from the judge, the social worker said he had not admitted the abuse, and the father’s barrister explained that the service was a support service, the father did not admit the allegations but acknowledged that the allegations had been made.
The barrister for the GAL said it would be very helpful if the mother set out a statement of the evidence on which she proposed to rely. She had a statement in which she said she accepted the veracity of the statements made by D. “We don’t really know what that means. If she clarified what it meant it may help the mother,” the barrister said.
The mother’s barrister said that it was up to the CFA to prove its case. “I can only answer the case it puts. I can’t be in a position to try to figure out what they might say. I’ve replied to every part of the statement they made.”
GAL barrister: “I just think it would be of very great assistance, especially in relation to D’s allegations, if we were clear on the mother’s position. I’m aware most of my practice is in another jurisdiction, where it would be most unusual for the respondent not to make a statement of evidence. It’s my experience that for many parents the statement of evidence is as good as their case gets.”
Judge: “If information is being given that is uncontroversial I would prefer it was presented. If the mother accepts the veracity of the child’s allegations, it can either mean she accepts the child is saying that, or that what he says happened actually occurred. The other jurisdiction does not have a constitutional requirement in relation to the family.”
GAL barrister: “We are governed by the Human Rights Act.”
Judge: “Ms Coulter is here and at the moment is considering how these cases could be speeded up. No-one more than the judges would like to know that. But if I say I am not hearing this and not hearing that I would be subject to judicial review. I have to hear the evidence. But if something is not in major dispute we just have to accept it and move on.”
The mother’s barrister read from the mother’s statement, where she said she accepted that D made an allegation against the stepfather, but she had no first-hand knowledge of the allegation. She separated from the father in order to provide a safe environment for the children to return to.
Referring to the issue of a Section 23 application on the hearsay evidence from D, the judge said: “We’re going to get through these witnesses. Then set out what the child said and to whom and what it is proposed to rely on. I have previously ruled that [the CFA] should give such notice as is reasonable … I would expect a schedule of what the child said and to whom.”
Continuing her evidence, the social worker said that a neuropsychologist had conducted an assessment of all four children in July 2016. In November it was agreed access with the mother would be on an individual basis. Additional allegations were made by Child D about his stepfather, which were being investigated by the Gardai. The DPP was consulted.
Outlining the situation of the children, she said the eldest, C, now 14, was quite for mature for his age. He had no problem communicating with his foster carers and was comfortable in a family environment. He was now in his second placement, following the allegations about the child in the first placement. He had a very good relationship with his previous foster parents, who would have been prepared to have him stay with them on a long-term basis.
He was a very fit and healthy boy, with no additional health needs. When he came into care a number of issues had been raised by his mother concerning allergies, possible autism, etc, but these did not appear to be present now. He had been assessed for autism, and was found not to suffer from it, but the neuropsychologist was looking at further investigations, including attachment difficulties.
He was very well-mannered with no behavioural problems, but very uncertain about future care arrangements. He appeared able to manage conflicted loyalties between his parents and foster parents, but was angry about the situation. He had stated he wanted to return to his previous foster carers. Previously he said he wanted to return home, but did not want to engage in that conversation at the moment. He remained in the same school and had positive relationships and good academic ability. When he came into care he was reluctant to engage in activities with his peers, and was receiving additional emotional support on this. He was very concerned about how his mother and siblings were getting on and was upset about the individual access.
In relation to his stepfather, he knew he was not his father and he did not want contact with him. His natural father had no direct contact with him, other than exchanging Christmas cards. “We hoped we would get a block of therapy for him in April, but it has not yet been provided,” the social worker said.
The next child, D, aged 12, appeared younger than his age. He had made a lot of progress academically and socially since entering care. He would soon enter secondary school, and the school had said the reports he needed would be in place. He wanted to remain in his current foster placement, as he had bonded with that placement and that community. He agreed to individual access. He would like contact with his natural father in future. However, this father did not want direct contact with the children at the moment. He had mental health issues and commitments to other children.
Judge: “He should be made aware of his son’s wish.”
The social worker agreed. She told the barrister for the CFA that he had not turned up in court for any of the proceedings. However, this father was represented in court throughout the proceedings by a barrister and solicitor.
Asked about family access, the social worker told the court there was family access of all the children, but without the mother being present. There was a positive relationship between the two boys, and they had been provided with information about their faith and heritage (which was not Catholic).
Judge: “This is a child who has alleged he has been sexually abused. There does not seem to be any therapy for him.”
Social worker: “That’s correct, judge.”
Judge: “The allegations were made 15 months ago. In relation to his [difficult] relationship with his mother – could it not raise the issue of therapy?”
Social worker: “The difficulty has been getting therapy in place. We have asked for it. The questions is permanency in care.”
Judge: “I find it hard to understand.”
CFA barrister: “That’s the response of the professionals. They consider it important to have permanency.”
Judge: “If this was a child in care and the matter came in for review … I find it hard to understand why, when abuse is alleged, therapy is delayed. Is permanency the only reason?”
Social worker: “Yes.”
Referring to child E, she said he liked to play outside and was generally in good health. He could be disruptive after access and he required support at mealtimes. He had difficulty with solid food initially, but that improved. He had complex needs, but there was no definitive diagnosis as yet. There was overall emotional dis-regulation. He was receiving speech and language therapy and was making progress. He could speak in small sentences and made eye contact. However, he had aggressive outbursts and made clicking noises after access.
Asked if she had seen this, she said that the foster-carers filmed it, and the recording went to the neuropsychologist.
The boy transitioned from preschool to school very well. He had an individual timetable and responded well to that. He was very fond of the daughter in the foster home, and was moving towards integration into the family. He had sibling access, and the foster parents reported no problems after sibling access.
The youngest child, F (who was a small infant when taken into care) was a happy child meeting all her developmental milestones. At times she did not want to go to access, and she was encouraged to go. Asked by the judge to describe her attitude, the social worker said she was normally a very compliant child, agreeing to go to preschool etc, but said no to going to access, though she was going currently.
Asked about access with both fathers, she said father Y (of the older children) did not want access at the moment. The judge said that access worked both ways, the children had the right of access to their parents, as well as parents to their children. “[D] wanted to see [father Y]. Did you convey his wishes?”
Social worker: “No.”
Judge: “Will you reflect on that?”
Social worker: “Yes.”
Following a discussion on the timetabling of the rest of the proceedings, the judge said: “We may have to cross the bridge of prosecutorial privilege at some stage.”
Cross-examined by the barrister for the guardian ad litem, the social worker agreed that certain documents needed to be released to the GAL but said she thought that this required the consent of the court and all the parties.
The judge said he was only concerned about the threshold [for a Care Order]. “There are two aspects,” he said, “the threshold and whether the parent can provide care and protection. The issue is whether there was a breach of duty or other exceptional issues. If a child is in care for three or four years and it would not be in his or her interests to return, that does not meet the legal and constitutional threshold.”
CFA barrister: “The issue is the welfare of the child regardless of the genesis of the problem.”
Judge: “I’ll hear submissions on the law later.” Addressing the GAL’s barrister, he said: “Your client is supporting the Agency’s case to keep the children in care until 18. Do you have questions relating to that? The question is whether the children are to remain in the care of the agency or return to their mother. After that the issues of their ongoing welfare can be discussed.”
The GAL barrister asked the social worker if any other allegation had been made against the child accused of sexually abusing D. The social worker said not as far as she knew. She said C was aware of the allegation but of the view the abuse did not happen. He was aware he could not be with this child unsupervised.
Judge: “If this had happened during overnight access you know and I know what would have happened. No action was taken here for one year and two months.”
The social worker said the social worker department was still trying to get all the facts. The foster child against whom the allegation was made was 17. He and his sister were in the foster home from a very young age. His sister was now an adult.
The barrister for the mother then cross-examined the social worker concerning access, which the social worker had observed from May 2016 until the end of July. The barrister referred her to literature on access which showed that more contact increased the likelihood of reunification and also correlated with better outcomes for children.
She asked if the foster parents would be disappointed if the children were returned, and the social worker said they would be. “All the literature seems to suggest the promotion of shared parenting, access, etc where there is an assessment of conflicted loyalties.”
Social worker: “Should it have arisen in the assessment we would have addressed it.”
Barrister: “You said all the children were very happy, doing well at school, at sports etc. Do these children not meet the category in the literature of children identifying with their foster family? Did you try to develop a positive relationship between the foster parents and the birth parents?”
Social worker: “We would try to do that.”
However, she acknowledged that, contrary to recommendations in the literature, the foster parents did not participate in the handover as access. “All the literature suggests it’s of benefit to children – not the parents or foster parents – that there is cooperation and contact between the foster parents and the parents. You did not consider this,” the mother’s barrister said.
Social worker: “No.”
Judge: “Were you at all times keeping an eye on the prospect of reunification? What aspect of your assessment addresses that and how access related to it? Or is your assessment based on the assumption the children are going to be in long-term care?”
Social worker: “I was looking at what was best for the children. I was not ruling out reunification.”
The barrister then asked the social worker why the issue of D’s allegation against his stepfather and the mother’s response to it did not feature in her assessment. This offered an opportunity to develop D’s relationship with his mother, which was a difficult one. The social worker said the social work department was concentrating on the relationship going forward, and where the difficulties were.
The judge pressed her on the issue of therapy for D, in the light of the alleged child sex abuse. The social worker again said the issue was the lack of permanency. “I accept the need for therapy,” she said.
Asked if she should have assessed access in the context of the allegations, she acknowledged that other factors may have contributed to the child’s presentation.
Asked to explain the delay in the completion of the access assessment, she said it was almost ready the previous September, then the neuropsychologist element came in, the social worker said the psychologist was transitioning to another post and unable to take on the assessment. It was also hoped that the care proceedings would be coming to a conclusion, allowing for permanence.
Turning to child E, who was two when he came into care, the social worker told the mother’s barrister his interactions with his mother were still difficult. The foster carers received support in dealing with his behaviour. Asked why the mother was not receiving such support, the social worker said it was given to the primary care-giver.
Referring to E’s behaviour after access, the mother’s barrister quoted from academic literature which said: “The behaviour of a foster child who thrashes his room … after an access visit may incorrectly be interpreted as harsh treatment from the natural parent. In fact it may be reasonable behaviour from a child after an unwanted forced separation,” suggesting this might explain E’s behaviour after access. She said that the social worker had said this literature was informing her knowledge base, yet these elements did not feature in the access assessment.
The social worker said that he did not present with any problem after his separation from his mother at the end of access. She said she took the literature on board. The child had a complex presentation, kicking etc. Since access decreased the difficult behaviour had decreased.
The barrister also read a passage from the literature which questioned how reliable observation of access, an “artificially constructed situation” was in assessing the relationship between parents and children. The social worker agreed that having two people in the room taking notes was not optimal.
Asked why access was supervised, the social worker said there was concern about the mother’s management of the children from the outset.
This social worker had been in the witness box for approximately 14 hours over two days.
A social worker who had previously given evidence from abroad via video-link which had broken down, returned to complete her evidence. She had been involved with the family for about a year and a half when the children first came into care.
Describing the first access, she said the child C was very distressed, clinging to his mother. It was very stressful for everyone. At this stage access was taking place twice a week, the mother was breastfeeding the baby and attempting to divide her attention between all four children. She confirmed that access took place in a small room, which was the facility the CFA had, and agreed it was not ideal for the whole family.
Referring to the report statement that the family sessions were “very chaotic”, the mother’s barrister asked her if it would have been better to share access between family access and access with the baby. The social worker said that a case management meeting had decided it would be better for the children to be in access individually. The mother was not able physically or emotionally to divide her attention appropriately between the children.
Asked if the positive aspects of access should not have been included in the report, this social worker said she accepted that the mother’s explanations should have been included. Referring to the house, she said it was spotless when visited, but the mother’s father had paid a cleaning company to come in and clean it from top to bottom and continued to pay for weekly or bi-weekly cleaning because of the mother’s disability.
She acknowledged that the public health nurse had not drawn attention to any hygiene issues in the house.
Mother’s barrister: “The family had just moved. There were boxes. In relation to home help, if a house is clean, does it really matter who does it?”
Social worker: “What I am trying to get across is the mother’s ability to cope. Her father had to step in.”
The barrister said there was nothing positive in the reports about the mother’s attempts to engage and to get help for the children. The social worker said it was not a question of not being willing to engage, but of implementing change. A number of supports were offered to her. She was involved with the social work department for a significant period of time. All the relevant information was in the reports, it mapped progress.
The judge interjected to say that the problem was the file moved from social worker to social worker to social worker.
Social worker: “I am satisfied that E’s early presentation was due the parenting. The problem was that the mother never accepted that her style of parenting may have contributed to the presentation of these children.”
Judge: “Could the foster carer’s style of parenting contribute as well? How do you follow up if the foster carers are doing what they are supposed to?”
The social worker replied that that the reviewing officer would look at the parenting of the foster carers, including visiting the foster home.
This ended her evidence.
The next witness was an attachment expert. Counsel for the respondent mother said that she was going to cross examine her regarding her qualifications. She also highlighted that she sought documents from the CFA but was only given documents in redacted form.
Counsel for the mother said two attachment assessments were carried out by an attachment therapist and the attachment expert before the court. She said that any evidence from the attachment therapist would not be given and she would not be able to cross examine that therapist.
The attachment expert said it was her responsibility to assess children with moderate intellectual mental illness. She explained that she used the Gogarty model which was “not a clinical measure but a research measure.” She said that she was involved in assessment of attachment for 15 years and part of her daily work formed part of the therapeutic intervention with the foster carers.
She was approached by the Child and Family Agency in relation to child E and his current placement. Based on sources of patterns of attachments, she said that she interviewed foster parents in the context of screening measure, measured the in-depth behaviours of the child and the observations of the foster carers. She explained that this measure allowed the therapists to illicit detailed information about how the child is self-regulating. She said: “Children in care do not have stable patterns and their patterns are constantly changing.”
The judge asked about natural patterns and the expert explained: “I need to look at who takes care of the child and helps the child reorganise and become more secure.” She said that the foster carers were the primary care-givers and the assessment focused on them.
The judge asked if the integrative model of self-regulation was linked to or separate from the classical model of attachment. She said that it took an aspect of the how the child was behaving and was not a research measure but a clinical measure.
The judge asked what was the ultimate diagnosis from such an assessment. The expert said it provided a “percentage of secure versus insecure and that was helpful for the foster carers.” It was important to have the history of the child to understand how every child learns how to self-regulate. There was a need to look at the care-giving parent and look at the development of the child.
She said that they spoke to the parents and the foster parents. Foster carers do not have early developmental history in regards to the child whereas birth parents have the child developmental history. She said that sometimes the information was not available. She looked at the social work reports, how the children were cared for, early development, school observations, medical records and a big focus was placed on the information and the early development. She said that information from a speech and language therapist may also be available but it depended on the history.
In relation to self-regulation it was critical for functioning and ability to be calm and alert and not in high state of arousal. She said: “It is important children can self-regulate and have an inner sense of belief.” In the first year of life children feel safe and secure and when they are in trouble they can come back to a secure place and be soothed. She said that children “should be able to form a primary attachment and then they can form other attachments.” She said children by the age of four months can separate between primary care-givers and by the ages of six to seven months the children have patterns.
The judge asked what would the effects be if the child had a secure attachment. She said that people who are secure can think in a more flexible way and are open. Insecure children have great difficulty understanding the motivations of others. They are highly sensitive around authority figures. She said: “In schools we see some children on the periphery and they internalise their stress.”
The judge asked: “Does attachment depend on availability? If a child sees a person more regularly would they look to that person for reassurance?”
She responded: “Only if the person was meeting the needs of the child and it depends on the sensitivity of the child. The child would look to the carer who is there, available and in tune to the child’s needs.” She said: “Young children need unconditional and conditional care giving.” Young children assert themselves and they need to know who is in charge.
She explained that there was a secure pattern and two types of insecure patterns. The insecure patterns included avoidance and internalising feelings. She said that a disorganised pattern was one which was “highly avoidant, rejecting, helpless but also needy and clingy.” This was the most difficult pattern to manage.
The assessment in relation to child E involved observations of his contact with his foster carer. The attachment expert looked into the social work involvement with child E’s care giving and the non-accidental injury. She said she met with his foster carers on two occasions and needed early history regarding how child E presented when he arrived. During the screening process she looked at how child E was presenting now. She said the foster carers recorded the behaviours and their responses to the behaviour.
Counsel for the mother objected on the basis that the assessment carried out by the expert included many quotes from the therapist. Counsel said that the patterns in the report were based on the therapist’s findings. The expert stressed that her report was not dependant on the report from the therapist as she used that report to illustrate patterns and progress. Her report was dependant on her own assessment.
The expert said that her assessment looked at the child in care, his foster carers and his behaviours and the assessment assisted her to see the progress that child E made in care. The behaviour was assessed from the time the foster carers received the child. In the assessment she relied on what the foster carers told her and she took on board what they usually told her.
The behaviour of child E was previously concerning. She formed a view that the patterns of child E were shifting. “These are not stable.” Child E was scoring “56% on the secure pattern which was not wonderful.” She said that this number indicated the security of child E and that predictability increased over a period of time.
The judge asked how this increased and the attachment expert said it increased “in relation to care-giving, consistency in responses, and being toilet-trained.” His score was “not highly secure but was going in the right direction.”
The foster carers had huge difficulties with child E projecting towards his foster mother as his primary attachment was towards the foster father. He was described as “rocking and head banging and he bit and spat at his foster mother.” She said there was a high level of support in the placement. Child E exhibited high levels of aggression and he did not want the foster carers to respond. He kicked, bit and spat at the foster carers. Over a period of time and with careful parenting he began to self-regulate and was able to be bathed by the foster carers.
Child E was managing separations much better. He had become much calmer and better at accepting direction when asked to do something. She said that if playing before he would be solitary and excluded. He would wake up at night and not seek a care-giver. This had changed as at night he sought out his care-giver to take him to the toilet. She said there were times when child E became dis-regulated but he began to accept limits without aggression.
She said “those things all aid attachment.” He was still gravitating towards his foster father but was seeking his foster mother out more than previously. He now sought her out to get emotional reassurance. In the past child E showed psychological disconnect. She said it was very encouraging that he allowed the foster mother to soothe, calm and reassure him. The foster carers had not observed child E crying for long in the early days and at times when he was upset he could express it in a contained way. He often disassociated during contact with the birth parents but this had decreased. The expert had recommended a neurological assessment. With his physiological responses she said he would often freeze and in times of hyper arousal he would lash out and become dis-regulated. She said that disassociation was connected to trauma.
The judge asked about the definition of self-soothing and asked if it could include thumb sucking or rocking. The expert explained that it was a very damaging form of self-soothing that child E was exhibiting. She said that this behaviour denoted a lack of external regulation from a care-giver and these were extreme behaviours. She said that avoidant individuals internalised distressed and anxiety. Self-soothing was one who exhibited all stress and anxiety and was dismissive of care giving. She said that access had been dis-regulating for the child.
The expert did not finish her evidence.
The social worker for child E was cross examined. She accepted that dis-regulation was linked to access and that there was a reduction in dis-regulation when access was reduced. She said in an assessment of access the predominant factor was observation. She said that the recommendations of the attachment expert assisted child E and she was reluctant to change the recommendations. The social worker was handed an article which stated that regular visits were critical to re-unite families and two visits often fall short of meeting these goals.
She said the mother did not have a chance to care for child F. When child F went into care she was young and there was resistance to child F going to access. Child F may have formed an attachment with her foster carer and this should not have negatively affected her mother. The social worker accepted it was traumatic for children in care and their behaviour after visits needed to be understood in context. She said that the individual needs of the children were taken into account.
Counsel for the mother asked: “in respect of child D what did you do to support the mother with access?”
The social worker said: “We spent time with the mother to ascertain her views and at no stage did the mother look for support for her transition to access. It was difficult for any parent not to know if child D was coming.” She said that child D was “asked if he wanted to go to access, he is 12 and chooses whether he wants to go or not.” Child D did not want to change the frequency of the access and “he doesn’t go into detail on that and it is important to acknowledge the experience of the child.” He requested monthly access. She said that the child “always asked when he wished to attend.”
In relation to child F contact was initially three times a week but then reduced to twice and then once.
The judge asked: “If the mother was breastfeeding three times a week would that be optimal?” He said: “A child needs to be fed daily and the European Court of Human Rights takes a view on this.”
The social worker said that the practice differed across the jurisdictions. The mother in this case was from the United States and was not a Christian. The social work department took a lot of information from the culture of the mother and her experience of their own culture. She said “generally we are aware of the need to review the parents’ culture.”
Counsel for the mother said that during access the mother had a kitchen but did not have time to prepare a meal. The social worker said that the mother always came prepared with food.
Counsel asked: “Looking back was it appropriate to give her time to demonstrate her care giving?” The social worker said that the mother did not need to demonstrate her capacity to provide meals. She explained that the recommendation of the CFA was not one of reunification.
The judge said: “It was more than a recommendation, the decision was made to seek a Care Order.” He said it seemed to him that the “CFA had taken on a role which was not theirs. On conclusion of the Care Order [application], reunification is a matter for the court and that must be kept open at all times.”
The social worker said: “There was no assessment which highlighted a change in circumstances which suggested reunification.”
Counsel said that a forensic psychologist made recommendations in his report which indicated that reunification could not be ruled out at this juncture. And that report was dated January 2016. The Judge asked if that formed a change of view of the CFA. The social worker said that a further assessment was coming out at that stage.
The social worker explained in terms of access with child E, it was prior and after access that the behaviour of child E was reported. Child E had access with his mother in December 2016. She said that it was “people’s interpretation that the access was good as toys assisted in reciprocal play between the mother and child E.” Access took place in late December for the birthday of child E. He enjoyed the cake and playing with the cars and track he received for his birthday.
She said that child E displayed some behaviours coming to and going from access when access took place every six weeks. When it had been reduced to three weeks he displayed similar behaviours. The social worker said that he presented with similar behaviours when access took place on the two occasions in December but she did not take notes. The foster carers kept a diary and recorded it. She said the foster carers had been advised to keep notes of both the positive and negative behaviours around access.
The social worker said that she called to the mother’s house and found it to be “well furnished with bedrooms upstairs and downstairs with a large open space for the children.” She said she would not ordinarily call out to the home if the children were not there but that home visits formed an important part of her assessment if considering reunification.
There was an incident where an allegation against the other foster child was made by child D early in 2016. The allegations were serious and steps were taken on foot of the allegations in respect of this child. Visits were carried out to child C’s foster carers [where the other foster child lived]. The social worker said she called out to the foster carers every four to six weeks and “the test was not to know the allegations were true but to behave like you believe the allegations to be true.” The social worker went to the foster carers and they acted immediately upon the allegations and sought safe care measures.
Counsel for the mother asked: “Given your position as a social worker, the foster carers were acting on the assumption that the allegation was true, you allowed child C stay in a placement with someone who abused child D?”
The social worker said that they had to analyse the potential and she was satisfied that the plans ensured high levels of supervision in order to reduce the risk.
Counsel said “you are aware that the mother only became aware of the allegations against the father two days later when they were disclosed? The mother separated from the father in March.”
The social worker said that she did not know when the couple had separated. She said in her opinion “when the disclosure was made, there was apprehension on part of the mother to believe it.”
Counsel asked if the social worker was satisfied that the mother took steps to protect her children?
The social worker said “looking at a global scale, more than one action was required.”
Counsel for the mother informed the court that the mother had received a call from An Garda Siochana requesting the TUSLA records and consent to release the medical records of the children especially child F. She said that the mother was not in possession of the TUSLA records.
The social work team leader said she was the team leader from January 2013 to February 2016 and was the principal social worker for child protection from February 2016 to February 2017. She was on leave when the children were taken into care. She met with the social workers and provided two documents from a social work department in another part of the country who had raised concerns about the family and put the social work department on notice. She said there were significant child protection concerns.
She explained that all of the children were received into care on a voluntary basis following the admission of child F into hospital for an unexplained head injury. There were concerns with regard to the weight and hygiene of child F. She said she met the mother in hospital to speak about voluntary care. The mother had the grandfather, her father, with her and he purported to be a judge in another country.
The grandfather expressed concerns about how the mother coped and how she felt isolated. In the previous town where she had lived, she had her eldest daughter with her for support. He told the social worker that the condition of the family home was not acceptable. The social worker said she discussed with him the information from the hospital. The baby was underweight and needed to be fed in order to bring her weight up. She said she spoke to the mother about getting her a breast pump for access.
The mother explained that her partner had received a job offer in another provincial town and she wanted a fresh start for her family. She asked her eldest daughter if she were in a position to take the children and she said no as she too had just had a baby. The team leader said there was neglect in respect of child D and child E.
The judge asked: “Did you tell her what would happen if she revoked her consent?”
Social worker: “Yes, we would apply for an emergency care order.”
She said it was her role as team leader to give advice to the social workers and she was involved in decision-making. The allocated social worker was the person who liaised with the social work department in the other part of the country and with An Garda Siochana. She said that the file was presented by the principal social worker and they were quite alarmed by the detailed information contained therein. She said it was agreed with the mother to commence a parenting assessment.
The mother asked the children to attend her wedding [to the father of children E and F] and wished child C and child D to have a role and that the grandfather would supervise the role. The team leader said that his supervision would not be appropriate as when the social workers received information about the mother there were allegations of historical sex abuse of the mother by her brother and concerns about the grandfather’s handling of the allegations.
Counsel for the mother objected and said that it was never given in evidence that the mother was sexually abused by her brother.
The social worker said during the parenting assessment the mother said that her brother terrorised her.
The social worker said the foster carers agreed to take the children to the wedding so that they could take part but the behaviour of child E was very dis-regulated. The social worker said after the wedding she met with the case worker who advised that the children should not go to the family home as she was concerned about the welfare of the children. There was a meeting in December 2013 with the social workers regarding the non-engagement of the parents and a number of recommendations were made. A meeting was to take place with the mother and father.
The grandfather was due to be in the United Kingdom. The social worker said they would get the report from the doctor in the hospital to which child F had been admitted, to the mother and seek legal advice. She met with the parents and gave them a copy of the report. She said that she could not give them a physical copy of the report. She told the mother that the children were in voluntary care and that she could revoke her consent. The mother was upset and the father got agitated and began shouting that the country was backward. The social worker explained that the father had unresolved issues from his childhood.
The mother said that she did not want to go to court but just wanted the children back. The social worker said that she left the room to see where the father had gone and the mother was calm at this stage. The father came back and the meeting went on for two hours. The mother said that she was disappointed as being a parent was “the one thing that she could do well.” The father queried the parenting programme and presented angrily. The mother just wanted to know the decision of the CFA and she said that she would go through the report with the father.
The social worker told the mother that she needed to make a decision with regards to the consent. The social worker was later informed that consent had been withdrawn and she made a call to the mother. The mother was asked to allow the children to stay in the placement until the next day to prepare the children if they were to be moved. The decision of the mother to revoke voluntary consent was made on the advice of a solicitor as the mother understood that the judges were not favourable to the social workers. The mother also requested a new social worker. The social worker explained that access had been stopped due to what child E had said.
There were significant deficits in the parenting capacity of the parents and some concerns were the same as those highlighted in the social work report from the other part of the country. The eldest child was born in the United States. The mother said that the father of this child was a sex addict and she was depressed. There were allegations that the eldest child had been sexually abused by her stepfather, the father of children B, C and child D. The social worker said that the social work department had concerns about the emotional response of the mother to the allegations of sexual abuse as the mother said that the eldest child exaggerated the sexual abuse.
There were reports about Child B out at 12.30 am socialising and engaging in sexual activity. There was a lack of supervision as Child B also complained about having to look after her younger siblings.
Child C was born when the allegations were made about his father. There were concerns regarding child C suffering from autism. The mother was pressing for assessments for child C and autism. There were concerns that it was the job of child C to look after child E. There was a patterns emerging that the children had to care for the younger siblings. The mother said that child C did not like to eat dairy but it was reported that child C ate dairy products while in his foster placement.
The social worker said there were meetings regarding the progress of the case and the decision to go for long term care in respect of the children but there was a delay in communicating this decision to the parents. The voluntary arrangement was no longer in existence and an application was made in November 2014 for an emergency care order.
The social worker began to give evidence of the hearing which took place in 2016. Counsel for the father objected that if she were to give evidence, she could give evidence that a disclosure was made but she should not go into the details of the disclosure. It was suggested to adjourn the remainder of the social worker’s evidence pending the Garda investigation and the application for discovery of the documents.
Counsel for the mother said if the evidence of the social worker were to go ahead, the counsel for the father would inevitably apply to the High Court.
The matter was adjourned until June.