Care order proceedings for four children in a rural town, which began in January 2016, resumed earlier this year and have not yet concluded. There had been a number of adjournments to allow for psychological assessments of the children, their mother and her third husband who was the father of the two younger children.
The children had been in care for over two years under interim care orders when the proceedings began in 2016. During one of the adjournments child D made an allegation of child sexual abuse against his step-father, the mother’s third husband, and this was the subject of a Garda investigation and a specialist interview with and psychological assessment of the child. The allegation had arisen in the context of the same child making an allegation against another child in care unrelated to him.
At hearings earlier this year the court was now in the expert phase of the proceedings where it was hearing evidence from expert witnesses.
The investigating Garda reported to the court that a file had been sent to the DPP in relation to the allegation of child sexual abuse by child D against his step-father and that the DPP was not prosecuting the case against either the father or the other child due to insufficient evidence.
The Garda explained that the file was in two parts. One related to the alleged assaults and the other related to the computers and laptops which were seized as part of the investigation. The Garda was waiting on files in relation to the mother. When asked by the judge about this file, the Garda confirmed that the investigation was in relation to the injuries to baby F at the time that the children were taken into care. The judge asked the Garda to inform the court on progress in relation to this.
The judge said that for future reference it might be more appropriate for An Garda Síochána to inform the social worker as primary parental responsibility was now with the CFA.
The judge said: “This kind of news can cause distress for adults or children. People might reflect on how this can be dealt with by the social work department.”
The following week the judge looked for feedback regarding whether child D had been told that there would be no criminal prosecution in relation to his allegations of sexual abuse against his step-father and another foster child. The judge said he had been hearing in court about best practice concerning believing children and the steps to deal with this in an appropriate manner. He was led to believe that a foster carer had been given some information. He could see a psychological problem if the child was told that the DPP said there should be no prosecution, implying no one believes him, this could be detrimental psychologically and if necessary further advice should be received on dealing with a very delicate issue.
The forensic psychologist
The HSE-employed forensic psychologist was continuing his evidence from a previous occasion in relation to his assessment of the two parents involved.When asked by the mother’s barrister the forensic psychologist confirmed that he had attended a case discussion on the suspected non-accidental injury of baby F with the Child and Family Agency in July 2013 after he had met the clients. He was aware that the children came into voluntary care initially on foot of an injury to baby F at the age of three months. The CFA barrister confirmed that if voluntary care had been withdrawn the CFA would have issued court proceedings at that time. The forensic psychologist said that his assessment took place in July, September and November 2013 and that his report had been written in February 2015 after voluntary care had been withdrawn.
The forensic psychologist confirmed that he abided by what he called the holy trinity in his assessments. These are psychometrics, interviews with clients and collateral information. Collateral information can be documentary evidence or additional information from the clients. He said that he tried to get as much collateral information as possible.
Judge: “Why did it take two years to complete the report?”
Forensic psychologist: “The primary element is the assessment and I can provide the feedback report. I provided a summary conclusion of my report in advance of the full report.”
There was discussion about the type of information which the forensic psychologist received from social work files. The case was referred to him in February 2013. When asked by the mother’s barrister if he was aware that the family had only moved into the area a number of weeks before baby F was injured, and that his information may have been local, the forensic psychologist said that the social work files he received included a synopsis from previous social workers in another county and a record of meetings between the social worker and the principal social worker. The forensic psychologist also had four child protection case conference reports. The information was a backdrop to the assessment and it flagged up concerns which he tested. He used it as a guide to direct questions. He said that the client can consider that [the incident concerned] didn’t happen and he respects that viewpoint.
Baby F’s injury
The psychologist spoke about a sequence of events regarding the baby’s injures. The father expressed concern that he received a text from the mother about a serious injury and that she needed to bring baby F to hospital. The psychologist clarified that the event was falling off the table on the baby chair and a subsequent mark on the baby’s head. The mother told the psychologist that her fear was that the mark might be cancer. The father said she hadn’t told him this, but later he phoned the forensic psychologist and corrected this. The psychologist agreed with the father that a high percentage of parents would go to the doctor immediately if they thought it was cancer.
The forensic psychologist explained that he was asked to do a risk assessment and the main area of concern was injury to the baby. He said didn’t talk to the public health nurse. Where a child presents as a gash or cut it would be obvious. The forensic psychologist said he had dealt with non-accidental injury before and a child can be stunned or concussed. The mother’s barrister said that a lay person might not know this.
The forensic psychologist agreed when asked by the mother’s barrister that an independent source of information regarding the baby’s injury would be the public health nurse and she read out part of a public health nurse report done at 13 weeks with baby F. The baby’s measurements were checked and the mother indicated an area to the back of the baby’s head that was soft with two distinct features. The public health nurse explained that these needed to be assessed by the doctor. The child was not distressed and the mother had an appointment two days later with the doctor.
When asked by the mother’s barrister he agreed that the mother did not see anything that stood out apart from the incident of the Moses basket falling off the shelf with child E, then a toddler, and baby F in the room together. The mother’s barrister said that the forensic psychologist’s conversation with the father confused the situation and introduced the idea that the mother was not fully disclosing.
Mother’s barrister: “In the end you didn’t feel it was NAI (non–accidental injury)?”
Forensic psychologist: “Yes.”
Mother’s barrister: “By psychometric and collateral information you ruled out NAI and then you looked at lack of appropriate supervision?”
Forensic psychologist:“I didn’t form the impression that the mother wasn’t telling me the truth. She did say she had noticed the soft spot from days before. I formed the opinion that another person would have gone sooner and the father said if she thought it was cancer she would have gone sooner and introduced the idea that there was information she wasn’t disclosing.”
Judge: “You indicated expertise in NAI. If she refused to let the Public Health Nurse (PHN) see the child or the child was wearing a hat. Is there any merit in her favour that she raised it with the PHN?”
Forensic psychologist:“I have to emphasise that I didn’t think she was lying, but the father introduced something, not an impression or [something] forceful but that an accident had happened and I accept that she raised it with the PHN.”
Personality lacking insight
The forensic psychologist thought that at the time of his assessment the mother had a narcissistic personality and lacked insight. She seemed to have an inflated view of her ability to cope and used post hocrationalisations, such as often providing an explanation after the event, and was not fully honest with herself. She tended to externalise blame which prevented her from learning from her experience and her pattern of forming attachments.
He expected her to be learning more given an assessment of her as being above average intelligence. He didn’t think that either parent would meet the full criteria for personality disorder but they met some of the commonly accepted DSM 5 criteria such as their ability in forming relationships with others and their own self-deception.
The forensic psychologist explained that the primary area he was looking at was non-accidental head injury and it was different to the usual psychological report as there was quite a lot of investigation. The psychologist explained his methodology of getting information. The personality tests were inputted on the computer. Both parents co-operated. There were deception scales. The mother scored above average on self- deception and positive impression management. Some people might tend towards self-enhancement. People who have not worked in prisons say that everyone does that. But this is not a sufficient explanation and so it is significant if scores are as high as in this case and if other tests are disregarded, the psychologist said.
You can look at the scores in other tests and these can be overridden by a clinical impression where a person is reluctant to admit to dysfunctional problems, he said. The father scored significantly on impression-management but not on self-deception. The tests score on consistency of answers to questions. The mother might be actively suppressing difficulties she is facing or trying to present a positive impression. In terms of going forward the psychologist said that the mother had substantially lower motivation than those seen in therapeutic settings and she saw little need for changes in her behaviour.
The CFA barrister asked if the test results affected working with the parents going forward. The psychologist said the scores suggest problems with insight and the father’s scores were invalid for different reasons.
In term of a parental stress index, the father’s scores fell mainly in the normal range and the mother’s in the defensive range. The father scored low on physiological and cognitive anger and on a level of acting out angry feelings and overall had an average result on anger. There were no noticeable scores on the mother. It showed the father not prone to anger but with not a lot of skills to lower anger.
The psychologist used semi-structured interviews for the personality tests where the parents rate themselves. However, he said that some of their self-ratings were not consistent with what you would draw out in collateral information in his observations or those of others. The mother’s examples of conscientiousness did not relate to how she rated herself as conscientious. The parents’ repeated presentations to services are not normally associated with high levels of conscientiousness.
CFA barrister: “People might still have issues.”
Forensic psychologist: “Yes, because of the potential negative consequences, clinicians don’t always state that and because people can present a year later as lower on the scale. The mother was repeatedly finding herself in this situation.”
CFA barrister: “Was there a difference between the accounts of the parents?”
Forensic psychologist:“Yes, the mother said they were communicating well and this was different to how the father saw their communication. The father had a more scientific view of the children’s problems. The father felt the children were better after coming into care.”
Judge:“How did the father say this?”
Forensic psychologist:“In interview, he raised the questions about whether the children would remain in care. He said he would miss the kids, but they would be happier.”
Both parents scored significantly on validity measures and the mother’s tendency towards self-enhancement, he said. The personality assessment might explain why she might present repeatedly to social work but lacked insight and had a tendency to externalise and project issues. The post hoc justifications were not problematic in themselves but the mother was not giving a very good explanation about why she was presenting repeatedly. The forensic psychologist said that tests with the father flagged up some unusual conspiracy type statements.
Judge: “Can you give an example?”
Forensic psychologist: “When he said the Catholic Church and social workers were coming down from Northern Ireland.”
The mother’s barrister put it to the forensic psychologist that his report did not reflect the mother’s acknowledgement of her failings such as not “booting” her second husband out the door when he perforated her ear drum, her recognition of the effect on the children and that she should have sought help. She also said that the mother would not be the first mother who struggled to believe their child’s sexual abuse allegations. The forensic psychologist said it was partial insight and that she did not show insight into why A [her oldest child, now an adult], who had been sexually abused, was behaving by way of acting out e.g. bulimia, sexually precocious behaviour and drinking.
Sexual abuse of the oldest child
There was discussion in court about the point in time when the mother knew about her oldest daughter’s allegations of sexual abuse against the mother’s second husband, her step-father, and the risk of abuse. The disclosure by her daughter, who is now an adult, took place some years after the mother witnessed something inappropriate between her second husband and her daughter. By this stage she had two subsequent children, C and D, with her second husband. The forensic psychologist said that what the mother witnessed between her second husband and her daughter would raise red flags for most people.
Later, when the child sexual abuse disclosure by A was made and she went to live with her maternal grandparents for a while, the mother struggled to accept that A had been sexually abused.
The mother’s barrister objected to evidence that the mother had known at an earlier stage about her second husband’s sexual abuse of her first daughter. The forensic psychologist said witnessing inappropriate kissing should have raised alarm bells. The mother’s barrister understood that he got the information from a social work report. The forensic psychologist said the mother had a marked history of difficulty in her relationships, and the difficulty was that her second husband presented as a risk to her children, she struggled to accept the disclosure by A in 2005 and did not prioritise the protection of her children.
The mother’s barrister put it to the forensic psychologist that this is not reflected in the CFA child protection conference reports. The mother acknowledged that she struggled, but her thinking evolved and changed and eventually she excluded her second husband from the family home. The forensic psychologist said there were some earlier opportunities where she could have intervened and did not. He went on to say that by 2005-2006 the “penny hadn’t dropped” and in 2013 the mother was still giving lots of reasons why she had not taken earlier action regarding her second husband. He explained that the mother was not blaming A but she was looking for external reasons.
The psychologist was asked to comment on an updated report in 2017 from a psychologist expert for the mother. He said the use of the ink blot test by the mother’s psychologist is generally now seen as pseudo-science. As recently as 2015 one of the top forensic psychologists said that the test was so gravely flawed as to strongly indicate it should not be used. It might be used in a therapy setting but he had not come across it since 1989. The forensic psychologist had met with the mother’s psychologist expert.
Judge: “Did you mention the ink blot test?”
Forensic psychologist: “No, I hadn’t read the report.”
CFA barrister: “Do you agree with the mother’s psychologist that your results are un-interpretable?”
Forensic psychologist: “I disagree, the tests are being done repeatedly. There are four typical hypotheses: desire to be seen as a highly favourable, personality style, need for social approval, and lack of insight or naiveté. You can’t just dismiss the results.”
Judge: “Are those your psychological hypotheses or are they used country-wide?”
Forensic Psychologist: “The hypotheses are used a lot with the Parole Commission where a person offers an opinion on which hypotheses the information fits.”
When asked by the judge if the ink blot test had been discredited or dangerous to rely on, the forensic psychologist said that it wouldn’t be accepted in psychiatric settings and a recent Scottish study supported it, but there had been no objective study.
Judge:“Is there any way of checking the validity of the ink blot test?”
Forensic psychologist: “No, [it is] entirely projective. [It is] based on a theory of projecting fears and anxieties but there is a difficulty about how much weight is given [to it]. There are simpler ways through PAI [personality tests] which are more transparent and would have been better.”
The forensic psychologist said extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence as in the case of the ink blot test which was claiming to look into your unconscious and assess your personality. He said that the mother’s psychologist should have been able to give an explanation for a different account especially when he refers to the father having a good relationship with his parents and the psychologist should have tested the information.
Forensic psychologist: “You have to explore issues as gently and unobtrusively as possible.”
Judge:“Are you saying that he didn’t?”
Forensic psychologist: “In terms of his interview notes I only have four pages from him.”
CFA barrister: “How many pages has he of your report?”
Forensic psychologist: “Twenty-eight pages.”
Judge:“When did you give him the notes?”
Forensic psychologist: “Probably 2015, before he completed his report. I got his report a week before I last appeared in court.”
The forensic psychologist said that psychologists had to be as scientific as possible and discrepancies and observations of gaps need to be checked out. The CFA barrister referred to differences between the forensic psychologist and the mother’s psychologist in January 2017 which were to do with a review of access. The mother’s barrister said that the subsequent report dealt with observations on access and that there was no reason for restricted access between the mother and the children.
The forensic psychologist said that the mother’s psychologist had not teased out the evidence and he had not explained how he came to his conclusion. He said that if you are coming to a different conclusion than three quarters of the other professionals you need to provide evidence on why the children should go back.
He accepted that when allegations are brought to court, this is the time to be most cautious. In this regard the mother’s psychologist did not provide an explanation and did not elicit any concerns that she would pose a risk to her children.
The CFA barrister asked about whether the mother’s psychologist’s report went far enough in assessing the mother’s ability to protect her children from harm as opposed to her being a risk to her children. The forensic psychologist said that as the mother’s psychologist had not raised the relationship with the father you would be left wondering about this in terms of the mother being vigilant, able to reflect and move forward. An opinion needed to be evidenced.
When asked by the CFA barrister about the mother’s psychotherapy, he said that her psychologist expert mentioned this in a vague way and it was not known how the psychotherapy was being received. Therapists may not feel, nor should they, that they should go back to people who present different information.
Judge: “What information would a therapist need to have?”
Forensic psychologist: “In proceeding with intervention in therapy what issues needed to be addressed.”
CFA barrister: “Part of the [mother’s psychologist’s] report is based on a phone conversation with the therapist that she didn’t pose a risk to her children.”
When the judge said that he does not relyon reports but needed evidence, the forensic psychologist said that a report should be based on a standard which would furnish back-up information to substantiate a finding so that the judge would be aware on what he was basing his opinion.
Judge: “I don’t read the reports unless they are accepted [by the respondents]. I want the evidence.”
Forensic psychologist: “Part of the difficulty is that therapy is subjective and it is difficult to verify the improvements that have taken place. I have seen people who have come out with less insight than when they went into therapy and sometimes it can increase risk. It is not Sudocreme. If the person is narcissistic then they can become more so.”
Judge:“What would you expect from therapy for the mother?”
Forensic psychologist: “I would expect more insight from her on how she relates to the children and evidence of being able to address that. I’m mindful that people attend me under difficult circumstances.”
The barrister for the GAL (guardian ad litem) asked the forensic psychologist to explain what he meant by the term cognitive distortions.
GAL’s barrister: “Where the children are in the mother’s care, would cognitive distortion pose a risk?”
Forensic psychologist: “The way she justifies a situation, [she] has to justify to herself what she is doing. She is reducing the risk and has to provide the reasons for staying as better than leaving. One of the reasons, to be fair, isn’t unusual: sex with children where it is unavailable with adults. She is convincing herself by staying with the children that she was with the children all the time. But vigilance at all times in a six-year period is inconceivable.”
GAL’s barrister: “Apart from relationships, what are the implications in terms of childcare?”
Forensic psychologist: “One of the things I notice with the mother [is she] had a strong tendency to stay in a situation where it is intolerable. The mother has an ability to override what other people might see. This is a sink hole fallacy, if you already made a mistake it is easier to justify. It might explain why she struggled to accept when her eldest child made her disclosure – not reflecting on your belief and [the] need to change [the] course of behaviour.”
GAL’s barrister: “[is this] in relation to her oldest child and the mother’s reaction, not naming [the abuse] but saying her oldest child was precocious and part of why she didn’t take action and protectiveness?”
Forensic psychologist: “Yes.”
GAL’s barrister:“You said, am I correct, that the mother’s experience of sexual abuse may have affected her reaction. She told you that she was sexually abused once aged four by her nine-year-old brother.”
Forensic psychologist: “I don’t think just once, but by one person.”
The forensic psychologist explained that the mother retrospectively disclosed in 2006 as a result of counselling and said that people pushing it out of their awareness is not uncommon. It is hard to quantify but not unusual that people who had experience of abuse themselves will not spot it [involving others] when they should.
GAL’s barrister:“Is it fair to say that as the children get older their self-care skills to protect themselves would compensate for the parent’s inability in this respect?”
Forensic psychologist: “Older children have more resources and there are benefits to the children after a period in care. However, about 50 per cent of children in care who returned to their families can suffer further abuse, according to statistics from the NSPCC in the UK.”
GAL’s barrister: “I’m mentioning this in particular in relation to C regarding overnight access with his mother.”
The GAL’s barrister asked the forensic psychologist to comment on the court-agreed clinical psychologist’s report on the way the mother thinks, where she found that the mother was at the pre-contemplative stage but did not understand her contribution to change. The forensic psychologist explained that this meant in other words that the penny had not dropped six months after therapy started.
The forensic psychologist said that although the mother was someone who had attended therapy on a number of occasions, she still appeared to be replicating difficulties and a fundamental question was, if therapy was to be introduced, why it didn’t work in the past.
GALs barrister:“Is the therapy hijacked by distortions which prevent her getting sufficient insight?”
Forensic psychologist: “The clinical psychologist is well qualified to say she doesn’t see change. I have difficulty with how the mother’s psychologist doesn’t see this in terms of how a person responds to treatment.”
When the mother’s barrister objected to the forensic psychologist commenting on a client he had not seen in three years, the judge said that ultimately every expert will have to make findings on information they considered pertinent. The judge said he would allow comment for the purpose of contrast and difference and not proof.
The forensic psychologist said that he was concerned that since the first assessment there had been allegations against the father and the allegations and the break-up of the relationship had not been explored by the mother’s psychologist. He hoped for the best outcome if the parents were able to make the changes necessary.
Forensic psychologist: “People might struggle but two years later the court-agreed clinical psychologist was using different language to say the same thing.”
The forensic psychologist explained that although both the clinical psychologist and the mother’s psychologist expert both recommended long-term psychotherapy, the goals were different. The clinical psychologist’s goal for therapy was to enhance healthy relationships with the children, and to establish collaborative ways of working with social services about parenting her children and to improve the mother’s understanding of herself. The mother’s psychologist’s goal was focused on the children returning and facilitating the reunion of the mother with some of her children.
Reports from social workers.
The mother’s barrister asked the forensic psychologist if he applied the same standard of forensic investigation to the information he received from the CFA as he did to the parents in terms of testing the information for discrepancies and collateral information. He said he applied the same standard. It was primarily an assessment and not an investigation and he said he interrogated the information gently.
Mother’s barrister: “[There was] nothing stopping you picking up the phone to the public health nurse.”
Forensic psychologist: “The conclusion I made was that the injury was accidental, [and there was] no reason to contact her. “
Mother’s barrister:“You didn’t speak with [A, eldest child].”
Forensic psychologist:“It is not an investigation, it is an assessment.”
Mother’s barrister: “A lot of the evidence is in relation to my client’s reaction to A and you didn’t speak to her.”
Forensic psychologist: “No.”
The forensic psychologist said he didn’t dispute that A, who is now an adult, was willing to talk to him.
Forensic psychologist: “I don’t need A to tell me that the mother saw something which should have raised red flags. Bringing in others can fracture relationships and I didn’t want to do that.”
He explained that child D ran away from the house at a young age on seven or eight occasions. The mother’s barrister said there was only one incident categorised as neglect by the then HSE in a previous county and a pattern of presentation to social services was different to categorising neglect.
Judge: “You are saying an incident singular.”
Forensic psychologist: “I’m saying there was a pattern of incidences.”
The mother’s barrister: “There has been a great deal of cooperation on the mother’s part and there are letters between my client, the HSE and the Garda. [You can] confirm that you have these.”
Forensic Psychologist: “Yes, I read these letters in detail. “
The mother’s barrister outlined to the court that consent to voluntary care was withdrawn by the parents in November 2014 and the CFA then took out an emergency care order. The forensic psychologist’s report came out in February 2015 and was forty-two pages. A copy was given to the CFA. The mother’s barrister said her client did not have access to the report before it came out. The forensic psychologist said that by the final session he would have given feedback to the mother.
The mother’s barrister went through the correspondence between the mother and the forensic psychologist regarding his assessment. The mother’s barrister put it to the forensic psychologist that it was disputed that an opportunity arose for the mother to have a meeting with the forensic psychologist and he acknowledged she was upset about a particular meeting. The mother had written to the forensic psychologist about the need for a balance of information and the mother’s barrister put it to the forensic psychologist that he seemed to be picking and choosing. The mother had attached a laboratory psychological IQ assessment from her jurisdiction of origin. The mother had said in her letter that she had a bigger file of information and the forensic psychologist only had information from the social work RAIS (IT information system)
The mother’s barrister said it was clear that the forensic psychologist was basing his findings on information, all of which he did not have. He was dismissing the mother’s point on this. The forensic psychologist said that the PAI (personality assessment interview) is a computer generated result and can’t have a cultural bias and said that he was mindful of bias.
The forensic psychologist said he was not concerned about the mother being impulsive or angry or a direct threat to the children. He went on to say that when he drilled down he was concerned about the interaction between the mother and the children. The father was saying the children were better in care than outside care. It was clear that the mother and father took different perspectives. The mother was saying she thought one of the children had Asperger’s [Syndrome] and the father was saying he had a different aspect. There were concerns about the children not wearing underwear, and their diets etc.
Judge: “The issue you are saying is that she [the mother] is self-diagnosing?”
Forensic psychologist: “I’m not referring to child D’s developmental delay. I’m saying a number of issues when the children presented and then settled down with a strategy with an element of management. She (the mother) wasn’t attributing behaviours to management.”
C was referred for assessment regarding Asperger’s Syndrome in 2013. The judge stated that the court needed to be careful where there was Munchausen by proxy. The forensic psychologist said he was not saying it was Munchausen by proxy (a fabricated induced illness). The children’s behaviour settled down more in care, but there had been no gentle reflection on the mother’s part that maybe she had too much on her plate. The forensic psychologist said the mother told him she was in a post-pregnancy cloud and under stress.
Forensic psychologist:“The mother did not consider other opinions regarding the children, which suggests a high level of self-belief, as most parents would get a formal diagnosis in case there is something they are doing and would go to their GP rather than decide off their own bat.”
The forensic psychologist agreed with the mother’s barrister that the public health nurse realised there was some speech and language delay with child D and there was nothing wrong with the mother going to see a consultant paediatrician in the previous county.
Mother’s barrister: “A team of people made the diagnosis and not my client.”
Forensic psychologist: “At this point social workers observed that the mother inappropriately labelled the children with diagnoses.”
Mother’s barrister: “The mother was correct regarding child D who subsequently had a diagnosis of global development delay. “
Forensic psychologist: “I accepted the subsequent information provided for the purpose of providing an addendum to my report. I was more focused on the diagnosis of C as having ASD (autism spectrum disorder) by the mother. [There] seems [to be] a certain single mindedness without recourse to formal professional assessment and also [it] suggests she had a high level of self-belief.”
Mother’s barrister: “Did the mother say that what C was doing was making her concerned? [For example] Washing his hands, not going out [and] obsessed with his Lego.”
Forensic psychologist: “Two professionals said that sounded like he had a diagnosis. The father said child C didn’t go out because of the roughness of the estate. The mother was saying she was delighted he was doing things now.”
The forensic psychologist said that one of the other concerns the mother had was that C was particular about routine. The mother went to her GP before leaving the previous county. The GP made a referral to a consultant paediatrician and then she went to an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) assessor in the previous county. After this the family moved. When all of the children were taken into care the mother told the CFA that C was waiting for an ASD assessment.
The forensic psychologist said he was taking issue with the mother’s recourse to an explanation and not factoring in her part in the issue. He went on to say that a parent needs to factor in themselves as many symptoms overlap and it could be inappropriate boundaries. It was not just a matter of seeking further assessment. The forensic psychologist did not get the sense that the mother factored in the fact that she was not putting in boundaries. His sense was that she was proceeding towards more extreme assessments before looking at her behaviour.
Mother’s barrister: “This is an adverse finding against my client saying she had a high level of self-belief and that there was only one way of reading it. My client did go forward for formal validation.”
Forensic psychologist: “The mother stated C had high functioning Asperger’s and was getting gay taunts in the estate but he hadn’t been diagnosed at this point.”
There was disagreement between the mother’s barrister and the forensic psychologist about what the mother said in relation to C having Asperger’s.
Mother’s barrister: “My client will say that she said C had possible Asperger’s. “
The mother’s barrister asked if the forensic psychologist was aware of the ARSS test (autism rating spectrum scale) administered to C when he was in care and on foot of that assessment he was referred for further tests. The forensic psychologist said this was a screening test and that autism was a difficult area to diagnose.
The mother’s barrister quoted from the test where C was found to become frequently upset with routine changes and these were issues that the mother had raised. The forensic psychologist said that you had to be careful as you can have false positives and the father was putting a different slant on behaviours.
Mother’s barrister: “Maybe my client was not having cognitive distortions.”
Forensic psychologist: “I’m aware why I said what I said.”
Mother’s barrister: “Is it accurate to say that you drew adverse findings from my client’s previous involvement with social workers and that you said that she explained away the concerns?”
Forensic psychologist: “More specifically I just felt there was very little of herself in the explanations.”
The mother’s barrister:“Involvement with social services doesn’t mean a bad parent. For instance when A made her disclosure, she is giving a perspective, some of what is referred to as minimisations and justifications.”
Forensic psychologist: “One had to pull out any explanations regarding social work involvement. [For example, saying] ‘speech and language therapy didn’t understand me.’ “
The mother’s barrister put it to the forensic psychologist that essentially what he was saying was that the mother was not learning from all of the social work involvement and said that he was not looking at the bulk of the information, but just plucking out information. The forensic psychologist denied this and said he was giving clear examples.
Foster link social worker
The foster link social worker who dealt with C and E when they were placed in an emergency placement for three nights with the same foster carers on first coming into care continued her evidence from the previous October. She told the court that the foster carers described child C as ‘parentified’ and reported that at home C said his job was to take care of child E, his two year old brother, and that child E slept where he lay. She said the foster carers described child E as lashing out.
Foster link social worker: “I was advised that [C], a ten year old boy, had Asperger’s and [D], his eight year old brother, had global developmental delay.”
The mother’s barrister: “You were told that there was a diagnosis.”
Foster link social worker: “The children were at the hospital. This would have been relayed to the duty social worker.”
Mother’s barrister: “[Did] you phone every day of the three days the children were with the emergency foster carers?”
Foster link social worker: “Yes.”
The foster link social worker explained that the foster carers described C who was ten years old at the time, as a lovely little boy who did a lot for his younger brother, who was very emotional and crying a lot. They described child E who was two years old at the time as boisterous with no routine, boundaries or speech. C had a way of calming his brother down and the foster carers were concerned that he was wearing himself out. C advised the foster carers that “Mammy lets [E] do whatever he wants.”
Mother’s barrister:“It wouldn’t be stretching it that a ten year old would be protective of a two year old, [would it?]”
Foster link social worker:“Yes.”
Mother’s barrister: “The foster carer tried to reprimand [E] and said you are not in your own house. The children are starkly reminded that they are in a stranger’s house, you could understand why a child would say that. “
Foster link social worker: “Yes.”
Mother’s barrister: “The foster carer described [C] as quiet and mannerly and a credit to his parents.”
Foster link social worker: “No, the two are joined at the hip, not unusual. [C] appeared to be [E’s] parent and at home he said he looked after [E] and Mammy looked after the baby.”
Mother’s barrister: “The foster carer told you earlier it was difficult to tell when he is telling the truth. [It is] different if the mother asked [C] to mind [E] for a few minutes. Did you ask what did he mean when he said I mind [E]?”
Foster link social worker: “I would hand that on to the child’s social worker.”
Mother’s barrister: “It wouldn’t be unusual for [C] to be defensive of his mother. “
Foster link social worker: “No, [C] said to the foster carer that Mammy closed the door and E curled up in a ball asleep in the kitchen. The foster carer described [C] as very tired and exhausted and made a lot of excuses, [that C] isn’t a child, he is a 10 year old parent. [E] needs a lot of attention. [It] looks like he didn’t receive much at home.”
Mother’s barrister: “The incident of [C] taking [E] down to the sitting room early on the Saturday in a situation of being in a stranger’s home is not unusual.”
Foster link social worker: “No.”
The foster link social worker explained that her role was to support the foster carer and to liaise with the child’s social worker about the child. The mother’s barrister compared the notes of the child’s social worker and the foster link social worker and put it to her that she did not have notes in relation to what C had said to the foster carers. The foster link social worker explained that she asked the foster carers to record anything the children said and she gave the child’s quotes from the foster carer to the child’s social worker. She said there had been considerable reports from the foster carers of the level of care provided by C for E including changing his nappy, getting him breakfast and off to bed. Given C’s parentified role, the foster link social worker said it was imperative that C was placed in a separate placement.
The mother’s barrister referred to an interview in his second foster placement with the foster link social worker when C shared that he helped with the housework: “I cleaned the living room and stairs and [D] did the kitchen to help Mum.”
Mother’s barrister: “Did you elaborate with him?”
Foster link social worker: “[It is] not my role [to be] questioning the child.”
Mother’s barrister: “Did the foster carer tease it out?”
Foster link social worker: “She didn’t remember. [E] was hard work sometimes and he looked after him. She didn’t remember that being teased out. On the same occasion when the child’s social worker asked him what was different about living with the foster carers, [C] said ‘I don’t have to do the housework and [I] can play’.”
Mother’s barrister: “You are an experienced person. Asking a child to do the dishes is not putting a parental role on them. Was it clarified?”
Foster link social worker: “I don’t recall. When he came into care he always wanted to help [E] and he was told that housework wasn’t his responsibility. The penny dropped with [C] that his job is to enjoy childlike things. When he was asked about why he was in care he said that [F] had a head injury and ‘you need to know what happened to her.’ He talked about being sad and nervous about what was happening, about getting to know the foster carers and having lots of fun. The pains in his tummy were gone. The foster carers described him as well-mannered and originally protective and closed and poor contact. This improved once there was routine and he was told what was going to happen.”
Judge: “Did anyone ask about the pains in his stomach? Did you not hear that he was afraid to tell his mum that his pains had gone?”
Foster link social worker: “The foster carers said there was no need to be afraid to tell his mum. What he wanted was to stop cleaning a lot and stop looking after [E] and obey [the] rules.”
The foster link social worker told the court that the child’s social worker explained to C that the decision had not been made yet about going home. He was upset and she told him she would support him to have the happy ending that he talked about.
Judge: “What was the happy ending he talked about? What did the child understand?”
Foster link social worker: “Returning to Mum.”
The mother’s barrister said it appeared that the child’s social worker had an in-depth conversation with child C and the foster carers about his home routine before he came into care. She queried the appropriateness of saying to a child that it was not his job to help out with housework and the care of his brother and that he should do child-like things.
She told the court when C came into care initially he was on almond milk as his mother reported a dairy intolerance and tummy pains. The mother’s barrister put it to the foster link social worker that the child’s social worker had brought up with C the subject of him telling his mother that he had an ice cream. The mother’s barrister said the child’s social worker suggested to C he was afraid to tell his mother that his tummy pains had gone. C then became embarrassed when this was suggested and nodded.
Mother’s barrister: “In hindsight, did you think it was appropriate for a social worker to say that to a child who was upset?”
Foster link social worker: “No.”
Mother’s barrister: “My client would say that the children had chores, would you have a problem with that?”
Foster link social worker: “No. Not with age appropriate chores.”
Judge: “Do you think that cleaning the living room and stairs was appropriate?”
Foster link social worker: “Not up to me to say about anyone else, but if they have a chore and they can manage it. “
The CFA barrister confirmed with the foster link social worker from her notes that when E had lashed out and kicked people and doors, C intervened to tell the foster carers not to speak to E. She said the foster mother told C she was there to keep C and E safe and that she couldn’t let E climb up on everything and explained that “we don’t kick, hit or slap anyone, we respect everyone.”
The CFA barrister asked the foster link worker about the notes from the foster mother.
Foster link social worker: “[The notes say] [C] doesn’t have a minute to himself, he does everything for [E]. The only time [C] allowed [E] to be minded was when [C] was on the play station.”
The court heard that the foster mother noted when she praised C, he said: “’Mammy looks after the baby and I look after [E].’ [C] is a very sad little boy, tired and exhausted and does everything for his little brother.”
The foster parents had the children for two days and they noted that C wasn’t a ten year old child but a parent. C brought E down at 5.30 in the morning and didn’t want to disturb anyone. He said: “I always do that at home”. The foster mother noted that she gently advised him that she and the foster father were there to look after him. C and E were joined at the hip and E had absolutely no bed time but fell asleep wherever he wanted. She noted that C described E falling asleep on the floor curled up like a cat.
Judge: “[In regard to] what the social worker for the children said, how accurate was it in relation to the conversation with the foster carer? Your notes are impressive. Were you on the phone taking notes? How soon did you write [them] up? “
Foster link social worker: “Immediately.”
Judge: “In June 2013 the foster link social worker went with the child’s social worker to the foster parents for the purposes of investigating a routine at home. Was it explored in more detail about housework and parentification?”
Foster link social worker: “I can’t recall.”
Judge: “You don’t know where the reference to changing nappies is?”
Foster link social worker: “I don’t know. The children’s social worker indicated that this came from the emergency foster carers.”
The court-agreed clinical psychologist
The next witness was a clinical psychologist agreed by the court to assess the mother. She was asked by the GAL’s barrister if there was any contrast in the personality assessment inventory which she carried out in 2017 with the mother and the one which the forensic psychologist had carried out in 2014. The clinical psychologist said the 2014 tests were at a time of crisis when the children were taken into care. The mother showed no ability to admit to any difficulty.
Clinical psychologist: “The picture in 2017 is a bit better, there is a limited amount you can take when there is a positive impression agent. I’m reluctant to read too much into it. Maybe there is a little bit of improvement in 2016.”
GAL’s barrister: “What are the implications for child care?”
Clinical psychologist: “In terms of the mother’s situation where she had a number of children in difficult circumstances this could be problematic. She could have difficulty in dealing with a situation with strong emotional demands as it appears generally.”
The clinical psychologist described the mother as suffering from sleep deprivation, low mood and loss of enjoyment. She said the mother was in a difficult situation with long complex care proceedings and children in care, and she would be more alarmed if she didn’t have this. She found the mother’s stress elevated significantly because she was under stress. She reported that the mother had a significant degree of physical disability.
The GAL’s barrister asked the clinical psychologist what impact she would expect to see on the mother in 2017 from attending weekly therapy since 2016.
Clinical psychologist: “What we are seeing is a minor improvement. But it is a tremendously difficult situation when you are in child care proceedings. You are always cautious about psychometrics in this situation and the overwhelming desire for people to present a positive impression in this situation.”
Judge: “It happens every day in court.”
The clinical psychologist said she did not have a problem with the mother’s psychologist’s use of the ink blot test, but one of the difficulties was that it gave a description but no clinical interpretation. She said the mother’s psychologist presented a pen picture but did not say these characteristics were problematic in terms of parenting and he did not apply them to the mother’s circumstances. She said she did not have a difficulty with the findings as they were not far removed from her findings. She gave examples such as the mother’s idiosyncratic thinking, being less concerned with social demands and expectations, and problems in not working within the normal framework of parenting.
She found the mother tended to over intellectualise situations and not to respond in an emotional way. This was a way of coping. Part of the difficulty was that with all the intervention with child care she was resistant to changing her child care practice. She had strong emotions associated with loss and trauma. She tended not to listen to others and act without preliminary actions. There was a history of big decisions being made quickly. Some of the location moves were made quite quickly. She said some of these personality characteristics had not served the mother well as she had not been able to change her fundamental attitudes and her thinking about the children and there was no fundamental shift in her attitude to parenting.
The clinical psychologist told the court she found the mother co-operative, sociable and articulate. She dealt with mild emotional upset and annoyance appropriately. She was assertive, set her own parameters, was organised, made her own arrangements, and kept her environment manageable for herself. The father of the younger children was advancing her money.
The clinical psychologist visited the mother at home. She got an overall positive impression of a well-kept modern and decorated house. However, she had a problem with the organisation of the first floor. There were two open alcoves with beds and a wide open space for the boys to share. In circumstances where D had been sexually abused the clinical psychologist felt that such an arrangement would be inappropriate. She felt a conventional bedroom with a door that he could close would be more appropriate.
Clinical psychologist: “It wasn’t ideal in the circumstances. The two boys have issues. If you have the possibility of designing, maybe [this shows] a lack of insight. [It] provides no privacy and [for D to have] his own space. The mother said she designed the space. In other circumstances it is imaginative but not in these circumstances.”
Judge: “Is it an observation or a criticism?”
Clinical psychologist: “[It is] lack of insight, [it is] positively chosen rather than [it] just happened.”
The clinical psychologist told the court that the mother had an arthritic condition. She had problems since her early thirties and this was more of a problem in recent years. When she was pregnant the pain resulted in her not being able to sleep properly and it was quite debilitating at times.
The clinical psychologist told the court that the mother wasn’t in a relationship. She ended her relationship with her third husband after D’s sexual abuse allegation. She attempted to pass on some information to her husband’s mother and counsellor regarding his danger to children. The mother was raised abroad. She was the only child of her parents and she had a half-brother from her father’s first marriage. She married three times in 1989, 1995 and in 2013 [to the father of the younger children] after the children went into care.
She first married aged nineteen. The mother’s first husband was involved with other women. The second husband was a heavy drinker, had episodes of depression and did not financially support the family. There were episodes of violence and the sexual abuse of her daughter of which she was partially aware. When she met her second husband he was a manual worker and she was from a high achieving family.
The mother met her third husband in 2007. He moved in quite quickly after she met him. Though coming from a high achieving family the mother reported feeling insecure and lacking in confidence. She went to college and was absent a lot. She felt she didn’t get the push to follow a career. She was particularly interested in spatial design and got no encouragement. She had not harnessed her ability to think conceptually. She had never made the most of her ability and along with that had an over-tolerance of dysfunctional relationships.
The mother reported to the clinical psychologist that she felt loved as a child. She described being inadequately supervised and after the age of seven putting herself to bed and getting herself up with her own alarm. The parents were unaware of her day-to-day life and were uninvolved. When she went to bed her father was working and when she got up he was working. She described him as a workaholic.
She had two accidents in a car, aged two when she was left in a car by herself and aged four when she was hospitalised. She would say she was not minded. She had intellectual conversations with her father but her parents did not know what she was doing. Neither parent detected sexual abuse by her half-brother then aged nine. They were left to their own devices in the home.
There was tacit acceptance of sexual activities at the age of 16 by her parents. There was no sustained parental interest. She described premature sexualisation aged 13 as normal and not problematic. The mother told the psychologist when A would not come home at night she told her not to come home if she had been drinking. This conversation was more suited to an older child than A aged 14 to 15 at the time. The mother said A was older than she appeared.
The mother was aware that B was sexually active before the age of 13 and she told the clinical psychologist that B was assaulted at a firework display aged 12 years. The clinical psychologist told the court that she had a discussion with the mother about active parenting. The mother told her that it was impossible to prevent sexualisation if a young person was determined.
There was no recognition of how damaging it can be for a young child to be involved in sexual activity. The most successful strategy for the mother was sending A to the mother’s parents for a while. Bringing A to counselling in 2005 brought up the mother’s abuse and she came to the realisation it was a damaging experience.
GAL’s barrister: “When attending counselling, the second husband was still attending at the family home?”
Clinical psychologist: “Yes, there was a disconnect. The mother said A was angry and staying out late but the abuser was calling around and staying all day between 2005 and 2007. She would say she had been given the OK for supervised visits but that is a different thing to having him in the house all day.”
The clinical psychologist said the mother picked partners who did not have the ability to be a supportive spouse and she tolerated huge amounts of dysfunction to a point where she seemed quite insecure and dependent on husbands. The mother reported a panic attack when she first married. She did not report herself to be suffering from anxiety. She said this was not a positive feature if it blocked off insight.
Clinical psychologist: “[It is a] double edged sword, blocking off all the feeling, [and] not reacting to dysfunctional situations you should be open to, because you had to block off everything. She is a highly defended personality [and] employs rigidity in thinking. [She] puts in routine and manages [a] timetable to control her environment. She over-tolerates dysfunction. She suffered a very significant accident and trauma age four.”
Judge: “How does this compare with resilience?”
Clinical psychologist: “If [you are] pushed too hard, if you have to manage the unmanageable, there is a point where it becomes dysfunctional, tolerating violence, drinking, and a difficult situation at home. It is quite disadvantageous to the children. [There were] points where she soldiered on when she shouldn’t or ought not to. She doesn’t seem aware of the children’s situation. [For instance] blocking off the realisation that B is angry and she didn’t see that the children had any difficulties.”
Judge: “Which children, what difficulties?”
Clinical psychologist: “It seems at the time when things became very bad C wasn’t wearing underwear. The social workers were involved and she wasn’t fully aware. It is a very complex picture. She defended against anxiety and was emotionally distant. In terms of the experience she was blindly carrying on, giving an intellectual explanation about the experience of the children.
“She could be in quite in a lot of pain with not a lot of support and she would rationalise this as the right way to be. She had chronic pain and the care of the children and no energy. There is a point where the mother wasn’t fully able to react to the situation. She says, ‘this is my type of parenting, I let the children choose and help out’ and the reality is that she has difficulty coping.”
Emotional blocking, physical health and issues with clothing.
When E came into care the clinical psychologist told the court the toddler had serious behavioural difficulties with disorganised behaviour, no family routine and no recognition of that. There was no recognition that C was doing a lot of parenting and the mother was not seeing things as they were and that she might not have used the most appropriate strategies. The mother had a tendency to use an intellectual explanation. She used labels such as psychological difficulties rather than management.
Judge: “Give me an explanation.”
The clinical psychologist described C’s sensory difficulties with food and dairy intolerance, the texture of clothing, and not going out in daylight. She saw this as difficulties rather than behaviours which arose from the environment. The mother had seen the difficulty with food as intrinsic to the child rather than a management difficulty.
Judge: “[So] you would see it as a management difficulty.”
Clinical psychologist:“C has had no difficulty since he went into care. E hadn’t been introduced properly to solids. Sometimes it is better to be aware that you are not managing and not to label the children. Another unusual feature was the large numbers of moves prompted by her husbands. She moved from comfortable situations.”
The clinical psychologist said that the CFA social workers reported 24 house moves. “Packing up the house and moving the family on her own and finding accommodation seemed to have to do with the partner’s needs and not with the family’s needs and she was unaware of the impact on the children. This reduces your availability to the children when you are unsupported.”
Judge: “Is that a negative?”
Clinical psychologist: “It is a feature of the case – packing up the wagons.”
Judge: “Before the age of 20 I had moved eight times.”
Clinical psychologist:“Sometimes people move with promotions. Circumstances can dictate moves. [In] looking at features peculiar to the case, [it is] not necessarily dictated by the family’s needs and they do add stress to the family and [there is] not a lot of support.”
The clinical psychologist told the court that on exploration, the mother did not find the impact of the move as particularly problematic for the children. The final move was with F, a young infant. The mother’s husband was not available to help. The mother was a survivor but there was quite a lot that did not work.
The clinical psychologist described the mother’s prioritisation of her relationship with her second husband. A had disclosed child sexual abuse against her stepfather in 2005. She was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for self-harm and bulimia. The clinical psychologist said that the mother did not have a full recognition of the child being under a lot of pressure, but had more of a recognition of her second husband’s depressions. A told her social worker she was sexually active and smoking and assuming parental responsibility.
The mother’s ability to protect
The court heard that the mother’s ability to protect was at issue and that her reasoning was inadequate. The mother told the clinical psychologist that she did not consider A’s sister B to be risk of child sexual abuse as she was “Mammy-focused”.
Mother’s barrister: “Did you raise it with the mother?”
Clinical psychologist: “Yes, my point is, another female child of a similar age [was in the home] and the mother readily accepted the other child was not at risk.”
After A’s disclosure the court heard that the mother kept the children with her and she queried the type of child sexual abuse and said it was not part of her sexual relationship with her second husband and would not ring true. The mother told the clinical psychologist that A was acting older than her years.
Judge: “[This] depends on the context of when it is said. Was it said?”
Clinical Psychologist: “In the context of child sexual abuse, [she had] difficulty in interpreting, firstly querying, [then] analysed [it in terms of] her own sexual experience. “
Judge: “Was it in a general sense or was it said in the context of the sexual abuse? [It is] worrying if describing sexual abuse on a child. “
Clinical psychologist: “A was eight at the time. [There was] confusion around the whole issue. [It was] said in the context of the kiss.”
The clinical psychologist told the court that the mother’s initial response was appropriate in taking the children to her parent’s house after the inappropriate kissing incident. However, when her husband joined her two weeks later, she did not discuss the situation and carried on.
The court heard that the mother had a difficulty fully believing A’s allegation of child sexual abuse. The mother told the clinical psychologist that the social workers involved said the husband had to leave, and she had to supervise his visits. The husband was coming by the house and he was visiting most days. Once or twice they had a sexual relationship.
GAL’s barrister: “What would you expect a parent’s own reaction to be?”
Clinical psychologist: “A disclosure should be believed. A didn’t make this up. [The mother] had an ambivalence and didn’t exclude [the husband from the home]. I would expect exclusion from the environment of the child. There was a continuing sexual relationship. Having him half in the family was part of the ambivalence. There is a practical dimension, he would do the cleaning and [be] of practical assistance. He walked in as if the house was his. [There was] a real ambivalence as to the position of the husband.”
Judge: “[What is] your impression of the social work involvement?”
Clinical psychologist: “I can’t see that the social workers would have condoned him being there from morning to night. In August 2006, there was an attempt to put a structure to three times a week.”
Judge: “Then it might have been more than that if they were trying to structure it to three times [a week].”
Clinical psychologist: “She was going to counselling and minimising so that still things could carry on as normal. In 2002 she was pregnant with D, a very busy period and there are more social work reports about the boys. In 2005 A was absenting herself from the home and involved in a sexual relationship. It was not helpful to A that the second husband was still there. In 2004 A was bulimic. She had two miscarriages in 2005. She [the mother] said: ‘How do you tell a teenager to stop having sexual relationships?’ B became sexually active between 11 and 12 years and the mother said she was ‘savvier’ about birth control and that B, who is now an adult, is in a stable relationship.”
The court heard that A was sent to a boarding school for a short while, then returned home. There was a difficulty settling A into local schools. The mother described to the clinical psychologist how her daughter, then turning 15, threw her bag on the floor and hiked into town, staying out at night. The clinical psychologist said the mother did not make the obvious connection between her daughter’s out-of-control behaviour with the child sexual abuse and the step-father’s presence.
Adjournment of the case to November dates.
As the court was unable to finish the hearing of expert evidence within the two weeks allowed, the case was adjourned to November dates when the remaining experts and judge would be next available.
Extension of Interim Care Order on consent
As the interim care order on all four children was due to expire on the following day the judge heard sworn evidence from the children’s social worker that the same circumstances existed which required the original interim care order. The judge was told by the parents’ legal representatives that the parents were consenting to the extension of an interim care order. The judge made an order extending the interim care order until the end of the November court hearing date.