A Care Order was sought by Tusla – the Child and Family Agency in respect of 11 children in a rural town. Three of the eleven children were in foster care under an Interim Care Order and the remaining eight children were living with extended family. The application was supported by the children’s guardian ad litem.
There had been a long history of engagement by Tusla with this family and a range of child and family supports had been put in place, which initially had a positive impact. The Care Order was sought on the grounds of neglect, welfare and physical abuse of the children. Two of the children had been placed on the Child Protection Notification System in 2014.
The CFA social worker expressed concern about neglect due to the parents’ alcohol and drug misuse, domestic violence and aggression in the house, poor supervision of the children, missed medical appointments and poor school attendance. She noted that the parents’ strengthens were in the basic care of the children and the home, however, more recently the children were presenting hungry.
She also noted her concern about the children becoming involved in criminal activity once they reach early adolescence and that the parents were actively promoting this behaviour. One child had recently left detention and three were facing criminal charges. It was also noted that five years ago, one of the children disclosed physical abuse. The judge asked who would give expert evidence to substantiate the evidence that all the children will become involved in criminal activity; he reminded the CFA that the constitutional rights of the children and the parents were at play.
The CFA social worker gave evidence that her most significant concern was about the emotional neglect of the children. She believed the parents were encouraging the children to conceal information from the social work department and that the children had lied for the parents, such as locking the door and telling the social workers their parents were not at home, even though they were at home. The children were very guarded when interacting with professionals and were physically aggressive with each other.
One of younger children has a mild learning disability and slight speech delay. Another young child had difficultly expressing emotion, she did not display upset when taken into care and had made no reference to home since she left. The social worker commented that this is “very unusual”. Another of the children, a young teenager, was upset when she left home and had idealist expectations that her parents would separate and the mother would get the children back. Another child was very sad and feared losing his parents, he had difficulty verbalising his emotions. The children had a preference to be at home. The social worker was also concerned about a lack of stimulation in the home. The home presented well but there was little evidence of toys.
The family has been subject to a Supervision Order but the CFA social worker said this approach had failed. The judge pointed out that a Supervision Order failing was not grounds for a Care Order and also queried what role Tusla was playing to address the poor school attendance record of the children.
The social worker said that during a home visit in July 2015 he (or she?) witnessed a fight. At that time the family expressed fear for the safety of their children due to a disagreement with another family and as a result the children’s attendance at school and pre-school was restricted. The family sought alternative accommodation as a result of this dispute with a neighbour. At a case conference in September 2015 it was agreed that a Care Order would be sought. However, the children remained living at home until 7 March 2016.
In March 2016 all of the children left the family home to stay with extended family following an incident at the home to which the social workers were called. The children were not in school, there was no food in the house and the parents were using drugs. The social worker decided that the home was not a safe place to be. Three children went into foster care in April under an Interim Care Order. Since the children had gone into care one of the parents had been detained and there was an accidental fire in the family home so it is now uninhabitable.
The judge said it was unusual to seek a Care Order so quickly after children coming in care. It had been six weeks since three of the children came into care. The CFA social worker said that a lot of supports have been put in place but now the agency’s assessment was there was a need to offer permanency and intervention.
In relation to access, the children only wanted access with their father if their mother was present. There was no access with either parent for the first three weeks The family were not happy with the social worker’s account of efforts made to organise access during the past six weeks.
The judge commented that there has been no assessment carried out of the children. He granted an extension to the ICO in respect of three of the children. The parents consented to this Order.
A Care Order was subsequently made in respect of all 11 children for a period of two years, with a review to take place in six months. The 11 children are split between seven care placements.