A full Care Order was granted in the District Court for three young children and a teenager who had been in and out of care for nearly three years. One year prior to the granting of the Care Order the children had been returned to the care of the state for the second time.
The first time the children had been in care they were returned home under a Supervision Order. However within three months the HSE brought Interim Care Order applications in respect of all four children as the Supervision Order had been breached.
The father was the biological father of the three younger children and the step-father of the eldest child (Child A). He had moved in with the mother when Child A was a baby.
Interim Care Order hearing
During their second return into care at the Interim Care Order hearing stage, the court had heard that none of the children wanted to return home. The guardian ad litem (GAL) told the court: “These children of such a young age have consistently told me that they are very clear that they do not wish to return to their mother’s care.”
Child C had said to him, “I do not want to return to Mummy, Daddy is much nicer than Mummy.” His first choice was Dad and his second choice was the foster home. For B and D their first choice was their Dad, and “it was a major debate between foster care and Mum…it is very unusual in my career all in the one family choosing Mum as the second option to Dad.” There was a great apprehensiveness and uncertainty in their relationship with their Mum, which possibly went back to unpredictable and rigid parenting. “Their perception of Mum is fear,” he said.
Granting the Interim Care Order, the judge had said there was “a significant risk of physical abuse of the children in their parents’ care, [and] a significant risk of emotional abuse of the children in their parents’ care, [Child A] was being forced to take on a parental role, [mother and father] are unable to provide effective protective factors for the children within the family home.”
Synopsis of the case taken from the Full Care Order hearing:
All four children had repeatedly witnessed incidents of domestic violence between their parents with a persistent abuse of alcohol in the home. There were allegations of emotional and physical abuse by the mother towards the children who also showed signs of neglect while in school. An attachment expert who assessed the children found they showed signs in their patterns of attachment of having experienced trauma in the home, mostly likely through witnessing domestic violence.
While the father showed a willingness to change he lacked the capacity to do so. He had also colluded with the mother to hide their relationship from the professionals involved in the case during the return home of the children under the Supervision Order. One of the conditions of the children’s return home had been the continued separation of the parents with the father having removed himself from the family home.
However it emerged that the relationship had begun again and lasted for over a year. This resulted in the continued pattern of domestic violence in the home, often as a consequence of the abuse of alcohol brought into the house by the father who sometimes stayed overnight. He had therefore showed a lack of capacity to change his pattern of behaviour and he had failed to act as a protective factor to his children.
On the other hand the mother showed neither the willingness nor motivation to change and consistently failed to recognise how her actions had resulted in the children going into care. She saw herself alone as the victim of domestic violence in the home which she alleged was perpetrated by her partner and eldest child. When she drank alcohol she justified it by saying it was the father’s turn to mind the children and took no responsibility for this or for the subsequent outcomes.
Towards the end of the Care Order hearing the mother suddenly brought up allegations of sexual abuse against two of children by the father, including the eldest child of whom he was the step-father (Child A). She contended that she had made all of the professionals aware of these allegations at various times in the past as well as the Gardaí. However this was not confirmed by any of the professionals involved.
The father himself had been a victim of child sexual abuse and the perpetrator of such abuse in the past against two relatives. He had made the mother aware of this when her eldest daughter was around seven as he felt she should know about it. He did not feel the need for counselling in relation to his past.
Child A subsequently insisted on coming into court to give evidence that her step-father had not sexually abused her. The attachment expert returned to give further evidence in relation to the matter, telling the court that the behaviour the children exhibited did not lead her to believe the mother’s allegations.
Although the father put himself forward to act as the sole caregiver for the children the professionals involved believed that he did not fully realise the extent of the day-to-day routine which that would involve. Furthermore the social worker felt that he would succumb to offers of help from the mother and that things would go back to the way they had been prior to the children going into care.
Full Care Order hearing – the first social worker
At the full Care Order hearing the mother consented to the full Care Order for the eldest child (Child A), who was a teenager, but opposed the application for the three other children. The biological father of Child A did not participate in the hearing.
The social worker who had first worked with the family from mid-2012 told the court about the history of the case. She said the social work department had become involved due to concerns about the mother’s alcohol abuse, domestic violence in the family home and physical abuse concerning Child A.
A parenting capacity assessment had begun late 2012 during which the mother clearly stated that she did not have any issues around alcohol and that she was the victim of domestic violence. The father had admitted there were concerns around the mother’s alcohol abuse which caused huge difficulties in the family home. “She would drink up to eight cans. She was quite verbally abusive to him throughout their relationship,” said the social worker.
Concerns arose about drug misuse during the parenting capacity assessment and the results indicated cocaine use by the father. The social worker told the court that although the father had engaged quite well in the assessment there were concerns about his ability to manage a situation involving the mother due to her overpowering behaviour. He had no family support around him in Dublin to help him care for the children.
In May 2013 there had been a shift in the mother’s attitude, she began to engage with the social work department, she agreed to link the children in with the local family support centre and there was no issue of domestic violence as the father had left the family home. The children were returned home under a supervision order with directions. However the directions were breached and the children returned into care three months later.
The attachment expert
An attachment therapist told the court that she had done attachment profiling on the three youngest children but not on the eldest child as it did not work for teenagers over the age of 14. She told the court however that A’s relationship with her mother had hugely deteriorated in her teenage years, while her relationship with her step-father was very close.
The therapist said that Child B was a very complex little boy who was highly avoidant when he came into care. “He had no sense at all that there was a safe place around parents. He was very confused about his own life. He is still not a secure child and still retains avoidance,” said the therapist.
Child C was the most sociable of all the children and was moving towards a greater sense of security than the other children. The youngest child, Child D, was a very overactive child with sensory difficulties. The doctor felt that D had not mapped a secure base with anyone.
With regards to the father, she felt that he loved them and engaged well with them on an emotional level. “I am a bit concerned that he has not fully realised the enormous difficulties of caring for three children,” said the attachment therapist.
She had also met with the mother, who had accepted there had been violence but said that her husband or Child A had started it. “She said she was responding to violence that had been started by either [her husband] or [Child A]. I don’t think she acknowledged her role in the children being in care. She denied she had an alcohol problem and said the violence was instigated by other people.”
The therapist told the court that she was concerned the father had not considered the scale of the physical and emotional demand of caring for the three children. “It’s such a complex undertaking, I would have expected him to be more explicit about how he would do it.”
Current allocated social worker
The current allocated social worker went through the background to the children returning into care from the Supervision Order.
He told the court that the mother had shown very limited insight into her role as to what had transpired to instigate their return into care. She perceived herself as the victim and laid blame on Child A.
“A constant theme with the work with [the mother] is that she refuses to acknowledge that her actions played a role, there is a lack of insight, and a lack of willingness to accept responsibility for her actions, effectively making it impossible for the CFA to work with [her] in a meaningful manner,” said the social worker.
The mother had indicated in early 2014 that she would consider going into a residential treatment centre. Then in mid-2014 she had said it was socially undesirable for her to do so. She did attend a four week education programme but there was no progression.
While the father had shown insight and awareness, the CFA could only consider reunification on the basis that he would be the sole carer. There was the outstanding issue of housing however and where the children would physically live. An updated parenting capacity assessment had been carried out with him, they still needed to assess whether the father had the capacity to protect the children from the concerns that had arisen previously regarding the mother.
An updated parenting capacity assessment had not been carried out on the mother because she had not shown insight or the willingness to engage with the social workers.
“The key aspect remains [the mother] and the danger she has brought to the house, can [the father] protect the children from [her], we obviously feel he doesn’t have the capacity to do so, he has been in a relationship with her until recently, in effect he has been untruthful.
“[The mother] has a brazen disposition towards the social workers, there is a significant fear that [she] continues to feel she has a right to remain in the children’s lives on a day to day basis and [he] can’t keep her from them, from the emotional abuse and the drinking,” said the social worker.
He had recommended that the father attend for counselling in relation to his difficult childhood and the domestic violence. The social worker also felt the father needed to engage in assertiveness classes.
With regards to the proportionality of Care Orders for each child until the age of 18, the social worker told the court that the children had been in care for nearly two years and “virtually nothing has changed, we’ve no confidence that the mother can change, we don’t feel she has the capacity. [The father] is willing to change but appears not to have the capacity to change”.
In relation to reunification, the social worker told the court that it was the mother’s refusal to attend alcohol residential treatment that resulted in his team not giving further consideration to it.
The social worker told the court that the grounds upon which the CFA were seeking the full Care Order were the witnessed domestic violence between the parents, the exposure to parental alcohol misuse which in turn led to domestic violence as well as the mother using harsh parenting and being emotionally abusive. The children had been the subjects of poor supervision, their education had been compromised which came under the category of neglect and their health needs had also been neglected.
He felt that if the children were to be returned to the father that he would have very little support available to him. However the crux of the issue was the potential for the relationship between the parents to recommence. The department did not have the confidence that the father could successfully separate from the mother or keep the children safe from her. “That’s an opinion we’re holding based on the evidence of the case to date,” said the social worker.
Judge: “During the children’s first reception into care, there was a parenting capacity assessment of both parents. During the second reception into care the only formal parenting capacity assessment using a framework technique that was carried out was in respect of [the father]. It’s been put to you the parents have been treated differently, what are your reasons for treating them differently?”
Social worker: “[The mother] has shown no insight into her role into the children’s reception into care in both instances, consistently saying it lies with [the father and Child A]. Her actions have been hugely significant in the children coming into care and without her acknowledgement of her role we deemed it impossible to assess her.”
Judge: “Is insight a requirement of the framework assessment tool, in order for it to be properly administered the parent must demonstrate insight?”
Social worker: “In our professional opinion it is crucial. In order to progress work of any sort to try to reunite the children with [the mother] it’s crucial for her to have an insight into the role she played in these matters and she has demonstrated no insight into that.”
In cross examination the mother was asked by her solicitor what her experience of violence was from the children’s father.
Mother: “In the last couple of years, he has been hitting me like a punching bag, I’ve been immobilised in my seat. He has been explosively violent in front of all the children without provocation. In the evening of [X] he caught me by the hair and banged me off either side of the door of Child A’s room, he thumped me with his fist around my face and kicked me with his working boots into the leg.
“The children saw it. I was badly bruised behind my ears because he hopped me off the door frame, he broke my middle toe, the doctor suspects he broke my jaw.”
Judge: “Are there any medical reports?”
Mother: “There are in the hospital if anyone is bothered to get them. It’s up to you, judge, whatever your prerogative is, I expect.”
Judge: “My job here is to assess the evidence.”
The judge told the mother’s solicitor that unless she was going to call witnesses they could not have any more discussion of doctors or hospitals.
Mother’s solicitor: “I accept that I don’t have any proof of evidence.”
Judge: “But it’s not evidence, it’s an allegation.”
Mother’s solicitor: “It’s an allegation.”
Judge: “To what end? If it’s not supported by evidence she can’t give a determination of what other people said, she can’t say what the doctor said or establish it as a fact.”
The mother told the court that she was meant to get surgery on her jaw but she had decided not to because it would have left a scar. Later during cross examination she told the court of another incident where she alleged that the children’s father had “pulled her hair out of her head. Mr [Y] was explosively violent in front of the children.” She said that she couldn’t get into the house and had to break the patio window and that she was meant to get surgery on her hand but did not.
When asked if she thought the father could care for the children alone, the mother said that he would struggle with the day to day household because he had no experience of it, that “all of that had been left up to her”. She said if the children were returned to his care that he would look for her services.
The father told the court that living with the children’s mother was “ok at the best of times, the rest of the time it was very bad.” He agreed that there had been a lot of pushing and shoving between them that could be classified as violence.
He described some incidents of violence in the home – she had smashed a porcelain tea light holder in his face, she had poured beer over his head when he had tried to pour it down the sink. He admitted that he had had his part to play but he said that she had provoked him many, many times. He had patience he said, but she followed him around the house, constantly badgering him until he reacted. Sometimes he pushed her out of the way, he knew it was not appropriate and he had been conscious of the children seeing it.
The biggest trigger for her behaviour was alcohol, said the father. “A full day could go fine, then alcohol goes into it and within an hour or two things deteriorate. Alcohol was the biggest factor with problems in the house.”
Father’s barrister: “What did you think the effect of seeing this violence would have had on the children?”
Father: “They were afraid, they didn’t want to see Dad hurt, it was absolutely the wrong thing to see.”
Father’s barrister: “If you knew that why didn’t you take yourself and the children out of the situation?”
Father: “Looking back I should have.”
He said he had never thought about what he could do or where he could go. At this stage he did not feel that attending AMEN (an organisation for men who were victims of domestic violence) would help.
He admitted that their sexual relationship had begun again in 2013 and he had not told the social work department, although there were “barring orders and safety order applications over my head.”
Their relationship ended when the mother had told the attachment expert things about his past he had told no one else. “It was the worst thing she had ever said. It was the worst thing. As low as it could go,” he told his barrister.
The father told the court that if the children were returned to him that he would not let their mother back into their lives, “I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said.
Father’s barrister: “Your ability to protect the children, you have failed in the past, stayed in a relationship…you were present in the house and incidents have occurred, have you in fact changed?”
Father: “Absolutely, I’ve learned some hard lessons. The only way forward is to do the right thing and make the children happy and protect them. There would be no violence in the home and I don’t need alcohol in the home. I’ve grown up without violence in my own family, that’s the way it’s going to be. I can do without that.”
The GAL told the court that he struggled to believe anything the parents told him. “There is quite a lot of evidence that would easily lead professionals to believe in the future the parents will put their interests first ahead of the children.”
He had the impression that the father had not fully thought through what would happen if the children were returned to him. “When it came to working through what involved in caring for the children, he hadn’t done it [for their meeting]. He seemed surprised by some of the questions and he didn’t seem prepared for them.”
He was not a protective parent, said the GAL, and if the children were returned to him it was highly unlikely that he would be able to keep their mother at an appropriate distance. “Another failed reunification would have a devastating impact on the children.”
Mother’s allegations of sexual abuse against the father
When the father had completed his evidence the mother sought and was granted leave to raise certain allegations against the father which she had not raised in her evidence. A written statement was lodged on her behalf and circulated to all the parties. She was given the opportunity to give direct evidence of these allegations. In direct evidence to the court the mother admitted she did not raise these concerns or take any action to remove the children from the home or report her concerns to any professional prior to their removal into care. She gave evidence she did not raise her concerns with Child A.
She alleged she reported her concerns to the professionals involved after the children first came into care as well as to the Gardaí. However there was no evidence before the court of any reports to the Gardaí and all of the professionals involved told the court under cross examination that the mother had not told them of child sexual abuse concerns. The father denied all of the allegations by the mother.
Child A’s evidence and cross examination
The solicitor for the GAL went through the mother’s allegations with Child A, who told the court that they had not happened. She did recall her step father reading to her at night and he would lie in bed with her every now and then while reading a story.
Judge: “[A], you understand the serious nature of the case that I’m hearing?”
Child A: “Yes.”
Judge: “Do you understand as well [A] how important it is that you tell your memory of what has happened in your family here today?”
Child A: “I do.”
Judge: “Am I to understand correctly then that the evidence you’ve given is the best evidence you can remember from growing up in your home?”
Child A: “Yes.”
Judge: “You’ve read the statement that your mother has handed into court.”
Child A: “Yes.”
Judge: “And do you think that the circumstances that your mother describes would be the kind of things that would stick out in your memory?”
Child A: “Definitely.”
Judge: “And you understand how important it is that you can feel comfortable in coming here and telling the truth?”
Child A: “Yes.”
Judge: “Not only for yourself but your younger brothers and sisters?”
Child A: “Yes.”
Judge: “Thank you for coming here today. That brings the evidence to the conclusion.”
In his written judgment on the allegations the judge wrote: “In considering the mother’s credibility I must consider the evidence she adduced subsequent to hearing the father’s evidence. In this evidence she made allegations of a most serious nature against the father involving child [A] and child [C]. She also alleged that she raised this with almost all professionals with whom she has had contact over the time the children were in interim care….
“Her evidence is denied by the father and child [A], the principal parties at the centre of the allegations. All of the professionals independently have given evidence that the mother never raised such concerns in their many interviews with her, and over the considerable time the children have been in care ….
If I find the allegations to be credible, this raises the most serious concerns for the mother’s ability to act as a protective factor to the children and can only lead to the finding that her inaction has resulted in harm of the most serious kind to child [A] and child [C] and that it has placed child [D] and to perhaps a lesser extent child [B] at significant risk of harm.
However I cannot find these allegations to be credible … The allegations are not supported in any way by any disclosures from the children to the professionals with whom they appear to have established relationships of trust and neither do the children appear to exhibit any signs of the abuse suggested by the mother.
“The timing of the allegations suggests a deliberate attempt by the mother to frustrate, impede or sabotage a return of the children to the father’s care. It also demonstrates a complete lack of care by the mother of the potential effect of such allegations on the children and their future relationship with their father. These allegations raise serious doubts regarding the mother’s overall credibility with regard to her allegations of domestic violence against her by the father and child [A].”
Full Care Orders were granted until the age of majority for all four children.
Other reports on this case can be found in the Archive; Vol. 1, 2013, number 20; Vol. 2, 2013, number 7 and Vol. 1, 2014, number 5.