During a review of a Section 47 application the District Court heard that a young boy (A) had been subjected to emotional abuse by his foster carers for a period of seven to eight years.
The solicitor for the mother told the court that there had been no allocated social worker assigned to the child for a number of years.
The child had been subjected to abusive treatment which had amounted to emotional abuse. He was currently in play therapy. The foster parents were still on the foster care register.
The guardian ad litem told the court that the child had now moved placement. The current social work team which had been assigned for the last two years had been very proactive, albeit with delay. The guardian could only substantiate the emotional abuse for the last two years as no one had been assigned to the case previously.
Judge asked: “I have a duty to [A] now, as do you, what do you think should happen now?”
The guardian said that a child abuse notification should be made by the social work team, a copy of which should be sent to the Gardaí and to the guardian. This would prompt an assessment or investigation. The notification would remain on the CFA system and the system of An Garda Síochána until it was addressed. There were guidelines as to how this was done, which were enforceable.
“This is appalling and very worrying,” said the judge. “I see here you quoted [guardian’s report], ‘the guardian was in the room when the foster mother said: “They are the child abusers, they are doing this to you, blame them”.’” They were concerned as to his emotional safety that evening, said the guardian, but he did calm somewhat.
The guardian told the court the child had “sustained emotional injuries as a result of the treatment. Now that he’s out, his experience will emerge more and more, emotional abuse can be quite secretive”.
The court heard the foster parents had dismantled the child’s bed the night before he moved placement and he had to sleep in the spare room. They had not celebrated his birthday.
The foster mother could not take on board as to why professionals were needed for him, “she saw it as babble”. Once the concerns came to light, the social work department found out it had happened before to a child in this family’s care, this came through child care review meetings and professionals’ meeting.
A psychologist did an assessment on A to see if the foster carers could be supported with psycho-educational work around his needs, but the foster carers were not motivated and did not really participate, so a Section 47 was brought in to move A out of the placement, said the guardian.
The foster family had been his primary carers for most of his life and he had primary attached relationships with them, so the professionals now had to decide how to end A’s relationship with them, which should be sooner rather than later. The child still had contact with a previous foster child from that home who had had to leave for the same reason.
The GAL solicitor asked for the allocation of a fostering link worker to the existing foster carers.
The judge asked the social worker what she would do about the child abuse notification.
The social worker told the court that the department had processed a number of notices of serious concerns over the years and there was clear evidence of emotional abuse of [A] in the care of this foster family. Clinical guidance had been sought, she met with [A] regarding his views, he had been quite resistant. “It is too much for him at the moment”.
A further strategy meeting would take place where the decision would be made whether to process the child abuse notification, said the social worker. The child in care review was later this week. This would focus on his care plan for the next six months.
A fostering link social worker had been allocated, and the foster family were linking in with a clinical psychologist for support and guidance and parenting strategies and skills, there were weekly visits from the social work department at the moment.
The judge attached directions to the care order that had been made seven years ago. “If there is any planned or unplanned change in placement the matter is re-entered; if there is no allocated social worker for a period of four weeks the matter is to be re-entered; if there is no allocated fostering social worker for four weeks the matter is to be re-entered.”
The judge wanted the matter reviewed in three months so the court could be informed and updated about the child abuse notification.
“It would appear that [A] had an experience that he should not have had at the hands of the CFA,” said the judge. However she noted that this was not the fault of the present social workers, who had done great work.
The case came back for review to the District Court some weeks later.
The main issue that concerned the court was whether the Gardaí were intending to make a referral (for prosecution) in relation to the emotional neglect that allegedly took place while
the child was with the foster parents. The court heard that a child protection notification had been sent to the Garda station and that they were awaiting a response from Gardaí as to whether they were taking any further steps.
The court was told that the child had moved foster placement and that more recent improvements had been set out in a care plan and social work report. A social worker had been out to visit the child six times since he moved. The new foster carers were receiving help from a psychologist. The court also heard that there had previously been an issue with bed wetting but that issue had improved substantially.
The new foster carers were trying to improve the boy’s socialisation skills, the CFA solicitor told the court. The court also heard that the boy did not want to see his mother at the moment but he was meeting his maternal grandmother. He also had access with his brother and his foster sister, with whom he has a strong relationship, who had also been removed from the last placement.
The court heard that the boy had asked to meet the previous foster mother and that there had been some telephone contact. The previous foster mother’s position was that she would prefer him to settle into placement. The CFA solicitor pointed out that the boy had been removed from their care because there were serious concerns about his emotional well-being.
The judge made a direction that the matter be re-entered if the current placement is not matched and approved by a certain date. The judge also directed that the matter be re-entered if a statutory child in care review had not taken place.