Full care orders were granted in the District Court for two young girls who had suffered chronic physical and emotional neglect and abuse in the care of their mother. This had been exacerbated by the mother’s drug addiction and alcohol misuse.
One witness described a head lice infestation on one of the children that was so bad that it looked like the child’s whole head was moving, that hundreds of the head lice were moving down the child’s neck where she had an inch long scab and bites on her back. Consequently she was socially isolated in school.
The mother, who had left the country and was un-contactable, did not attend the hearing. The children’s father, who had only heard his children were in care two weeks’ prior to the hearing, consented to the Full Care Order and did not attend.
Doctor from the methadone clinic
The medical addiction specialist from a methadone clinic told the court that he knew the children’s mother from her attendance at the clinic since the late ‘90s. She had originally attended with heroin addiction for which she had received methadone treatment. The problem of substance misuse had never gone away. The mother had a basic level of engagement and was provided with support services which she generally did not avail of.
“There were periods when she wasn’t bad at all,” said the doctor. “She was an average performer in the clinic – the children were normal looking when you’d see them, really the problems intensified in the last years.”
He was aware that she was admitted to hospital with leg clots this year. She was on anti-clotting treatment due to major injecting problems and clotting complications. She did not acknowledge her addictions during her time in the clinic and had disengaged about two months ago. She had become progressively more unstable prior to her departure, said the doctor.
Her partner had briefly attended the clinic for methadone before self-discharging. “He has a very negative impact on her recovery, he is an extremely unstable individual, he is impulsive, disordered, he did not co-operate with psychiatric support or addiction support, he has an absolute lack of insight into his health,” said the doctor.
The children would be at risk if returned to the mother’s care, he told the court. Like the vast majority of addicts, she had become addicted to Valium as well. She had a lack of insight. “Where does it leave you? You get nowhere,” said the doctor.
The school principal
The principal told the court that she had initially contacted social services in May of 2013 when the children had been absent for two days and they came back to school looking very neglected. When she could not get an immediate response from the social services she rang An Garda Síochána who went to the house. After that a Supervision Order was put in place.
In October 2013 the principal became concerned about the children’s appearance. They were unkempt, dirty, stressed, anxious and pale. Their concentration in school was very limited, Child A did anything to avoid work, she could not focus. Child B was in a trance, she could not engage in class.
From there the situation escalated very quickly. Child A got head lice. The principal told the court that she contacted the mother and gave her advice about how to treat them. However, the head lice got worse and worse.
“[Child A] came up to the office, her hair was long, it looked like her whole head was moving, I could see spider-like creatures moving, I could see hundreds of them moving down her neck, she had an inch long scab, a raised scab at the back of her neck. That’s when I noticed there were bites on her back when I looked at her neck. She was very aware that she was not the way she should be, she was very embarrassed. I tried to reassure her.
“[Child B’s] were not as bad, I don’t know why. [Child A] was the mother for [B], she tended to look after her. That was the line in the sand for me,” said the principal.
In school, the other children avoided sitting near Child A, she sat near her teacher. “These huge head lice were crawling down off her onto the desk, you could see them, she was wiping them off hoping the other children couldn’t see them,” said the principal, in tears as she told the court.
Child A became very quiet, very stressed and anxious-looking, she was very pale like the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Child B was also socially isolated, walking around on her own in the yard, she did not have any friends.
The principal told the court that she called social services but got no response, so she rang the Gardaí, who visited the house straight away. The principal spoke to the Gardaí about it afterwards. They told her that the house was in appalling condition, there was no food in the house.
The children were taken into care at that point. Their carers were very on board and clued in, the head lice cleared up very quickly. In the previous year the children had been absent for 20-30 days, but in the care of their foster carers they had only four sick days. They were well-fed and came to school with books and equipment, they began to live a very ordered supported life, it became very plain that they were very happy.
The principal told the court that before the children went into care, Child A would walk towards her mother at going-home time with her head down, dragging her feet. Now she raced towards her foster father at going-home time, she nearly knocked down the principal one day in the process. She tells her foster father everything.
For her reception into care was “like day and night, [Child A] became a leader, she was the most popular girl in the class, by the time she left us she was so settled, working so well, so confident, she actually put on weight, she looked so well, she could be a child for the first time in her life, she didn’t looked stressed or worried,” said the principal.
The social worker told the court that initially after May 2013, the Supervision Order had been sought and granted after child protection conferences; then in October the decision was taken that the children needed to leave the family home. The mother was given a week to talk to extended family members about taking the children but she did not take any action and the children were admitted into foster care.
The family had been offered supports including family support, GP support, housing support, extern support, a youth service, overnights in residential support for the children, and public health nurse support. While some supports were engaged with by the family there was no significant improvement. There was no evidence of the children ever having social interaction and the social worker was concerned about their emotional welfare.
Although advice was given to their mother about the head lice, there had been no improvement. The mother and her partner very much blamed Child A for not being able to treat them.
The foster carers tackled the head lice, said the social worker, they had to leave the product in for a number of days in order for it to be effective. There was difficulty clearing Child A’s hair of the eggs because they had never been combed out and had grown down with her hair. Child B’s hair was matted underneath and she also had head lice.
To some degree the mother had never been able to acknowledge what the children had been through, said the social worker, she had no insight into it. Earlier in the year she acknowledged that her drinking was a problem, but beyond that there was no progress. The mother was not attending a clinic or a counsellor to address her addiction issues. She was admitted to hospital in June for clots in her leg.
She had now left the country with her partner and was therefore missing her on-going medical treatment as well as access. The social work department were had been unable to contact her for a few months, this was very difficult for the girls.
Another identified risk was the relationship with her partner, said the social worker. He had his own substances misuse issues and was a very chaotic, unpredictable, impulsive man. “The children were afraid of him, he would go from calm to roaring and shouting in the blink of an eye.” It had been recommended that the children were not to be left unsupervised with him.
The social worker described how when she was doing a home visit, she heard a terrified scream coming from upstairs. The social worker rushed up the stairs and Child B ran out of her room crying, she said that her mother’s partner had been “holding her in there, it was very apparent to me that she was very afraid of him,” said the social worker, wiping away tears as she spoke to the court.
She then went on to explain that Child A had been climbing out of her bedroom window at night, with no shoes on, trying to get into her grandmother’s house nearby, where her older sister was living. But they locked the front door and would not let her in; she would cup her hands and look in through the window at them, asking to be let in. Her uncle would physically drag her kicking and screaming back home. “There’s something not right in that house, there’s something going on in there,” the uncle had said to Child A’s grandmother.
The extended family were fearful of the mother’s partner and very much avoided him, this made them fearful of talking to her about their concerns relating to Child A. “Despite that they still treated her like that,” said the social worker.
Child A had made disclosures to her foster mother. She had described being locked into her bedroom with Child B by her mother’s partner. She was thirsty and hungry, screaming and crying but he had a large rope tied to the door handle and to the banister to prevent them getting out.
The social worker read from the foster mother’s notes: “Every night they’d be shouting, I’d be wrecked in the morning, how was I supposed to go to school? I’d be so tired, they’d be shouting till three in the morning, then I was not allowed to go to school as they woke up late, making a show of me, both of them.
“There’s more and it’s bad.”
Child B described to her foster carer domestic violence and witnessing violence.
In relation to parenting capacity, the social worker had basic care concerns. Child B had gone into school smelling of urine. She had limited self-care skills on reception into foster care and needed support with learning to wipe herself going to the toilet.
The social worker said that there was very little food in the house, she only ever saw noodles and jam tarts. The grandmother provided milk, bread, chicken burgers and dinner every Sunday.
The mother acknowledged relying on her mother for those basic necessities. The condition of the house was very poor, it was bare and not warm or cosy. “The walls were dirty and needed to be washed down. The floor was black with dirt, it would have taken scraping the floor. The cooker was very, very dirty, greasy. There were dirty dishes and dirty surfaces. There was a limited sign of them having clothing,” said the social worker.
The house had continued to be dirty during the Supervision Order, their couch had been broken in the middle but that was changed.
The social work department had tried to avoid Care Orders, a lot of work was done with the mother prior to the children going into care and since, but there had been no engagement. There was no progress with her, she continued to drink and was now not contactable.
The children required stability and Child A constantly expressed a fear about going back home, said the social worker. She had nightmares of her mother’s partner finding her, being under her bed and in her wardrobe.
“It is really important for [Child A] to know she can put down roots and doesn’t face the prospect of having to return to her Mum’s care,” said the social worker.
Their father was aware he needed to be introduced to them on a phased basis, DNA tests were to be taken prior to any introduction.
The judge asked if all appropriate notifications had been sent to an Garda Síochána of the significant and chronic neglect of the children. The social worker said that yes, they were being currently assessed by the Gardaí, but she was not aware of the stage the investigation was at and that she had never had feedback in respect of the decision of neglect.
Guardian ad litem (GAL)
The guardian ad litem told the court that the children had been disappointed “that it was the way it was.” For Child A the disappointment also lay in the fact that her granny was not there for her, nor was her extended family.
The children had a huge amount of need, said the guardian ad litem. A broad range of needs was being met in their care plan. However, they would face challenges in the future.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the threshold has been met, it is extremely unfortunate that the children weren’t identified as children of extreme need much earlier in their life. None of their needs were met. They are very resilient children who were living with fear for quite a long time and uncertainty.
“They live with a real anxiety that they may have to go home, they need to know that their long term care will be provided for outside of their family home. We don’t know half the story of what these children have experienced,” said the GAL.
The judge (who had met with the children in the week prior to the hearing) granted full Care Orders until the age of majority for both children.
“My reasons are that the children have suffered chronic physical and emotional neglect and abuse in the care of their mother, exacerbated by their mother’s drug addiction and alcohol misuse, she consistently did not engage with the social workers and supports provided to her, she has withdrawn from contact with the children and effectively abandoned her care of the children,” said the judge.
He said that he had also considered the range of supports offered to the family and the lack of progress the mother had shown over time to adequately address her difficulties.