An interim care order was granted to the HSE for a 16-year-old girl, following an approach to the HSE by her school, at her request. This followed the granting of an emergency care order some days earlier.
When the ICO application came to court the father and the mother’s brother were in court. The mother was not. The judge said that the brother could not be present, under the in camera rule. However, the judge explained to the father that he could ask if his brother-in-law could attend as a “McKenzie friend”. This was agreed.
The judge also said that the father could ask for legal representation through the Legal Aid Board. In the meantime he said he could ask any question he liked of the HSE witnesses.
He said he understood such an application was difficult for parents. “The State in all its might comes to court and says ‘We want to take your child into care’. We understand this can be very difficult. We try to assist as best we can,” the judge said.
The first witness called by the HSE was the deputy principal of the girl’s school. She said the girl came to her attention when she was speaking to the school chaplain and her class tutor on a one to one basis and her father came to the school and said he wanted that stopped immediately, and that he did not want his daughter speaking to anyone on a one-to-one basis.
Shortly before Christmas the girl came to her and said she wanted to discuss with her what her life was like at home. She said she was being treated very badly, being called a number of very abusive names and her mother said she was a permanent accident and she wished she had never been born.
The deputy principal suggested she go away and write out the positive and negative things about home, which the girl did. In it she said: “I can’t continue to be somewhere I’m not happy. I feel that if I stay it might lead to something I will regret… I feel I’m going to end up depressed. I think I don’t want to be alive (which was underlined twice)”.
The deputy principal asked her if she would go to her parents and discuss it and she was very anxious about this. She then told her about the HSE and residential care, and told her how difficult this could be.
The girl later returned with a diary. Sections of the diary were handed to the judge, who read them.
The father interjected: “We knew nothing about this diary. We did not read this diary. If we did it wouldn’t have gone this far.”
The deputy principal said she then contacted the HSE. She spoke to a social worker who came into the school some days later and spoke to the girl, who told her her father had come into her room and held her by the throat, pushing her against the wall. The social worker gave her an emergency phone number.
That night the girl left home at about 3.30 am, and the following morning the father came to the school looking for her, very concerned. The deputy principal told him she did not know anything about her disappearance, and contacted the social services to say she was missing. The girl then rang the school, and she was brought to social services, and then to a foster home.
The father said to the deputy principal in relation to the “positives and negatives” of her home life. “She said: ‘I’ll write it out again any way you want it done.’ Is that normal? Has it occurred before?”
The deputy principal said it had not.
“Were the conversations recorded? Had we no rights as parents to be there to witness the conversations? As parents, no matter how bad a parent, we have the right to know,” he said.
The judge said that the teacher had a role in loco parentis. “Children also have rights. They are not the property of their parents. They are independent social beings and independent legal beings.” He asked the deputy principal what was her response to the father’s objections to her talking to his daughter without him being present.
“I would have conversations with students about their concerns. Kids come in to me with all kinds of concerns. All of the allegations from [the girl] related to home, and I asked the opinion of the social services. We adopted the child protection guidelines in the school>”
She told the judge she was the deputy designated liaison officer under the child protection guidelines. “He’s asking why you did not consult him.”
“She’s 16, she’s quite articulate,” the teacher replied. “I asked her about speaking to her parents and she was extremely anxious and nervous about it. In most cases I would consult parents. But in this case I felt the child’s safety superseded parental consent.”
The father said that when he had asked the school chaplain not to talk to his daughter she was 15. “I think you crossed the boundary,” he said.
After further exchanges, he said: “I’m leaving. You can decide anything you want to do with my daughter. We’ve been disrespected. She phoned that woman and not her mother to say she was all right. When she’s 18 she won’t be welcome home to her sisters and brothers.”
The judge said he might be referring an issue to the Garda Siochana for investigation. “An issue has arisen in the document I saw here [the diary], an alleged assault on your daughter by you. When I hear there is a difficulty in a family one of the questions I will be putting to the HSE social workers is if there is so much concern about one child is there concern about other children in the family.
“I regret if you leave the court. If you stay and if you appeal you will be in a better position to advocate your case.”
“I feel no-one has worked on our behalf,” the father said. “Now I am being accused of assault. If we called the child names, what person hasn’t?”
He agreed to sit down, but shortly afterwards left the court.
The social worker then gave evidence of speaking to the child who told her she was crying a lot, hated weekends when she was at home, and was dreading the Christmas holidays when she would be home for three weeks. She described various incidents, and made references to wanting to end her life. “It was very concerning that she said she was only happy in school,” she said.
The judge asked if it could be she was very disobedient. “Could she be using the school against her parents? Sometimes teenagers’ view of the world and the parents’ view of the world is very different. The parents could be strict but acting in the best interests of the child and she is not fitting in with their guidelines.”
The social workers said that in her experience a 16-year-old engages with her peers. She did not seem to have that. She had no external hobbies. School was her safe place.
Another social worker said she had spoken with the father the morning after the girl ran away. She had also invited the mother, but she declined to attend the meeting. She had a long conversation with the father, who said his relationship with his daughter was different from that with the other children in the family.
He felt she removed herself from the family from the age of three or four. “He agreed he did not parent her very well. He feels the source of this is her rejecting the family at quite a young age. He said she’s a thief and a liar. He felt she prioritised her friends and school over her family. He admitted to name-calling and using a loud voice. He denied hitting her, but said: ‘I suppose she said I pushed her against the wall’. He feels angry, ambushed.”
She said his description of the other children was very different. He thinks this girl did badly in her Junior Certificate, though she had done well, that she had borderline learning difficulties and needed a psychological assessment.
He felt she was obsessed with school. He said there was a happy family routine, but she ruined it by talking about school all the time.
She said he had a very clear view that he would struggle hugely to forgive her for what she had done. The social worker said she had not spoken to the mother. When she phoned looking for her the father answered.
The judge granted an interim care order for 28 days. “This is where the constitutional amendment comes to mind, where the voice of the child will have to be heard,” he said.