An eight day extension of an interim care order was granted for two African girls threatened by their father.
The solicitor for the HSE told the court that the children were taken into care because of allegations of sexual abuse against the father, who was now uncontactable. The Gardai were also looking for him, and the children’s mothers are believed to be in Africa. The HSE needed to clarify whether the children had separate mothers. It was an uncontested application as no parent could be contacted. The solicitor for the guardian ad litem (GAL) consented to the extension of the ICO.
An application for a care order had been issued, according to the solicitor for the HSE. The social worker told the court that she had made several attempts to contact the children’s father and mothers, but was unable to reach them. One of the children was going to be tested for HIV. The children were not attending school at present, because in mid-December the father had gone to the school and threatened to kill them. There was a safety concern so they could not return for the moment.
The judge asked the social worker if the children were doing lessons at home, the social worker said they were not. The teenagers had been doing a 12-week programme in school to learn English, maths and social skills. The social worker told the judge that she had emailed the school principal about organising lessons but had had no reply. The judge said: “My own view with emails is sometimes I don’t reply to them myself. Could I suggest you phone the school instead, I appreciate you have a large case-load.” The social worker said she would.
The social worker told the court that the case would be handed over to a long-term team when it became a long-term foster placement. The judge wanted to know what arrangements would be made for a smooth transition for the girls from one social worker to the next when the case was handed over. The social worker answered that the case would be handed over directly from one social worker to another with no actual transition period.
The judge said: “There should at least be a transition over a month that you become involved less and less. I have a concern when you say, ‘it’s going to be handed over to a long-term team.’ We all are human and sometimes people get on with some people better than others.” He wished to be informed if issues were to arise. “Whatever the internal arrangements of the HSE are, they are less of an issue than the best interests of the child which are paramount.”
Replying to the GAL’s solicitor, the social worker said that she would be contacting the National Welfare Board to provide funding for private tuition for the children. If there was not an adequate decision in a timely manner, the solicitor said she would call a member of the Department of Education to the court.
The judge said he was concerned that the principal of the school had not responded in a timely fashion regarding the matter, he instructed the solicitor and the social worker to phone and say the judge wanted to know why there was a lacuna in their education. “Every week that goes by is a lost opportunity to learn English,” he said.
The social worker told the judge that one of the children’s English has improved. The judge asked if the children were able to communicate with their foster family, the social worker said that they were managing to communicate and both parties were settling in well.
She explained their placement history – the first placement was an emergency placement, they then moved to a supported lodgings placement which broke down (on the part of the foster carer). After this they were moved to a foster placement which was now being looked at as a long term placement. The social worker said the issue was that it was a private foster placement, but she had made a strong application for funding.
The judge said: “It’s a bit like every stone I turn over I see something else, I wonder should I stop at this stage.”
The judge then outlined four issues he wanted addressed within the week – the smooth transition of the girls into long-term care and how it would be carried out; the “necessity as a matter of urgency to have a response from the school principal for educational resources to be made available;” the report to deal with the language difficulties of the two children; and the issue of funding for a private placement.
The judge said: “If the children are going to a fourth placement, I consider that disruptive; with every will in the world, it’s disruptive. The issue really is how it’s progressing, but I do feel it would be important to address the concerns that I have raised.”
It was established that funding lies within the remit of the National Welfare Board and the Department of Education.
The judge asked what the teenagers’ legal status was. The solicitor for the HSE said their father was an Irish citizen, but they were awaiting legitimate status and clarification from the GNIB. The judge said it was very important to ascertain this in case they were deported subsequent to all the work being done on their behalf.
The GAL said that she wished to bring the children’s feelings into the process. Both girls were extremely concerned about their lack of education, one of the girls had no English, the other had very little English. One of the girls had some personal care needs she could only communicate through an interpreter. The GAL explained that the girls spent all of their time in their bedroom, they didn’t leave the house, one of them did an awful lot of cleaning to the extent that one would worry about her behaviour.
She said they “are absolutely desperate to return to education, they are not getting any exercise, their quality of life is poor, the longer it continues the greater concern I have that it will impact on their mental health.” One of the girls had tried to communicate to the GAL what her father had done to her and was so distraught she couldn’t speak. Outside of staying in their room all the time, the only other thing they did was to go to the local African shop to buy food. One of the girls needed to see an African hairdresser. “For long periods of time, the girls are alone in the house, without any stimulation or socialisation,” the GAL said.
The judge asked if any previous judges were aware of this. “There are clearly urgent issues that need to be addressed,” he said. The GAL replied that “these issues were raised at the child-in-care report a few weeks ago, there are no new issues being raised.”
“Things need to get a bit more definite,” said the judge. In response to this the solicitor for the HSE said that the social worker had given in evidence what would happen within the next week.
The judge granted the extension of the ICO for eight days, as he was satisfied the requirements had been met under section 18 (1) of the Child Care Act. He also required that dietary and personal needs would be included within the social worker’s proposals the following week.
He said: “It is in the interests of the children that there should be something more definite,” he did not want to hear any “vague speak” such as “will try, will endeavour etc. Work load is not of interest to me, the best interests of the children are.”
The solicitor for the HSE said that because of the eight day interim care order it made timing difficult. The judge answered to address the Minister for Children about that.
When the case was back in court a week later, the HSE social worker confirmed that some funding for private placement had been approved and the girls had returned to school. In view of the allegation that their father had threatened to kill them, they were being escorted to and from school by a social worker. She stated there was no fear that they would be removed from the supported placement to a HSE placement, A translation facility would be provided twice a week to enable the girls to communicate with their foster carers. The HSE did not have translators in either of their languages.
One of the girls had been found to be suffering from bacterial vaginosis and she had been exposed to hepatitis B. She had also had a final blood test to check for HIV. They were awaiting a start date for an assessment at a sexual assault unit. When asked by the solicitor for the HSE if anything had been said that was inconsistent with the earlier allegation of sexual abuse by the father the social worker replied “absolutely not”.
The social worker told the court she had spoken to one of the gardai investigating the allegations. It was difficult to establish the veracity of the allegation that their father had threatened to kill them. The gardai still had not established his whereabouts. The girls had arrived in this country in September of last year on visas for the purpose of family reunification. Because their father was an Irish citizen, the guard had said they were entitled to be here.
The girls are in their teens and the HSE would eventually be providing an after-care programme.
The Judge asked about references in her report to inappropriate exchanges on Facebook and he was told that the girls no longer had access to the social network
The GAL stated that an extension of the Interim Care Order was essential for the ongoing care and welfare of the girls and it was likely they would remain in care for the foreseeable future. “It is unfortunate we don’t have contact with either parent,” she said. Their return to school had been skilfully negotiated. This was, she said, primarily a child protection case and the two girls appear to have been trafficked into this country last autumn.
The Judge ordered that the Interim Care Order be extended and a date for the hearing of the HSE’s application for a full Care Order be set.