The District Court in a provincial city extended supervision orders for three children for one month. The case involved child A, of post-primary age, who is the child of father X and two children of primary school age, child B and child C, who are both children of father Y. The three children had suffered emotionally after witnessing domestic violence and injury to their mother by both father X and father Y. The judge described this as a significant and serious case. After hearing the evidence presented by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and the parties’ lawyers, the judge considered that the ongoing concern for the children’s health, safety and welfare necessitated the extension of the supervision orders.
Reports were handed into court by the CFA and the judge rose to read the reports. The lawyer for the CFA also handed the judge a list of all those present in court. A’s father was present in court but did not have any legal representation. The judge enquired if he wanted to go and organise legal representation to which he replied: “Not today”. A’s social worker gave evidence that the child had engaged very well with the CFA. The judge again said to the father that it would be a good idea for him to be legally represented due to the serious nature and issues in this case.
The CFA’s lawyer reported that there had been a series of referrals made regarding the mother’s relationship with father X and its impact on child A. The CFA had long-standing concerns as there was a long history of allegations of domestic violence by the mother against the father. She reported that the father had spent time in prison for possession of firearms. He also had a problem with drugs, which increased his capacity for violence. The children were not the target of the violence but they were exposed to the risk.
The CFA’s lawyer said that Christmas seemed to be a period of time when the father became very violent. She cited the example of the previous Christmas when A’s mother received 17 staples to her head due to an injury caused by the father. A was impacted by witnessing the injury caused to his mother. She reported that the child had been “exposed to the ramifications of the relationship” and that as a result his emotional well-being was a cause of concern. She explained that her reason for this concern was that A “tends to minimise the seriousness” of his father’s actions and that he had made the remark: “It was the drugs, sure”.
The mother continued to have a relationship with A’s father. The CFA’s lawyer added that the mother also engaged in a similar pattern of minimisation of the domestic violence towards her. There was a child care worker working with A with the aim of giving him an insight into the effects of domestic violence. The CFA’s lawyer said that it was very important for there to be somebody available if A needed to “discuss the domestic violence in a therapeutic manner”.
CFA’s lawyer: “The CFA has gone to great lengths to ensure that the children were not exposed to the father’s behaviour.”
Judge: “Is CFA satisfied that this is a safe place for the children?”
The social worker replied that the home was safe due to the existence of the safety order, which facilitated the mother being able to contact the Gardai who could assist if necessary. However, she added that it was her opinion if the mother were to move from the current family home where she lives with her parents and her three children, the CFA would then need to initiate proceedings. Such a move would escalate the CFA’s concerns.
The judge enquired about the ongoing monitoring of this family situation. The mother’s lawyer replied that the mother was on speaking terms with the father but does not have any further relationship with him. He said that the mother must show the CFA that she has an insight into the effects of domestic violence. He added that she now wished to move on with her life and move into her own home by January 2020. A’s social worker said she would not be happy with such an arrangement as it was her opinion that the mother was not always honest with the CFA and that therefore the risk would remain.
Judge: “How is A progressing in school?”
The social worker replied that A was doing well in school and had completed his Junior Certificate. The judge enquired if the social worker had been in contact with the school to which she replied that staff from A’s school attended the child protection conferences.
Judge: “What does mum have to say?”
The social worker reported that the mother found the child protection conferences daunting and she wanted to prove that she is able to get on with her life. The judge repeated that there were a very large number of referrals to the CFA in this case. She described the case as having a “litany of referrals” and being “one of the worst cases I have ever seen”.
The judge said that she was considering the appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) for A. The mother asked her lawyer what a GAL was. At this point the judge said she would rise for a few moments to allow the mother and her lawyer time to discuss the function and importance of having a GAL for A.
When the case resumed, the mother’s lawyer told the judge that she would need time to “digest the details and would really need an advocate”. The judge said that an advocate could be appointed for the mother by the advocacy service. She told the mother that both legal aid centres in the immediate local area were already involved with parties to the case. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, she advised the mother to contact one of the local legal aid centres, who would arrange for her to get legal aid from an alternative legal aid centre close by. She said the legal aid centre would assess the situation and advise her how to progress from there.
The judge again said to A’s father that it would be good for him to avail of legal representation. He asked if it would be possible for him to get legal representation privately and outside of the legal aid structure. The judge replied that he could but that there were very good legal practitioners available to him through the legal aid system.
The judge said that this was “a particularly difficult case … a careful eye would be needed”. She ordered that the existing supervision order would remain in place and that she would review the case after one month. In the intervening period the judge advised the mother to get an advocate which would be a great help to her and she advised the father to get legal representation. The judge ordered that a GAL be appointed for A.
“This is a significant and serious case,” she concluded.
Children B and C
The judge then dealt with the review of the supervision order regarding the two younger children, Child B and Child C. She enquired if their father, Y, was present in court and their social worker replied that he was. The CFA’s lawyer reported that a number of referrals had been made regarding these two children and that a number of child protection conferences had been held. The general theme of the child protection conferences was concern for the safety and welfare of the children. The mother was residing in a family home with the three children and her parents. A supervision order was imposed in July 2019 in order to ensure the safety of the children. The judge explained that the purpose of today’s hearing was to carry out a review of the supervision order.
The father’s lawyer said that father Y was seeking access with both of his children, B and C. She reported that the father had attended a special treatment centre for addiction which had used very progressive methods, including spending some time on overseas. The judge enquired if the father had been in after-care following this treatment. The father replied that he had attended a local treatment centre for some months afterwards but had currently lost his placement there.
The children’s social worker said that she had only recently got the father’s mobile number and had not yet done a comprehensive assessment on him. The father’s lawyer said that he had been in prison for two months earlier in the year for assaulting a Garda. She added that since his release her client had “turned his life around” and had recently applied for a placement on a 12-month programme with the local organisation which provided programmes for men overcoming violence.
Father’s lawyer: “Is it the CFA’s intention that he not see his children until he has completed all of these programmes?”
Children’s social worker: “We have to be sure he has engaged in the programmes.”
The father’s lawyer enquired why the supervised meetings with the children needed to take place in a Garda station. The social worker replied that this was the direction and recommendation which she had received from the Gardai because the father had not yet engaged with the services.
Judge: “He has been in jail. He has lost his place in the local treatment centre. He has a bit of work to do.”
Father’s lawyer: “He has never assaulted his children.”
The father’s lawyer proposed that his sister might supervise the access with the children. However, the social worker replied that there would be a necessity for the CFA to assess the situation.
Father’s lawyer: “But she was allowed to supervise them before?”
The children’s social worker repeated that her reservations were based on the fact that the father is not currently engaging in any services. The father’s lawyer informed the judge that the father would like to address the court himself.
The judge reminded the parties that this was a review regarding the welfare of two very young children and asked if the CFA were happy with the children’s living arrangements at present. She also enquired if there was any evidence available to the court in relation to the father’s sobriety. The CFA’s lawyer replied that there was no such evidence available to the court. The judge said it would be a good idea if the father could give evidence from his recent programmes together with medical evidence that would demonstrate his sobriety. The father’s lawyer again asked if the father could address the court.
Judge: “I am here to listen. What does he want to say?”
The father gave evidence of his relationship with the children’s mother and admitted that he had an alcohol and drug addiction problem. When asked by his lawyer about the “desperate assaults”, the father claimed that he is now a very different person and that he was “100 per cent wrong” in all he had done previously.
Father: “Christmas is a lonely time without seeing your children.”
The judge asked the father if he had any evidence with him in court to show that he was currently not consuming alcohol. The father replied that he did not but he told the judge that the incident in which he had thrown a heavy objects through the window of the house where his children were present was “a moment of madness”.
Father’s lawyer: “How have you been managing your sobriety?”
The father described actions he is taking such as pursuing a training course which he hoped to complete and for which he was currently reading. He also said that he was back playing football and doing some gym work.
Father: “I don’t want my kids to forget me.”
The father’s lawyer questioned him about his proposal to have his sister supervise the access. The father described his sister as “the best mother you could find” and added that she had a good relationship with the children’s mother.
Judge: “There is a job of work to be done. It is a process in which you need to engage. The court’s concern is for the children’s health, safety and welfare. I will listen to you and mum but I am really concerned about the [heavy object] incident happening after you had already completed the addiction program. The children’s safety and welfare cannot be compromised.”
The judge decided that the existing supervision order is to remain in place. She asked for the matter to be reviewed after one month. The judge thanked the father and the children’s mother for coming to court. She advised that the father would now have the opportunity to engage with everyone with whom he needed to engage before the next court date. She ordered the CFA to notify all parties of the outcome.