Full Care Orders were granted in a rural District Court for the three youngest children in a family of seven where their older siblings were already in care until they were 18. Care Orders for a year had been made for the three younger children (E, F and G). This followed a lengthy case where one of the older children had been the subject of severe sexual abuse by a young relative, and another had alleged her father had sexually abused her.
The social work team leader told the court that E was in a residential placement with her older sister, B. Originally she was very clear she wanted to return home, but more recently she had enquired about foster care.
In November 2014 a cousin said E had been abused by another person on the halting site where they all lived. The social worker raised the matter with her, and she did not say it did not happen, but said it had happened to someone else. She also said her father had talked to her about sexual intercourse, her mother was often upset and crying and that she [her mother] had tried to intervene when her father had hit the third child.
E was very clingy with her mother at access, “physically she can’t get enough of her.” She had no contact with her father at the moment. She said the social workers had no right to stop her seeing her father.
Academically she was doing very well, but emotionally she was very volatile.
Referring to the two youngest children, she said they asked about their mother and looked forward to their visits. She was very affectionate with them. Sibling access between the children was very difficult, even with four social workers present, as they all fought over the youngest child.
The mother left the father on at least eight occasions over the past year and spent time in shelters for victims of domestic violence. The relationship between the parents was very unstable and had been for the past year. The mental health assessment for the father, ordered a year ago by the court, was still outstanding. Given the risks, the team leader did not think the children’s needs could be met by the father.
The mother needed to look after herself. She loved her children but she needed to prove she could keep herself safe and put her children’s needs ahead of her husband’s. Her physical care for the children was good, but there were problems around their emotional care, especially in the light of her relationship with her husband. Socially, the children seemed to have no concept of respecting others.
The mother agreed the father gave the children “the odd slap when they were misbehaving” but denied any sexual abuse and insisted the second child, B, was lying when she made such allegations against her father.
Following an incident outside a Garda station where the father had threatened to set himself alight the social work department felt it was not safe for him to have contact with the children. The oldest child, A, had met him at his own request and under conditions he set, with social workers present. He had things he wanted to say to his father.
The team leader said that E needed a secure base in order to get the help she needed and therapeutic support. She had complex needs. An ordinary foster family would not suffice, she needed a “social pedagogy” model of support, and the CFA was in discussions with two potential providers.
The other two children, F and G, were awaiting attachment assessments. There were some concerns about the bond between the mother and the younger children.
The father’s barrister said that his position was that all the allegations were denied.
The barrister for the mother, who was separately represented, said that his client felt a short-term order was most appropriate, in the interests of the children.
An attachment specialist told the court she had examined E. Her scores on secure behaviour patterns were very low and on insecure behaviour patterns very high. She did not know how to signal she had needs and how to receive care when it was offered. Her way of seeking care was very demanding, controlling and intense. She had a lack of empathy and emotional intelligence. She presented living with her mother in an idealised and unrealistic way. She did not seem to discriminate between trusted adults and strangers.
The strategy she adopted was to push people away. She then exhibited extreme behaviour when she sought care-giving. This was obviously what she had to do to get attention. Her scores indicated a high risk of pathology in later life. The patterns indicated she had been reared in an environment characterised by fear. With a secure environment and appropriate therapy her patterns should improve.
Asked what would be the impact of a Care Order for a year, she said it would give her the message she did not need to engage.
She said she was also going to assess the two younger children. She had initially been asked to assess them a year earlier, but there were a number of children requiring assessment. It was an issue of priorities.
The guardian ad litem said that E was a very troubled young girl. She flipped between hostile and being quite needy. She was very bright and articulate. “She had a capacity to put people down verbally in a way I never encountered in an 11-year-old girl.”
She wanted to go home. She said she wished her sister “hadn’t told”, but did not say what her sister had told. She said that as a result of this “we got took”. She saw herself as having a special place in the family, as her parents’ favourite child.
In relation to what happened in the family she said a wife should not leave her husband. She worried about who would look after her father. “She is anxious about them all being together and anxious about them all being apart.” There was no doubt she was exposed to the same trauma her mother was. She made reference to being hit.
The next child, F, had just started school. She was very friendly, but her foster parents felt she could be excessively friendly with strangers. She said if she had a magic wand she would like to stay where she was, but not forever. Her younger sibling said she would like to stay where she was “forever”.
When the mother was apart from the father she made an effort to be an effective and protective parent, but when she was with him she found that difficult, the GAL said.
A year ago the father had said he would participate in a mental health assessment, but later he refused. He had little motivation for change. He did not acknowledge the significant difficulties in his family, and insisted the allegations against him were false and that they were related to B’s infatuation with her uncle.
The GAL said she was supporting the application for full Care Orders until the children were 18, with reviews of their care plans in two months. B and E needed similar placements with appropriate therapy.
The father’s barrister said he was formally resisting the application. He said there was to be a full re-hearing of the case in an appeal to the Circuit Court within a week.
The mother’s barrister asked if there could be Care Orders for a year to allow the mother an opportunity to deal with her own issues over the next year. The barrister for the GAL said everyone had great sympathy for the mother, but if there was an order for a year, what change would there be?
The barrister for the CFA said that if there was a change in circumstances the parents could bring an application to the court to discharge the order.
The judge said, having considered all the evidence, he was making full Care Orders, with directions relating to the re-appointment of the guardian if necessary. He said there would be a review in six months.
Referring to the father, he said good access between a parent and child always enhances the welfare of the child. “It’s not going to take place if he does not have the psychological assessment. I told the father a year ago what he had to do and nothing has happened.”
The court was told that the Care Orders were under appeal to the Circuit Court.
Circuit Court appeal
When the case came before the Circuit Court some weeks later it was withdrawn following legal arguments about how it would proceed.
Senior counsel for the father asked that the proceedings be adjourned as a file was with the DPP, and the criminal proceedings could be prejudiced by these proceedings, especially if they were reported in the media (a representative of the media was present in the court). The counsel also said the daughter, child B, (who had made an allegation her father had sexually abused her) should give evidence. She was prepared to do so, and if she did not, the evidence against the father would be hearsay.
Judge: “This is not a trial, it is an appeal by your client to overturn a District Court order.
The welfare of your client’s child is the first and paramount consideration. This is not a trial for sex abuse, but an appeal about whether the welfare of the child is best served by upholding the decision of the District Court.”
The barrister for the mother also sought an adjournment of a year. He said his client had left the father. She had been recognised as a loving parent with certain issues. A year of psychotherapy with optimum access with a view to reunification would be in the best interests of the children.
The barrister for the guardian ad litem said that it was generally accepted that delay was not in the interests of children. This case had begun in March 2013. If it was adjourned for a year it would have gone on for three years. The European Court of Human Rights had found a delay of seven months had violated the Convention. The children deserved the safety and security of having a decision.
Referring to the issue of media reporting, he said he proposed there be no reference to the location, that there be no reporting on Twitter or other social media so that at the end of each session the court could consider if any evidence could lead to the identification of the family and direct accordingly.
The judge said if he adjourned the case the criminal case could take 18 months or two years. Was it not open to the applicants to seek to discharge the order in the District Court?
To the father’s barrister, he said: “Your client’s engagement with any of the people he was asked to meet has not been great.”
He said he was not minded to grant the adjournment. “Do you want time to consult with your client about withdrawing the appeal and considering if his case for withdrawal of the order would be strengthened if he engaged in therapy, etc?”
After a brief adjournment, the barrister for the mother said she was withdrawing her appeal.
The senior counsel for the father said his client was also withdrawing his appeal, and was going to engage with psychological services, as recommended.
The judge said he was very pleased the father had agreed to embark on a programme of work. “I am pleased that rather than engendering bitterness through an appeal the parties have entered an agreement. The mother has withdrawn her appeal and has already entered therapy. I affirm the order of the District Court in relation to therapy (for the father).”
See Archive: 2014 Volume 2 Case number 1