An interim care order was extended in respect of two children from a Roma family in a provincial town. There were concerns regarding attempts to abduct the children from their placement. The mother, who consented to the application, was represented whereas the father was in contact with the local law centre to obtain representation. Neither parent spoke English and an interpreter was required.
The social worker said there had been very little engagement with the father but positive engagement with the mother in recent weeks. The social worker said the children were bright and engaging, they had started to learn English and were both excelling.
There had been a mental health incident regarding child B following a disagreement with her foster carer. B had been asked to turn off her laptop by her foster carer and had become upset. She went into the foster carer’s room and said she had swallowed 16 tablets. B was taken to the hospital, but had not needed medical treatment. The mental health team did not feel that B had mental health problems but she was a “child in turmoil struggling”. The social worker said both children had disclosed incidents of self-harm and an overdose when living in their country of origin.
Access was taking place once a week in a supervised access centre with a translator. The social worker wished to meet with the father so that he could understand the rules in place for access and that only Romanian could be spoken. The family also spoke their own language, Romani, and the agency did not have a translator for that language.
The mother wanted access to continue and had said she would cooperate with any interventions. B wanted access but A did not. The social worker said she had encouraged A to write a letter to her parents but she had said she did not want to. The social worker was concerned about A as she had poor sleep due to her family trying to make contact with her. The child had taken screenshots of the various attempts of her family to make contact with her.
The social worker said they were trying to keep A’s social media accounts private but her adult brother had set up additional accounts under false names in order to make contact with her. The attempts were having a particularly emotional effect on her, the social worker said. Child B did not have a phone but had a laptop which was supervised by the foster carers.
The father said: “What my other girl said, is she scared [of] us? I can show [texts] to prove that she sent me a text of the address of where she lives. We never went there or wanted to create a problem. I do not believe she [child A] is scared or threatened by us. They [the social workers] have taught our daughter to be against us. My youngest child took those tablets as she felt pressure.”
The social worker said: “The Child and Family Agency (CFA) is here to protect children and we are not here to turn them against their parents. The children have said they are afraid to return to their parents due to emotional and physical abuse.”
The father said: “I will cooperate with you but I want to see my kids again.”
The solicitor for the guardian ad litem asked the GAL: “The CFA is seeking a continuance of the direction by the court to restrict direct and indirect contact with the children by the parents other than through the CFA. Do you believe that is appropriate?”
The GAL replied: “[Child B] is the younger girl and she has said … [she has] a genuine fear of her parents and extended family. She reported threats communicated to her by her parents. [She said] if she does not withdraw the allegations against her father of physical abuse, her father and paternal uncle will gouge out her eyes, and she takes this seriously.”
Child B had outlined how she was followed from the TUSLA office and intercepted by her brother who told her he had a plane ticket for her to go home. The TUSLA worker brought the children to the Garda station and they were petrified. There were two previous directions of the court that no member of the family should make contact with the children but both children reported ongoing contact with their parents and extended family.
The GAL said A’s global mental health was more concerning and she was worried that child A “could slip into depression.” She was facing charges for begging. Child B refused to beg but was encouraged to steal and also faced charges. The criminal matters had been diverted to a juvenile liaison officer. The GAL said: “Those are behaviours the girls do not want. They want to have an education and a future.” The court was asked to direct that an aftercare worker be assigned.
The children had built a positive rapport with their foster carers but the agency was looking for another placement outside of the county due to the abduction risk posed by the parents and their adult son, the social worker said. An Garda Siochana was also recommending that the children be moved. The GAL said the move of placement would be a real loss for the children. The children had only lived together for three years so they did not have a connection to each other. She said: “They both have different needs and it will be an extraordinary foster carer who can match both girls’ needs.”
Child A had said she was frightened that she would be brought back to her country of origin to be married.
The father said: “In our culture, girls get married at 12.”
The judge said: “Article 42A of the Constitution draws its basis from internationally agreed conventions and treaties and the most important is the rights of children…. The idea of a child of 12 getting married has to be completely averse to the best interests of that child…. Your daughter has expressed though her GAL [that she does] not wish to get married. When she is over 18, she has the decision-making power.”
The father said: “If I wanted my daughter to be married, I would have done it but I said no, that it was her decision.”
The judge said: “You share in international values and once you engage with the social workers, there is nothing to fear and you can engage with your lawyers.”
The judge directed the CFA to have an aftercare worker appointed in two weeks. A draft plan was to be prepared by the aftercare team setting out what needed to be done. The children must be facilitated to attend school. The judge also directed the parents not to contact or attempt to make contact with the children except through the CFA. Travel outside the jurisdiction was to be restricted with all ports and airports notified.
The judge said: “I want the CFA to prepare a security risk assessment and an independent security person to liaise with the Gardai in relation to these children and their security. I have heard in evidence that the placement is at risk and it is a good placement and because of the security risk the children may have to move. The more times you move, you raise the risk of adverse consequences.”
The interim care order was extended for a period of 28 days. When the interim care order was extended a month later the parents consented to the application.
The court heard that A had moved placement since the last date due to anxiety and was afraid of her family finding her. Since she moved placement she no longer required medication to sleep and was settling in well in. B had exhibited challenging behaviour since the last court date. The social worker said she “struggled to be told No around smart phones and the internet.” The previous week she had become upset and had barricaded the door to her room. She dismantled a pencil sharpener and scratched her arms with the blade. The social worker said: “It highlights how she struggles to deal with [her] emotions when she is upset. We contacted CAHMS.”
Access was taking place weekly for one hour. The social worker said there had been poor quality access over the previous two weeks. B had been upset at access as she alleged the mother was talking to the neighbour of the foster carer. The social worker said she was also upset at access as the mother was asking her about her sister. B left the access room twice. The mother then left the access room and later left the premises.
A was due to age out of care next year and on the previous occasion the judge had directed the CFA to prepare an after-care plan and appoint an aftercare worker to her. The social worker said the manager approved the aftercare plan and the aftercare worker would meet with her. An after-care assessment was to be commenced. The social worker said she had sought funding for a parenting capacity assessment for the parents and hoped to have confirmation in the coming days.
The interim care order was extended for a period of two months.