An Interim Care Order for African children, a boy and a girl, was extended with the consent of the parents in Dublin District Court. They had been taken into care (along with their two younger siblings) earlier in the year, due to emotional and physical abuse. Their two siblings had returned home during the summer. In the week previous to this hearing, the boy had attempted suicide by trying to electrocute himself, he had also attempted to throw himself out a window.
The HSE solicitor told the court that the boy was currently in hospital. His foster placement had broken down the previous week due to his very challenging behaviours. Before the self-harming incident, the social work department had been given a 28 day notice by the fostering service provider that the placement was coming to an end, said the social worker.
Child A had been presenting with challenging behaviour for two weeks prior to the 28 day notice. Subsequent to the notification he had tried to electrocute himself, had locked himself into the kitchen and set the gas cooker on fire. Efforts were made by the foster carers to contact the social worker and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
The decision was made with CAMHS to bring the child to hospital and he was brought by the social worker, along with the foster link worker and the team leader. The principal social worker and the social worker told the parents in person what had happened.
The social worker told the court that the department had linked in with the psychiatric team in the hospital that morning. A had been assessed over the weekend by a child psychiatrist who told them his symptoms were in the context of what he was exposed to prior to coming into care and his continued uncertainty.
The social worker had not been in direct contact with the foster family, they were willing to take him back for the moment. As there was no onward placement, the social work department hoped to salvage that placement.
Child B remained at her separate placement, and was linked in with mental health services, a recent referral went out for support services for her. She was adamant she was not willing to meet with her parents, said the social worker. There was no access arrangement in place with the parents and A was also adamant he did not want to see them or return home.
The mother’s barrister said their position was that Child A was “so far into this situation now that it is causing him stress and he doesn’t know how to extract himself”.
The parents did not agree with the ICO applications, and were consenting on a without-prejudice basis. They did not accept the findings of the District Court with regard to the ICOs, and were appealing in the Circuit Court, said the mother’s barrister.
The physical abuse the child alleged in the family home was being denied by the parents, she added. The social worker told the barrister the children were hit, smacked and punched – this was in the initial reports.
The judge said it was undisputed, but was hearsay for the present hearing.
Mother’s barrister: “It may be a situation that [B] is supporting [A] in care – that she wants to come home but is supporting him while in care.”
Social worker: “At the moment they are refusing to see their parents. He wants to return to the foster parents.”
The GAL said she would present a full chronology and analysis in her next report. But her most recent report threw up a lot of concerns she found in the social work files. There seemed to be so many disclosures and allegations and it did not seem to be clear if they were followed through, or if the parents were informed of all the allegations, or if child protection notifications were made regarding them. She needed to follow through on a cataloguing of all the allegations.
She had spent a lot of time with the children. The girl was ambiguous about access, she said she did not want access but then said “if she did have access she would want supervised access, it was not a clear ‘no’. In one regard she says ‘no’ to going home, but will ask questions about it.”
The boy “is very clear, he is in no way prompted, he doesn’t want to go home and doesn’t want access. He wants sibling access. He is feeling very, very abandoned at the minute, the psychiatrist wanted to see the GAL too, she felt an assessment must be made in the community,” said the GAL.
The foster carers were very committed to the child, they felt they wanted to give it another try, but the private foster agency had said they did not want the placement to proceed, she said.
The GAL then told the court that they boy felt “he was ditched”, the foster agency had told the foster parents to leave the hospital after his admission and not to visit him over the weekend. She explained all of this to him and that he had not “been ditched”. However, if the foster parents were not able to keep him safe it would be better if the placement ended in a planned organised way.
She said he would need to be safe, a package of care would need to be around him, including childcare workers and respite care. The psychiatrist said he was a deeply traumatised child. “There is so much to contend with in this case, it’s a very unusual case. I have a huge amount of concerns about the handling of this case.”
The father’s solicitor said the father felt the foster carer was influencing the child around staying in care. “[B] said she didn’t want to come home till after Christmas because she wanted to get presents.”
The judge agreed it was very important for the parents to meet with the psychiatrist “to give their perspective on why [A] is at where he’s at”.
Judge: “It’s important that you and your wife engage fully with the psychiatrist in the hospital.”
Father: “Anything to help my son.”
The interim Care Order was granted. “The parents’ believe that [A] has put himself into a corner, that he is being backed up by [B] and this is an issue that has to be fully explored,” concluded the judge.