An Interim Care Order was granted in the District Court for a young child who had been found in a car with his parents in the middle of the night. There had been no child seat in the vehicle and his parents had been about to smoke heroin. They were also homeless and were intending to sleep in the car for the night.
During the proceedings the court heard that the mother, in her very early twenties, had had another child in her early teens and had spent time in care herself. The court was told that her aftercare worker had had no contact with her for a year.
In the Emergency Care Order proceedings the Garda who had come across the vehicle told the court that just after midnight he had seen lights on in a parked car. Accompanied by three colleagues he had gone over to the car where he saw a child and one adult in the backseat and two adults in the front of the car. He said that the young child was awake and it was about two degrees outside. The woman told the Garda that they had nowhere else to go and were sleeping there for the night.
Garda: “There were clear signs of drug use in the vehicle, there was burnt tin foil from smoking heroin and ripped plastic bags of tobacco. The accused admitted to smoking heroin earlier in the day and said they were going to smoke it again when we stopped them. The woman was in the passenger side, her partner was in the driver seat of the vehicle, there was a third male in the back seat of the vehicle beside the child. They [the parents] didn’t know who he was, he had a bag full of needles and I believe he was there to supply them with heroin.
“I questioned her about her accommodation and she stated that she normally sneaks into her brother’s hostel but that he hit her with a hatchet in the head the night before. So because of the reasons I’ve given: that it was freezing cold, that they were about to do drugs, they had no proper accommodation and they were sleeping in the car for the night – I informed the mother that I was invoking Section 12 of the Child Care Act.
“I gave them a card with my details on it, my name and address and my colleague searched the whole vehicle. We found on the driver side door a large lock knife, which is a knife that folds over, there’s a button on it and you have to press the button at the back to put it back in. There was also half a garden shears in between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat and the child easily could have had access to it.
“In invoking Section 12 the father thanked me. I believe his name is [X] his partner gave me a false name for him. I told them where I was going, to [Y] hospital, to get some food and a warm bed for the night for the child and they were happy about that. On arrival at the hospital, I noted that the child was dirty, his face, hands and clothes were dirty and there was a large cut across his throat. He told the nurse he was hungry and thirsty and was given a yogurt and a drink, he then asked for more food and was given toast.”
The Garda said that the child had been wearing runners that were too small for him, the nurse had trouble putting them back on his feet and his toenails were bruised. The Out of Hours Service was called and the child went into emergency foster care for the night.
The Garda told the court that at the Emergency Care Order the following day the judge had requested photos to be taken of the cut on the child’s throat in order to have a record of it. The Garda said that the parents had not made any contact with him since he had invoked Section 12. He had checked with all the relevant police stations and there had been no contact, nor had there been contact with the hospital. He had not come across them again but he believed his colleagues were looking for them. “They are known to the Gardaí for very serious matters, there is currently a bench warrant outstanding for [the mother’s] arrest,” he told the court.
Although the child’s parents had given false names to the Garda on the night they had given the correct name for the child and their names were subsequently found on the child’s hospital records. The Garda told the court that at the time he knew the mother was lying but was more concerned about the child’s well-being than arresting the parents. He had established who the parents were on the Pulse system (through photo identification) and through the hospital and he now had the correct names.
His colleagues had gone back to the location of the car and they had rung the mobile numbers given to him that night by the parents, but the phones were turned off. He was satisfied that the parents knew how to track the child because he had given them his card, his shoulder number and had told them where he was going.
He had looked into the mother’s background and there was a feud within the whole family, not just with her brother. The parents had been in a “people carrier” which had no tax, no insurance and no NCT. There had been no child seat in the car and the child had no restraint.
During the Interim Care Order proceedings, which took place before another judge, the Garda told the court that he had followed up the mark on the child’s neck. When the child had been scratching his neck the foster mother had asked him what had happened and she said the child had told her: “My daddy did it with a knife.” The Garda had then called out to the house with a specialist child interviewer who had, in the Garda’s presence, asked the child what had happened and the child made the same disclosure.
The child then followed it up, saying: “He punches me in the face and head and [punches] my mammy in the car.”
The Garda told the court that he had since brought the knife in the car for analysis and had done a swab from the child’s mouth to see if there was a DNA match. This would take a week.
The social worker told the court that the mother had sent an email to Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of the CFA, and that the email had not been sent from her own email address, nor did it provide any contact information.
The social worker had tried the two phone numbers provided by the Garda and had made contact with two other social work departments to see if the mother had made any contact with them, but she had not done so. However her sister had contacted the social work department and had said that she had seen the mother who wanted to know how her child was. She was advised of the ICO application and asked to get her sister to contact the social work department.
The mother had contacted the department yesterday and she had had a lengthy conversation with her on the phone, informing her of what was happening today. The social worker had asked her for a postal address but the mother had said she was living in the car still so this was not possible. The social worker had made contact with Focus Ireland. The mother was offered an appointment to see the social worker prior to the hearing which she had accepted but had not attended.
The social worker told the court that the mother had asked how her child was and where he was. The social worker had expressed concern to her about the injury on his neck and the statements that he had made. She said the mother did not feel that her child was neglected but did admit to using heroin and understood that she would have to get treatment for that in order to resume care of her son.
The social worker told the mother that “things seemed very chaotic and they had very significant concerns”. She provided the mother with the office number, the address of the court house and gave her directions. The mother informed her that she knew where the court was. She had another boy, who was living with his father. She also said that she did not have continued contact with that child due to problems in the relationship with his father and her drug use.
The social worker told the court that when she had met the child he had climbed up onto her knee straight away and begun to play. He had put his hand up to his neck because it was at him and she had then asked him did it bleed when it got hurt and he had said yes. She had asked him what happened to his neck and he had got uncomfortable and not answered. So she asked him again a minute later and he said: “Daddy did it.”
“How did Daddy do it?” the social worker had asked. “Daddy did it with a knife,” he had answered.
“Thirty seconds later he made a slice motion across his neck with his hand and said again: ‘My daddy did it with a knife.’” She had not prompted him further or asked him any more questions.
The social worker told the court that the child was very comfortable with his foster carer and had not asked about his parents. She said he had made a number of statements to them about his daddy punching him in the head and punching mammy and about his daddy being arrested by the Guards.
His previous foster carer had brought him to a children’s hospital for clinical photography and a full paediatric assessment which had taken three or four hours, from which they had received an initial report. His long term foster carer had brought him to the GP, that report was outstanding.
The child was doing well in foster care, said the social worker. His foster mother had said that he stuffs everything into his mouth at mealtime as quickly as he can and that in his emergency placement he was making himself sick by putting his fingers down his throat.
He had been provided with clothes and new runners as his jeans had been ripped.
The social worker told the court that currently there were serious concerns of neglect, potential physical abuse, witnessed violence, and parental drug use. The parents would have to engage in drug treatment services, have a risk assessment and a full social work assessment. The father had a history of violent assaults and had also been incarcerated in another jurisdiction for assaulting and stabbing the mother. She herself had previously spent time in a women’s refuge and now there was the potential injury to the child caused by the father.
The judge granted the ICO application under Section 17.3, noting that an application for Section 18 of the Act (for a full Care Order) had also issued. A guardian ad litem was appointed to the child. In his decision the judge said he was not specifically making a finding on assault, ill treatment and neglect but he was not excluding that finding being made because it was appropriate to give the parents an opportunity to come to court.
The risks posed to the child were drugs being used on a regular basis by admission of the parents, there were injuries and other issues such as clothing and his general condition, therefore the threshold had been met. The judge granted the ICO for two weeks instead of 29 days as there were serious matters to investigate.
Interim Care Order extended
When the first extension of the Interim Care Order came into court two weeks later the father did not come to court as he was appearing in the Circuit Court on a robbery charge.
The Garda who had given evidence at the earlier hearings told the court that the child’s DNA had been found on the knife in the car but no blood had been found on it. He was due to get a report from the hospital regarding the injury on the child’s neck and would bring it to forensics to see if the knife and the injury would match up. Copies of photos of the injury taken by the social worker the day after A went into care were given to the judge. The Garda said that he had not been able to make contact with the mother since the last court date and would like to speak to her in relation to the injuries on the child’s neck.
During her evidence, the social worker told the court that she had met with the mother once since the last court date at the social work department. She said the mother had been asleep in reception and was heavily under the influence of a substance, she told the social worker that she had smoked heroin the night before and had taken tablets that morning. She was falling asleep throughout the meeting and it had been difficult to understand her.
While the social worker was giving evidence the mother arrived into court, as she had no legal representation proceedings stopped so that the CFA solicitor could bring her upstairs to the offices of the Legal Aid Board to obtain it. However as she was under the influence of a substance she fell asleep and was unable to instruct a solicitor.
The CFA advised the judge of what had happened, an ambulance was called and the mother was attended to. Later that afternoon she was still asleep. By now the CFA solicitor had obtained a private solicitor for the mother. The mother’s solicitor told the court that she had not received any instructions from the mother, she had tried to wake her but she had been incoherent and she had not been able to go through the reports with her.
The judge said that she had read in the reports that there were periods of time where she had been an extremely competent mother and she had had a very hard life. The judge wanted her to be able to participate in the proceedings.
The solicitors and social work team woke the mother up and brought her into the court room, where she fell asleep again.
The social worker resumed her evidence, she told the court that the mother intended to “get herself into a methadone clinic, the father is incarcerated and is likely to remain incarcerated.” They would need to meet with the mother a few times first in order to see how she could manage access. Her biggest issue was her drug use.
The judge asked for facilities to be explored fully to see what was available to the mother.
Judge: “I’m absolutely concerned as to the care of his mother, who is going to look after her when this finishes? I’m not happy for [her] to be simply deposited [at the centre with services for homeless people].”
The CFA solicitor told the judge that the mother normally went to [this centre], and they would find her accommodation. The judge commented that beds for the homeless could not be occupied until 11pm, that the mother was unable to care for herself and was extremely vulnerable. “Anything could happen to her,” said the judge. “You may need to make an application,” she said to the mother’s solicitor.