A regional court granted an interim care order in respect of two young children whose baby brother had been admitted to hospital with a non-accidental injury. The parents consented to an extension of an interim care order in respect of the baby, but contested the application in respect of the two older children.
The social worker gave evidence that the original interim care order application was in respect of the baby only, in circumstances where a clinician had told the court that the baby had sustained a non-accidental injury, which included a bleed on the brain and black eyes. He also gave evidence of a previous burn injury. The social worker said that the two older children had been residing with their maternal grandmother while their mother was in hospital with the baby, under an unwritten safety plan. The safety plan provided that the children would reside with their grandmother and the mother could have supervised access at the home.
The social worker told the court that she had arranged to meet with the grandmother and the children at her home on the Monday previously. However, when she arrived at the home, the grandmother told her that she was at work and had dropped the children to their mother’s house. As the children were not subject to an order, but rather a voluntary arrangement, the mother’s solicitor told her that she could resume caring for her children. The social worker said the children were returned to their grandmother that day and a written safety plan was drawn up saying that access needed to be supervised.
The social worker told the court that the reason the CFA were seeking an interim care order for the two older children was because if there was no order in place, the children could be returned to their mother again. As the grandmother was not an approved foster carer, the children could not be placed with her until such a time as she was assessed.
The social worker said that she was contacted by the mother’s general practitioner and a consultant at the local hospital after the mother had brought the baby to her GP with two black eyes, which he could barely open. She said that the burn mark was as a result of the baby having pulled an iron on himself, while the mother was ironing some months previously.
The social worker said that the Gardaí were investigating the non-accidental injury of the baby and in the interim, the social work department had asked that both parents undergo assessments with drug services in the HSE. The social worker said that there had been reports from both the father and an anonymous source regarding the mother’s drug use. The social worker said that there were also concerns regarding the father’s drug use.
The social worker told the judge that they were familiar with the family for a number of years due to domestic violence incidents and all of the children had been listed on a Child Protection Notification System (CPNS) before the non-accidental injury issue. She said that there were a number of referrals concerning domestic violence, insecurity and instability in the parents’ relationship and homelessness. The social worker said that the children were taken off the CPNS system several months before the non-accidental injury, as things appeared to have settled down.
The judge was familiar with the family situation and said that the mother had been before him on two occasions seeking orders and had sworn affidavits regarding domestic violence. The social worker said that the children had been exposed to domestic violence for long periods and the mother had made allegations against the father of a sexual assault in the month previously. The judge said that the mother had made an application for a protection order, but did not follow through with the application for a safety order.
Both of the parents were present in court and only the mother was represented. Counsel for the mother told the court that the couple were no longer together, but the social worker said the month previously they had informed her that they had resumed their relationship and wanted to go for counselling. This was in spite of the fact that both parents had commenced new relationships with persons who were known to the Gardaí for drug use and drug dealing.
The social worker also said that the children had been exposed to periods of homelessness and had resided in a hostel for several months after the county council had ended their mother’s tenancy, due to an alleged assault at the family home.
Counsel for the mother cross examined the social worker. She argued that the CFA were happy for the children to remain in the care of the maternal grandmother and the family arrangement was working. She submitted that the CFA did not believe that there were grounds for an ICO until the safety plan was breeched and told the judge that the failure to provide a clear safety plan was a factor that needed to be taken into account.
The judge replied: “It is a factor which will be taken into account, but very low down in the list of factors.”
Counsel for the mother pointed out that it was the mother who took the baby to the GP and then onto the local hospital and therefore she was not hiding the injury. It was submitted that while the mother initially said she was alone in the house that weekend with the baby, in fact her new partner was in the home over the weekend and the mother left him in the house with the baby when she went to the shop. The social worker replied: “It is a concern that we don’t know who was present and who was with the children over the weekend”.
A local Garda Liaison Officer then gave evidence and outlined the previous convictions of the father which included theft, drugs, burglary and public order offences. The mother’s previous offences were mainly road traffic offences. In relation to the non-accidental injury investigation, the garda told the court that there had been a number of different stories provided by the mother. Initially she said that she was alone in the house and then she advised that the father had the older children and then said that her new partner was in the house on his own with the baby when she attended the shop.
The Garda said that when the Gardaí attended at the father’s accommodation at the time of an alleged breach of the protection order, the month previously, the mother was with the father in a bedroom upstairs. The garda told the judge that she did not know if the parents were in a relationship at present, but said that previously they had lied about their relationship status.
The garda told the court that there was an assault causing harm incident around the time of the non-accidental injury. She said the father struck the mother’s new partner, causing a suspected broken nose, loss of teeth and a black eye. The garda believed the assault was in relation to the baby’s injuries.
Counsel for the mother asked the garda to confirm that the mother had no previous convictions for violent offences and the garda said that allegations have been made, but statements had been withdrawn.
The judge said that he had grave concerns in this case and declared that a parent’s obligation was to provide a safe and secure environment for their children. He said that if the sole grounds for the application for an interim care order [for the older children] had related to an allegation of non-accidental injury to the baby, then he would not be able to make an order as there would be no evidence of any neglect or harm.
However, he said there was uncontroverted evidence that the mother and father have an extremely volatile relationship and there had been two allegations of sexual assault in recent times, where the father broke into the property. “There is also a history of the mother withdrawing complaints and she had been before me where she has applied to the court seeking protection and I pressed on her to follow through on that and she chose not to,” the judge said.
The judge decided that the mother was falling short of providing a safe and secure environment for her children. He said that he had no choice but to make an interim care order.