An interim care order was granted in a regional city for four out of five children. The judge heard evidence that the mother put her partner before her children and the Child and Family Agency (CFA) were concerned that the mother was failing to safeguard the children.
The social worker gave evidence and informed the judge that the family had been known to the social work department since 2017, because the mother required supports in order to care for the five children. The social worker said that in 2019 there were over 11 referrals from the two older children’s school regarding their presentation and allegations of domestic abuse. She said that the Gardaí investigated a disclosure made by one of the children [B] that the mother’s partner [X] had hit him, however, the investigation did not lead to a prosecution.
The social worker said that they were monitoring the situation and a safety plan was put in place, which included a stipulation that the partner was to leave the family home and have no contact with the children. The mother was also given respite and family members, including the father of the three younger boys, and foster carers took the children for short periods.
The social worker told the judge that the mother did not follow the social work plan or directions and they had concerns that her partner was back in the family home. She gave evidence of instances where she arrived at the home and he was present. The social worker visited the family home during the COVID-19 pandemic and believed that things seemed to be going ok.
She said a significant issue arose during the lockdown when the eldest child [A] said that he was physically assaulted by X. He reported this to the social worker and the Gardaí and bruises were discovered during a medical examination. Following this disclosure, A resided with a family friend, with the consent of the mother. When A came home, he found that X had returned to the family home and he went upstairs and jumped out of the bathroom window and ran back to the family friend’s home. At that point the social work department were contacted and the child said that his “heart was pounding” when he was at home.
The social worker also had concerns about the children’s presentations and said that they were quite upset and agitated. The social worker said that she believed the children had been told about the court proceedings and they are afraid that they may be going to live with other people. The social worker said that she believed they were under pressure and told the judge that one of the children kept saying: “I need a break, I need a break”.
The social worker said that contact with the father of the three younger children, who was present in court and unrepresented, was hit and miss. She said that there were issues regarding the state of his home. However, she said that since a visit a number of days ago, he had fixed the toilet and cleaned the house.
The solicitor for the CFA asked the social worker if she had any concerns if X was out of the picture. The social worker said that the mother had always engaged with the services, however, she believed that the mother was not able to cope. The social worker was concerned that the mother repeatedly said that her son was telling lies and did not have the insight to see the impact that the situation was having on her children.
The social worker told the judge that X was asked to link in with MEND (Men Ending Domestic Violence) and that while he made contact by telephone, he failed to undergo the programme. In addition, he returned to the family home in circumstances where he was asked to stay away from the children.
Counsel for the mother asked the social worker if she accepted that it was a busy family household and that one of the children has special needs and the social worker accepted that the house was busy and that the mother had very little support.
Counsel then asked her to accept that A was a teenager who was acting out and the social worker said that she could not accept this because there was never a concern regarding his behaviour in school. Counsel asked if a supervision order had been considered and the social worker said that they gave the mother ample opportunities to engage and she did not adhere to the safety plan.
Counsel for the mother put it to the social worker that taking the children into care would be traumatic. The social worker replied: “I think the children have lacked consistency and security in the past number of weeks. I think the plan we have in place is very much child-centred and is about the children being with people that they know”.
The social worker told the judge that the younger children were to be placed with their father, who would receive extensive supports, and the other children would be placed with family friends or previous respite carers. No order was being sought in respect of one of the children, who was to reside with her maternal grandmother under a voluntary arrangement.
The father gave evidence and said that he wanted to care for his children, but he explained that he would need support in order to care for them. He also said that he supported his older child being taken into care and felt that he needed professional help.
The mother gave evidence and said that X was no longer in the family home. She said that he had been a part of the children’s life for the past three years and that the children were upset that he was gone. The mother told the judge that X did not hit her eldest child and that he was acting out due to being locked up during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The mother told the judge that she and X were willing to engage with the social work department and that she was always thankful for whatever supports they provided to her, because she didn’t have any support with the children.
The mother told the judge that the reason X had returned to the family home was because she reached out to him for support during a difficult period. She said that she had not seen him for the past seven days. In relation to the alleged assault by him on her eldest child, the solicitor for the CFA put it to her that she was not supportive of her son. The mother said that she totally disagreed and gave an example of when her children had lied in the past.
The judge then addressed the mother and said: “Three of your children have raised concerns regarding your partner. You have made adjustments in the past number of weeks and it’s too little too late and the emotional distress this has caused is the reason why we are here today.”
The judge then asked: “Do you accept that you should have concentrated more on your children and less on your man and that your children come first and men should be in the ha’penny corner?” The mother replied: “They always come first.”
The judge found that there was an entire disconnect between the report and social work evidence and the evidence of the mother that the children are relying on X. The judge was satisfied that the children lacked stability and she was satisfied that something needed to be done so that the mother could reflect on her parenting.
The judge was satisfied that the threshold had been met and that the children’s health, development and welfare had been affected and that some stability needed to be brought to bear on their lives.
The judge was supportive of the placements, which were known to the children and warned the father not to fail the two younger children.
The judge appointed a guardian ad litem and asked the father be assisted with his application to the Legal Aid Board to get a solicitor in advance of the next court date.