The District court refused to grant an interim care order to the HSE and the child in question was placed in the care of his father, with a Supervision Order in place for six months.
There had been an emergency care order in place, following a report on injuries to the 17-month-old child. The child had been brought to the emergency department of the local hospital where he was found to have extensive bruising which the hospital felt required further investigation.
The paediatrician from the hospital described the child’s injuries to the court. These included bruises of various colours on various parts of his body. There was dried blood on his left ear and bruising behind both ears. There were puncture marks on the palms of his hands and his feet. There was a linear scratch near his hairline, and bruising on his head. There were a number of bruises on both arms and two scratches at the level of his nappy. There were bruises on the mid-line of his spine and his inner thigh. There were blisters on his toes.
In general the child was in good health and of normal height and weight. The internal examination was normal. Though there was blood on his ear there was no sign of an infection. He did not have a temperature.
A developmental assessment showed his speech was less than it should be for his age, and he had less independent movement than he should have. By this age he should be walking. It was decided to do an MRI scan on his brain when the bruising subsided.
Blood tests had been carried out to see if there was an underlying problem that could explain the bruising, but they came back normal. There were also no reports from his vaccination record that he bruised easily, so there was no natural explanation for the bruising.
His mother had not been able to offer a satisfactory explanation for the bruising or for the puncture marks on his hands and his feet.
“In my experience the bruising around his left ear has been inflicted rather than being accidental, due to it being so localised in an area normally protected,” the doctor said. The developmental delay could be due to lack of stimulation.
She said she spoke to the mother three times over the three days the child was in hospital. “At no stage was there an explanation for the multitude of bruises,” she said. “Emotionally she was not responding in the way we were used to with accidental injuries. She was coming and going a lot while the child was in hospital.”
Asked by the solicitor for the mother if her client had explained the injury to his forehead by saying he had hit a doorframe while she was carrying him, the doctor said there had been a variety of explanations which were not consistent. “That is just one bruise. We never have an issue with a child having a bruise. I said there was no explanation for the multitude of bruises.”
Asked if the bruises could be explained by the child falling while hauling himself along, the doctor said that the natural development of a child learning to walk independently was that he was fearful and held onto things. Otherwise all children would be covered in bruises. If this was the explanation the bruises would be expected where he reached out, on his arms. This was not where he had the majority of the bruises.
Referring to the puncture marks, the solicitor said his client had said her boyfriend had found that tacks had fallen from a board onto the floor in his home. Could these account for the marks? The doctor said she had not spoken to the boyfriend.
The solicitor said that according to his client she had left the child with her boyfriend who had placed him on a small table. He fell and seemed to pass out. He shook him and splashed water on him to revive him, then dialled 999 and brought him to the hospital. Could this account for the bruising? The doctor said there was no evidence that the child was shaken.
She said the child was not distressed. He was happy to play with anyone who gave him attention. “Children develop coping strategies,” she said. He had no fear of strangers, which would be normal at this age. Asked if his language delay could be accounted for by his living in a bi-lingual household, as his mother was from another European country, the doctor said she had allowed for that. However, he should be putting words into sentences by now.
Asked if she could age the bruising, she said this was not possible due to the large variation in their colours and the fact that different people healed at different rates. The scratches and puncture marks appeared to be about two weeks old.
Asked by the solicitor for the father, who was not living with the mother, why his client was not allowed to be alone with the child on the ward, the doctor said it was not felt to be appropriate.
The social worker described again the circumstances in which the child had come to the hospital. She said the mother had only had supervised access to the child on the ward. She said she did not know where the father was, that the mother had a difficult relationship with him. She had a number of addresses for him and two mobile numbers. Eventually the social work department contacted him on one of the numbers and told him his son was in hospital. He arrived later that night.
The mother told the court she had moved in with the child’s father when she became pregnant. She said she had suffered emotional, physical and verbal abuse in the relationship. She eventually left the provincial town where they lived and came to Dublin, where she lived in a refuge for three months.
The social worker said his family was known to the social work department. She said the father was “an unknown quantity”. From the information they had there was a safety order against him. He had had supervised access to his child. “We don’t think it’s in the child’s best interests to be in the care of his father.” The father interjected that it was a protection order.
Asked by the judge why it was necessary for the protection of the child that he not be placed in his father’s care, the social worker said there had been an account of serious domestic violence and the father had left the family home. The HSE was very concerned about releasing the child until there had been a full assessment of his injuries, and this assessment was at a very early stage. Without an Interim Care Order the social work department was not sure the assessment could be made.
The judge said evidence would have to be called to demonstrate this. “The child has two parents. Why are the social workers saying he can’t be with either parent?”
The solicitor for the father said the man had been appointed the child’s guardian on the consent of the mother. “He wants the child back. He is living with his brother and his grandfather, who are prepared to offer the child a home.”
The mother was called to give evidence relating to the violence allegations. She said there had been an incident when the child was three months old when she had found him in the bath with water covering his face.
Asked by the father’s solicitor if she had mentioned this in any of the many court appearances concerning the violence allegations, she said she did not think so. Asked if the order was for her protection or that of the child, she said: “for me.”
“You gave no evidence of any threat to your son when you applied for it?” he asked. “No,” she replied.
Referring to the father’s application for guardianship, the solicitor said: “At that time you had a protection order. Yet you did not advise the court you had any concerns about your son’s safety. You didn’t try to advise the court you he should not get guardianship.”
The mother said she had been told it was guaranteed he would get it.
Asked how the child got on with his father during access, she said: “He sits on the seat beside him and reads to him and buys him chips.” She agreed no visit was terminated because of concerns for the child’s safety.
Asked why she was objecting to the child going into the care of his father, she said: “He would be in the pub five times a week till closing time. The children of that family would be in the pub until 8 or 9 at night.”
She accepted that none of the bruises, however they were causcd, were caused by the father.
Referring to the issues raised by the doctor, she said that she was concerned about the bruises and asked her partner about them and he said he knew nothing about them. In relation to the developmental delay, she said the child had been in a walker and she heard that delayed walking. She said that she spoke to him in her own language, and he had some words of this language as well as English.
The judge refused to grant the Interim Care Order. He said the application had been against one parent, both were not involved. He said the child should go into the care of his father. The solicitor for the HSE then applied for a Supervision Order, which was granted for six months.