An application for an Interim Care Order for two seriously ill children of a Traveller family was adjourned in the District Court in a provincial city. The court heard the family had been moving from country to country frequently and were now back in Ireland.
The family had gone to a Scandinavian country where the children had been taken into care by the social services. One of the children [A] was mentally and physically disabled and is confined to a wheelchair. She was born in another jurisdiction and was subject to a hospital alert there as she was not receiving the treatment she needed. The court was told that hospitals in Ireland were also aware of her condition.
The other child [B] was born in a southern European country with a congenital physical disability that meant he needed surgery. The family had left this country and had relocated to the Scandinavian country. The solicitor for the CFA said that there was a high level of contact between the CFA in Ireland and the social services in the other country. The boy was scheduled to have heart surgery last year but the couple are believed to have left to go to the southern European country, where he had surgery. The solicitor said that they then went back to northern Europe and the children were received into interim care in that country. Two witnesses from the Scandinavian social services where in court to give evidence.
The parents’ solicitor said that the parents had been fully co-operative and had consented to the children remaining in care. The solicitor said that her initial understanding was that they would consent to an Interim Care Order for one month but “they are extremely anxious to have their children home as soon as possible and feel that this matter should be something that is dealt with by way of Supervision Order.”
The Scandinavian social worker said she had first come into contact with the family a number of years previously as the mother had stolen something from a shopping centre. When asked what she knew about the needs of the children, the social worker replied that one of the children was in a wheelchair and had no language but was making movements indicating that she was trying to communicate.
The social worker said that her department had been in contact with the family and had asked how they could help but the mother had said she did not wish to seek any help. The social worker said that the first born child was not in any day care or school. She also said that the family were living on a campsite but moved around different campsites frequently. At this stage the mother was pregnant with her second child and the social worker said that she became aware that hospitals in the other jurisdiction were looking for the family. When asked did the family have a source of income, the social worker replied that there were several stories, one of which was that the father was self-employed.
The social worker said that her next contact with the family was a number of months later when a consultant in a hospital that was treating the younger child made contact with the social services. The consultant was worried about the boy (who was the younger of the two) due to his physical disability and the fact that he needed an operation. The social worker said that the concern in her department was that the children were not being appropriately cared for.
The younger child was scheduled for surgery in a Scandinavian hospital and the parents had expressed an intention to settle in that country and a date was set for the operation. However the social worker said that the mother changed her mind and began talking about moving back to Ireland. The child was not brought to his scheduled hospital appointment and the social worker said that she believed that the family had returned to Ireland.
The next contact this social worker had with the family was when she heard that they had returned to her country and a hospital had contacted the social services to try and arrange the operation that the young boy needed. The boy was brought to a hospital by his parents and was admitted amid fears “that he was going to disappear” and the operation was planned. The social worker clarified that this hospital was a different one to the hospital that the child had originally been treated in and that two hospitals in the country were simultaneously planning the same operation.
The social worker told the court that a court order was sought to ensure that the child would undergo the operation he needed. When the solicitor for the CFA asked the social worker whether she was aware that an Irish hospital had also seen the boy and had recommended the same operation, she replied that she had not been aware of that. However, when the time came for the operation, the family could not be found and an Emergency Care Order was sought in the Scandinavian country in respect of the child but he could not be located. The CFA solicitor said that at this stage Interpol had been informed about the case.
The children were located at a campsite in Scandinavia and a further court application was made to take the children into care. After the court order was granted the younger boy was brought straight to hospital and it soon became apparent that he had undergone the corrective surgery in respect of his heart defect. This was later confirmed by a hospital in southern Europe who said that the operation had taken place there.
Outlining her concerns in respect of the children, the social worker said that it was important that the travelling stopped, specifically in relation to A who needed care and who had never gone to school. She said that the child “has prospects of doing things but cannot because she is not receiving treatment.” She said that B had been described as “very weak” by doctors who had suggested that this was not completely as a result of his physical problems but due to living in a caravan and having very little movement.
The CFA solicitor asked whether A was toilet trained or could feed herself and the social worker replied that she was not toilet trained and could not feed herself initially but when she had been taken into care she learned how to put morsels of food into her mouth and “she had started to improve”. In relation to the family returning to Ireland, the social worker said that when the parents had decided to move back to Ireland contact was established between the Irish and Scandinavian social services as it was the recommendation of the social work department in Scandinavia that the children should be in long term care.
The parents’ solicitor asked the social worker to describe the living conditions of the campsite that the family had resided in. The social worker said that it was in good condition but “there was limited space to raise two children”. The solicitor also asked the social worker whether she was aware that the family were planning on moving into a house. The social worker said that she had heard that plan but that they had said several times that they were going to move back to Ireland and put the children into school. The social worker said that her worry did not just relate to the space the children had but also to the parents’ ability to give the older girl the stimulation she needed.