We publish below the first tranche of reports from the District Courts which hear child care cases.
This is the first time reports of such cases have been published, and it has been made possible by recent changes to the law concerning the operation of the in camera rule in child care cases. During the course of the Child Care Law Reporting Project more cases will be published, so that eventually several hundred will be available to professionals and members of the public.
Cases proceed following an application by the HSE to the court for an order under the Child Care Act 1991 (as amended). The respondent (against whom the order is sought) is normally the parent or parents, or person acting as parent.
The order sought may be a Supervision Order, an Emergency Care Order, an Interim Care Order or a Care Order, often called a Full Care Order. Supervision Orders authorise HSE social workers to visit the child’s home at any time to ensure that the child’s welfare is being looked after and to offer such advice to the parents as may be appropriate. All the other orders involve removing the child from his or her parents and placing him or her with foster parents or in a residential centre. Emergency Care Orders can only be in place for a maximum of eight days. Interim Care Orders must be renewed every eight days if the parents do not consent (this is about to be extended to 29 days by legislation), and can be extended for longer with the consent of the parents. A full Care Order can be made until the child is 18, or for a shorter period if the court so decides.
Cases normally proceed by the solicitor for the HSE briefly outlining the reason why it is seeking the order. The social worker concerned then gives evidence of why the child’s welfare is considered to be at risk. Other witnesses – for example, paediatricians where the child has suffered injuries – may be called. The parents, who are usually represented by solicitors from the Legal Aid Board, and sometimes by barristers briefed by them, give their account of the situation the children are in. Sometimes they acknowledge that they are not in a position at that time adequately to care for the children and consent to the order. In other cases the parents may reject the conclusions of the social workers about the situation of the children and oppose the application.
The judge can, if he or she considers it appropriate and depending on the age and maturity of the child, make the child a party to the proceedings and appoint a solicitor to represent him or her. Alternatively, he or she can appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the interests and wishes of the child. The judge then decides on whether or not to grant the order sought.
The court may also discharge (bring to an end) an order that has been in force, or can modify it or replace one of the care orders with a Supervision Order.
The reports published here are written by reporters who attended the cases and noted the proceedings, writing them in in a way that does not identify the children concerned or their families. Other participants in the case, for example, social workers and judges, are also not identified as this could lead to the identification of the children.
Most, though not all, the cases published here were heard in the Dublin Metropolitan District Court, but as time goes on reporters will visit most of the District Courts around the country which hear such cases on a regular basis.
The reports, like the proceedings, vary in length and are often inconclusive. This reflects the nature of proceedings in such cases, where orders may have to be renewed or progress reviewed. The majority of proceedings deal with cases which are ongoing, where there may be several court hearings before the matter is concluded. Because we are seeking to reflect accurately what takes place in court, we are publishing reports of some cases where the outcome is still unknown and where the background information may be incomplete because our reporters started to attend in the middle of an ongoing case. However, where cases are protracted and complex we will do our best to follow them through the various hearings and eventually publish the outcomes.
We are not analysing or commenting on what transpires. We leave our readers to form their own opinions about individual cases. As the project continues we will also be collecting data which will enable us to identify statistics and trends, which will provide the basis for in-depth analysis of the system as it is revealed in the courts and hopefully point to recommendations for its improvement.
Guardian ad litem (GAL): a person appointed by the court to represent the views and interests of the child
Social services: the HSE department dealing with child and family welfare, which will soon be replaced by an independent Child and Family Support Agency
Abuse: emotional or physical abuse of the child, as defined in the HSE’s handbook
Neglect: Neglect of the child’s physical, emotional or developmental needs, of a degree likely to impair his or her welfare and development
Non-accidental injury: an injury to the child suspected by doctors of having been caused or allowed to happen by the parents
Section 12: The section of the Child Care Act 1991 which permits a member of the Garda Siochana to take a child considered to be at serious risk to a place of safety
Section 13: The section of the Act which permits a District judge to make an Emergency Care Order
Section 17: The section of the Act which provides for the making of an Interim Care Order
Section 18: The section of the Act which provides for the making of a full Care Order
Section 19: The section of the Act which provides for the making of a Supervision Order
Section 27: The section of the Act providing for medical, psychological or other reports to be prepared to assist the court
Section 47: The section of the Act providing for the court to give directions to the HSE concerning specific measures to promote the welfare of the child, either on the court’s own initiative or following an application from another person, for example, the GAL.
See Child Care Act 1991 here http://www.mhcirl.ie/Service_User_Information/Child_Care_Act_1991.pdf