A judge in a provincial city made full Care Orders for six children for a seven month period in order to give the mother an opportunity to address a number of issues she was having with alcohol abuse and a range of other problems. The HSE was seeking to have the children kept in care until they reached 18 years of age. The mother had not seen her children for over four months because the HSE had suspended her supervised access due to her alleged violent and threatening behaviour.
She opposed the HSE’s application and said the children should either by returned to her or placed with foster carers who are members of her family, although the court was told these family members had not been approved by the HSE. The children are aged from 15 to four years and are currently in foster care. They have three fathers and two of the fathers were named in the proceedings and gave evidence at the four day hearing. The mother has two older children who were not involved in this case.
However, the judge said he wanted to give the mother an opportunity to address her behavioural and other issues and said he would review the matter in seven months. He indicated that he would then consider returning the three youngest children to their mother and he granted guardianship to the father of the youngest child, F, who is four years old.
The guardian ad litem (GAL), who supported the HSE application for full care orders, said child A, aged 15, was currently in foster care in another city and had settled in very well. Since moving to a different city, he had made significant progress in terms of his education and the GAL believed he should remain with his present foster carers until he completed his Junior Certificate examination. He was, however, homesick but increased access with his father and siblings had helped him. She recommended more contact with his father.
B is ten years old and was very happy in foster care but he was asking to see his mother. Child C is eight and she was very settled in foster care. She did not want to go home. Child D is aged six and he was asking to go home. He was not as settled as the other children and had issues with trust. The GAL described child E as a very remarkable child. He has language difficulties and she stated that he had disclosed a wide level of abuse at the hands of his mother. He does not want any contact with his mother. He is five years of age and is in foster care in the same family as his younger brother, child F, aged four. F sees his father regularly and the GAL described him as “a very settled happy boy”, who was doing very well.
The GAL said the mother would have to work harder at her relationship with the HSE which she described as “unworkable”. She had concerns about the emotional and psychological welfare of the children. She said the mother had attended some counselling and a parenting course but she agreed with the mother’s barrister that some of it should have been done while there was a supervision order in place. She believed the HSE had tried to engage and work with the mother but the mother didn’t have the capacity and her behaviour during supervised access had been destructive.
The mother’s barrister said she had not seen her children since May. The GAL said there had been no acceptance of responsibility on the mother’s part and there had been a history of previous concerns in relation to two older children who were not part of these proceedings.
The barrister for the father of the four older children said he was hopeful that in time the children would be returned to the mother’s full-time care. Apart from drink, she was an excellent parent. Alternatively he would like to have them. One of the reports before the court stated he had a very positive influence on their lives.
The father had lived with the mother for “eight or nine years” and he told the court that they had both been involved in incidents of domestic violence and that he had attended counselling. He said he had been warned by a doctor that his drinking was damaging his liver but he now only drank pints at weekends. He was asked about allegations that the children had tortured and ill-treated animals and he said he had seen the children throwing a cat on a number of occasions. “I’d say ‘don’t do that’ and she’d say ‘they’re my kids’,” he said.
The GAL said the father of child F, who is a foreign national, behaved very appropriately during supervised access. He was very easy to work with and was very amenable and co-operative. He was seeking a shorter care order for his son but the GAL believed that Care Orders should always be until the child was eighteen and they could always be rescinded. In this particular case, she believed that a Care Order would be a protective factor and the HSE could place child F at home with his father. She was concerned that the mother would undermine it as she still had “quite a bit of contact” with him and he should not be living in the same city if the child was placed with him.
The mother told her barrister that the HSE had provoked her during access which led to the access being withdrawn. She was concerned about the welfare of her children in foster care. She was asked about disclosures of alleged sexual abuse made by her daughter, C, which was alleged to have occurred in the family home before she was taken into care, and she said she would have noticed it if she was being abused. She had not seen her three youngest children for three months and it was almost nine months since she had seen the others.
She told her barrister that she was one of a family of 15 children. After her father died when she was nine her mother had treated her badly. She said she had attended AA meetings for a number of months, but did not see the point in going, and had done a parenting course. She told the court she now drinks on a Saturday to relax and said she could think more clearly when she drank.
Prior to the children being taken into care 18 months previously there was a Supervision Order in place and the mother said she got no support from the HSE during this time. She told the HSE’s barrister that she had suffered physical and emotional abuse from her partner. She agreed that two older children, who were not involved in this case, had previously asked to be taken into care.
She had sought better housing for herself and her children and although she had been promised that she would be given priority she was not given a new house. She denied she was an alcoholic or that alcohol played a part in her children being taken into care. She denied hitting E with a stick but had previously admitted it. “He was brought to the doctor but there were no marks on him. I wasn’t going to disagree with the child. I admitted I hit him even though I didn’t,” she said. She agreed with the HSE barrister that she had been advised to engage with the mental health services but had not done so as she felt there was nothing wrong with her.
A social worker with the HSE described her involvement with the mother, starting with the older children not involved in these proceedings. Child E said his mother had beaten him and a teacher noticed bruising. He was examined by a doctor who found bruising. The mother admitted grabbing and shaking him and felt remorseful afterwards. She said she had felt stressed as the weather was bad and the children were in the house.
The social worker said that in December 2011 she was informed that the mother was at home drunk and that the children were with her in the house. When she arrived there E and F were strapped very tightly in buggies close to the fire. The mother was drunk and incoherent and was drinking from a can.
The mother refused to contact any family member and said she would prefer if the children were in care. She shouted at child C and grabbed her under the chin telling her to “cop on”. E had an unlit cigarette and told the social worker to “fuck off”. A number of cats and a kitten were being thrown from one child to another. The father of the four older children came to the house and took the children to his apartment for the night.
On the following day the social worker returned to the house. The two youngest children were strapped into their buggies again and she reminded the mother that she was in breach of the Supervision Order. The mother said she was under stress and on medication.
Three months later the social worker said she had phoned the mother and her voice was slurred. When she arrived at the house, C and D were down the street and were very wet. The mother was very drunk and was speaking very loudly about child F being sexually abused. The HSE was granted an Emergency Care Order for the six children on the following day.
The court was told by the social worker that difficulties had arisen during supervised access with the mother. B was struggling with access with his mother. Among other incidents, he had asked her why had she hit him with a hurley. He became very distressed and had to go sick from school. He was now a very traumatised boy who does not want to see his mother. He had disclosed a lot of abuse and he wanted to take his father’s name.
The mother’s barrister asked the social worker about a report which had recommended intervention by the HSE at an early stage which might have prevented the necessity of Care Orders being made. She replied that it could only have been achieved with the cooperation of the mother. “I cannot say in my experience that (the mother) has cooperated with the HSE.” She tried to arrange a number of meetings with the mother but she was threatening and abusive towards her.
The judge expressed concern that no intervention had taken place despite a recommendation some months before the Emergency Care Order was made. “There was a recommendation that preventative measures be taken and it wasn’t acted on. This was to prevent them being taken into care in the future. Who made the decision not to intervene? Was it sheer negligence by the HSE?” he asked.
The social worker told the judge that the mother was offered family support but did not take it up and the HSE had been engaged with the family since April 2011. The social worker said she would have had a lot of sympathy for the mother. Her housing was a problem and the HSE wanted her to go to a GP. She was offered help.
The judge asked her how she would feel if the mother got off drink totally. She said there were mental health problems which the mother was refusing to address. The children had been physically and emotionally abused and possibly sexually abused. “We don’t know the full extent,” she said.
There had also been allegations of animals being killed and tortured. The children had been slapped and the father of the four oldest children had been drinking heavily. The children felt safe to talk during care and they were disclosing various things. The mother was drinking and aggressive and “the emotional abuse was horrendous”.
The judge asked: “If we could get her on the right track what would your view be of a Supervision Order for the children?” The social worker said she felt there was “no way you could go back. She denies everything.” She said the children’s needs could not be parked while the mother decided whether or not to seek help. The mother needed intensive psychotherapy and the children needed to know that they had stability. She could always come back to court at a later date.
The mother’s barrister said she had declined an offer of assessment by the HSE because she felt she had done enough. The judge asked the GAL for her view on returning the children to the mother under a Supervision Order in six or 12 months if “she gets herself right” and she replied it would be dependent on how access went.
The social worker said the HSE had made it very clear what needed to be done. “Unfortunately she hasn’t engaged with us. I need to know my workers are safe and they wouldn’t be safe outside our main building or in her house.” There had been chaos in her house with six children and there had been emotional and physical abuse. “I’d like her to engage”, she said.
The mother’s barrister told the judge that the mother felt threatened and cornered by the HSE. There were inadequacies in the way in which the file had been handled. This was a family which was dysfunctional in relation to a full-time father. She said a full Care Order until the children were 18 would destroy the mother’s relationship with the children.
“I think to give my client any hope and ensure what is best for the children there has to be some sort of hope by way of a careful reunification plan.”
A doctor with 35 years’ experience in general practise gave evidence of examining child E shortly before the children were taken into care. He was three years of age at the time and she noted “a very bruised child”. There were bruises at his nipples, back and neck. She also noted bruises under his scapula and left eye, upper thigh and higher up on his right thigh. “I never saw such a bruised child. I was very upset,” she said.
The child said he had been beaten with a stick by his mother. The doctor said that the mother wanted to be a good mother but she was not numerate and did not have coping skills. She said the mother had given back anti-depressants and beta-blockers which the doctor had prescribed saying she did not need them. Nothing seemed to have been done to help her within the family circle. She offered to arrange psychotherapy for the mother but she never came back to her.
“I think it would be morally wrong to give her back the children because she doesn’t have the coping skills. She might get them but it would take a long time. I have no doubt that she loves her children but they need a caring place in which to be,” she said.
The principal of the school which three of the children were attending described an incident where the mother entered one of the classrooms and verbally abused a teacher. She then went to his office and was “quite aggressive”. The teacher and children had been “quite shaken” by the incident. Since going into care the children had shown reduced levels of aggression in their dealings with other pupils. D was a far more caring child and child B was very relaxed. He said there was no doubt that foster care had been good for them.
A public health nurse described visiting D and E at home where she found them strapped into buggies and she said the mother was indifferent to the hazards involved. In answer to a question from the judge, she said the house was not adequate.
Another HSE social worker said access was suspended after the mother threatened to kill the social worker saying that she would say it was in self-defence.
In relation to allegations of physical abuse by the mother, C had marks on her arm and D said his mother stabbed him in the arm with a pen. He told her he had been kind to his brother E, when his mother had hit him with a hurley. A had also said his mother had been drinking.
This social worker had also supervised the father’s access with his four children and she said she had to intervene because of safety concerns. The social worker said the father of the four children had asked for an assessment of his suitability to have care of the children and it was recommended that his access to children B, C and D should remain supervised.
He had described the mother as a great mother and this was of concern to the HSE as he was aware of her behaviour. He had stated he was afraid of her and her family and the children would still be seeing her if they were in his care. She said he had not consumed alcohol during access and when asked by the judge if she would agree that he was a good parent, she said: “I agree he has protective factors.”
Another social worker who supervised the mother’s access replied “categorically no” when asked if she could cope if the three youngest children were returned to her. He said the system had failed the mother in that she herself would have benefited from care. She had a horrific childhood and did not have the coping methods and capacity to process that.
He said the children had benefited from being in care and he recommended that access should be on an individual basis with individual tasks for the parents. He told the judge: “If they don’t put down emotional roots, they will be before you in the criminal courts.”
“Didn’t the HSE give up on her early on and fail her?” her barrister asked. He replied that she had been offered family support and asked to nominate a GP. She had handed back her antidepressant tablets and said she did not have drink or mental health problems.
He told the barrister for the father of F he was very impressed with the way he was behaving although he had some concerns about his level of English and his proximity to the mother. He said a full Care Order until F was 18 was a security blanket that could be removed. “If he does the work he can apply to have it revoked. He has applied for guardianship.” The judge said: “I’ll grant that.”
An independent clinical psychologist give evidence that the mother had told her she had been subjected to physical abuse by her own mother and had been sexually abused by some of her siblings when she was aged nine to 14 years. The mother described incidents of domestic violence with the two fathers of the older children and said they had hit the children on a number of occasions. The psychologist wrote a report which made a number of recommendations for actions which the mother should take.
When the judge asked if she would consider it appropriate that the children be returned to the mother if she complied with her recommendations, the psychologist said it would be years before she could cope independently with the children in a full time capacity.
The social worker currently assigned to the family said the mother’s access was suspended because of concerns for the safety of the HSE staff and the welfare of the children. She denied a suggestion by the judge that it had been done to punish the mother. The judge asked if she was aware that the mother could not read or write and asked if the HSE would be willing to help the mother to try and comply with the recommendations of the clinical psychologist. “Absolutely, but she has to follow them through,” she said.
The judge asked for her view on returning the children to the mother if she complied with the recommendations and she said the work she had to do would take a few years. “The problem we have,” the judge said, “is if we leave the children in care she will lose the relationship with them.”
He remarked that the mother could not read or write and “the HSE are all university graduates. Why isn’t there lateral thinking? Why couldn’t access have been attempted in the park this summer?” he asked
“I think it’s absolutely disgraceful she has no access to her kids. You’re putting me in a corner where I will have to give the children back to their mother,” he said. The mother’s barrister suggested that the parties should try again to reach some agreement on access and the judge suggested that the parties should meet to attempt a compromise.
The judge said a common thread running through the case had been the love of the children. He was certain the fathers were good fathers and the mother was a good mother but she had her disadvantages. The HSE had put a huge amount of effort into the case. He made full care orders for all six children until 30th April 2014 when he would be prepared to review the position of the three youngest children. He wanted the mother to deal with the recommendations in the clinical psychologist’s report and if she did he would be “very supporting.”
He said: “I want to put pressure on the case. The three youngest children want their mother. I’m prepared to give her a chance with the three youngest. I think it’s in the best interests of the older three that they be in care.” He said there was no point in giving her back the children in five years’ time.
The judge also approved new access arrangements following discussions between the parties which would be reviewed after four weeks.