A Care Order was made by a district court judge in a rural town for a young child whose mother had herself been in care and who, the court was told, had a mental age of under eight years. The mother was no longer in care as she was now over 18 years but, because of her mental incapacity, she continued to have a guardian ad litem (GAL). Her child also had a GAL.
The court was told that the father of the child, who is a foreign national, continued to have a sexual relationship with the mother and had claimed he was unaware that she had a mental disability. A Garda gave evidence that the mother had alleged she was raped by a foreign national four years ago when she was living at home. The allegation was fully investigated and the mother and the foreign national were interviewed. A file was sent to the DPP who directed that no prosecution be taken.
The mother was a minor and it was at that stage that the gardai became very much aware of her circumstances and of her diminished responsibilities. Because of her mental disability, the mother had been interviewed by a specialist child interviewer who would usually be used to interview children.
The Garda said that during a routine Garda road traffic check, the mother had been found in a car with two foreign nationals, one of whom was the father of the child. Because the gardai were aware of the mother’s circumstances, they took her home. On another occasion, the gardai found the mother in bed during a search of a house. The child’s father was also in the house and the gardai again called her parents. The Garda subsequently received notification from the CFA that the mother was pregnant.
She was over 18 at this stage and the question had arisen as to whether or not unlawful sexual intercourse with a person of diminished responsibility had taken place. Even though she was now an adult, the mother was interviewed by child specialist interviewers. The gardai sought reports from the disability section of the HSE and a psychologist’s report was sent with the files to the DPP who directed no prosecution.
The Garda confirmed the mother had gone missing and that they were looking for her when they found her in the house. There had been a history of a relationship with the father of the child for a number of years.
When the judge asked what was the mother’s IQ, the solicitor for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said she understood she had a mentality of an eight year old.
A social worker gave evidence that a number of years previously, the mother’s mother (the young child’s grandmother) had told gardai her daughter had gone in a car with two men and she said she had sex with both of them. She alleged one of the men she had sex with in the car was the parent of a child in the special school which she was attending. A case conference was arranged by the HSE to put a child protection plan in place. The mother was under age at the time and there were concerns that the parents were unable to provide the care and protection which she needed. The mother had little capacity to protect herself and she was vulnerable to abuse.
“The parents never accepted any of the concerns I presented,” the social worker said. “The mother maintained she was never left unsupervised, despite reports that she was. They didn’t accept her learning disability.” A Garda had seen her approaching cars in a local town and he expressed his concerns to the parents. The mother had said these people were her friends.
The parents were having difficulty with accommodation and the view of the HSE was that their daughter, the mother of the child in this case, needed to be placed in a specialised unit. The parents were told that an Emergency Care Order would be sought if they did not agree to it.
An anonymous call was received that she had been beaten up by her boyfriend and her school reported she had attended with a black eye which she said had been caused by the father of the child.
When the judge asked why there had been no prosecutions, given that the mother had an IQ of an eight year old and was having sexual contact with males while she was under age, the CFA solicitor told him a complaint had been made to the gardai and a file had gone to the DPP, who had recommended that there be no prosecution.
“Why was that?” the judge asked. The CFA solicitor said it was due to insufficient evidence and the social worker said the complaint was very difficult to assess due to the mother’s mental incapacity.
The court was told that the mother of the child had been moved to a placement but was removed a month later by her parents against the advice of the HSE. The following day, the HSE sought an Emergency Care Order and the mother was placed in a different unit. The HSE were very happy with the care which she was getting there. The parents removed her from the unit when she became 18 even though the HSE’s view and the view of the judge at the time was that she should remain in the unit.
The social worker told the court that a clinical psychologist had carried out a psychological assessment of the mother. His report assessed her functioning ability at lower than that of an eight year old, with a mild to moderate learning disability. She had been severely damaged by the abuse she had suffered. There had been no parental supervision during episodes of sexual abuse and the parents had been unwilling or unable to protect her from the nastiest members of her community. There was strong evidence she had been exploited in the worst possible way and she had been schooled to minimise references to sexual abuse. She was an extremely vulnerable teenager who required protection and she would not remain safe if she was at home.
When the judge remarked that it was clear the mother should be in a secure unit, the CFA solicitor told the judge she had been in one but the parents took her out. The social worker said the mother would not stay in it.
Judge: “It’s quite obvious she shouldn’t be out and about.”
When the judge asked how could the problem be dealt with, the CFA solicitor said the only option might be to make an application to the High Court to make her a Ward of Court.
Judge: “It appears to me the family have totally neglected her. She is under the age of eight in IQ and I don’t think she should be consulted. This young girl was around the town from the age of about 12 and it takes until she is 17 to look for a Care Order.”
The mother’s barrister told the judge she had been voluntarily in care in a unit but was take out by her parents because they were getting calls from her to say someone in the centre was cutting herself and they consented for her to be placed in a different centre.
Another social worker gave evidence of having done an assessment of the mother’s suitability to care for her daughter. She said the maternity staff reported she went to see the baby once with the father when he visited. The social worker said the mother lacked basic skills to provide a stable environment for her. She described her functional ability as “even lower than an eight year old.” She had told her she would not be able to look after the baby if she got sick and that her mother would have to look after her.
She said she and her mother always fought. She was unable to give the name of the baby and said it was written on a piece of paper. The social worker said the father had contacted the social work department and said he could take care of the baby and her mother.
Shortly after her birth, an Emergency Care Order had been made and the infant had been placed with foster carers. The CFA was opposed to the return of the child to her mother as she was unable to look after herself. There were concerns if the child was returned to the mother’s parents as they lacked insight and had demonstrated an inability to care for the mother when she was a child. The father of the child was unaware of the mother’s limitations.
The social worker said a letter from the mother’s GP stated she was incapable of caring for the child. The mother now wanted her parents to care for the child but the social worker said the CFA concerns were that the parents had failed to care for the mother due to the levels of physical violence in the home.
The mother’s barrister said the CFA should have assisted the mother in bonding with her child when she was in hospital and when the judge asked the social worker what help had been given the social worker said she had been given access to her child in hospital and the nursing staff had been available to help her. The barrister said the CFA should have given her some help in order to bond with her child and should have been able to assess if she was able to care for her. The CFA solicitor said it was the nursing staff who monitored the child.
Another social worker assessed the father’s parents as possible foster parents and she gave evidence that she met with them on four occasions. They told her they thought that one meeting would be sufficient and said they were fed up and sick with the process. She said she believed they had a very limited understanding of what was involved and she informed them at the final meeting that their understanding of the role of foster parents was too limited and she would not be recommending them.
“Their lifestyle is transient. My overall conclusion is they showed a marked reluctance to engage with me and showed a limited understanding of what would be expected of them as foster parents. They struggled to understand what would be expected of them as foster carers compared with grandparents”, she said.
The main social worker assigned to the young child told the court the mother had said she wanted her parents to care for the infant but he had concerns about that. The father had also said he wanted to care for her but the gardai were concerned about the nature of his relationship with the mother and were conducting their own investigation.
The social worker said he had supervised the mother’s access and she had been very anxious with the infant from the beginning, finding it difficult to hold, feed and change her. The grandmother had attended access from the beginning but she was not giving her daughter equal opportunity with the baby and was not allowing her to bond with the child. The mother was eventually given her own access. The father also had weekly access.
After the DPP had directed no prosecution of the father, the social worker carried out a formal assessment of his suitability to care for his daughter. He appeared to have little or no understanding as to why there should be concerns about the mother’s capacity. He loved his daughter and had always indicated he wanted to care for her full-time. He said the child’s mother was contacting him by phone and that his family was looking for a 5-bedroom house to cater for them all including the baby.
The social worker said the father came to this country when he was 17 and he said he had properties in his home country and used to work on the family farm. The baby had been in foster care for over a year and her primary attachment was now with her carer. The father had missed a number of access visits due to work and the child was reaching out more to her mother than her father in access.
The father’s relationship with the mother commenced when she was a minor. He said her parents never told him about her disability or that she was in care. He said he had no relationship now with her or her family. The social worker said the father did not have an insight into her lack of capacity. The mother and her parents said he contacted her regularly and that this contact has caused her great distress. The father claimed that the mother was initiating the calls. This negative relationship between the families, said the social worker, would have a bad effect on the child. The father did not believe he had abused the mother and he said the relationship developed with the support of her family. He believed he could look after the baby and said he would never have a relationship with the mother’s parents.
The social worker said he showed a lack of understanding of his child’s growing needs and would not be able to meet her developing emotional needs but it was important the child continued to have a relationship with him. He had shown photographs of the mother with him in his house despite saying he had no contact with her. The social worker said he believed the child should remain in the care of the CFA under a full Care Order.
The mother’s barrister told the court her client wanted her child returned to her and her parents’ care. She was getting more confident with her baby even though she only saw her once a week. When the judge asked the social worker if he would approve of the mother’s parents as foster carers he replied: “No.” The barrister asked him if a more in depth assessment should have been carried out and he replied that, from their interactions with the family over the years it was not considered necessary to conduct an assessment. The mother’s barrister said there seemed to be a dismissal of the mother as no assessment of her suitability had been done.
Judge: “[The mother] is an eight year old child in the body of a woman.”
Barrister: “Her wishes should have been considered in more depth. She hasn’t been given the same assessment.”
The CFA solicitor said it was apparent from the reports that the mother was not capable. “She receives huge support in the supervised access. When you see the track record of the parents in relation to her own safety, it would not be appropriate. The parents were not able to care for their own daughter. They refused to keep her in a safe place when there was funding available and they removed her for their own reasons.”
When the barrister pointed out that two assessments – of fostering and parenting – had been done on the father and his parents, the judge asked the CFA solicitor if she was satisfied the two families had been treated equally. She said she was. The CFA already had a huge amount of information about the mother but they did not know anything about the father and his family.
“I’m perfectly happy that natural justice was served,” the judge said.
The father’s barrister claimed the CFA had been prejudiced against her client. There had been no recommendations made to him regarding family reunification or recommendations that he do parenting courses. “It’s simply been a case of ‘you’re not able to take care of the child’. I don’t believe the threshold has been met,” she said.
The mother’s GAL said she was appointed to put forward her views and she told the court that the mother had been extremely distressed about not having her baby. Gradually, over time, those symptoms had abated and she was much calmer now. She told her that she likes the father but knows she needs to have a different man in her life. She was an open and honest girl who sometimes said maybe it would be better for her daughter to be in care. Relations between the two families were very acrimonious and there should be mediation. The judge asked her if she felt the father had sexually exploited the mother. The GAL said the mother had told her the relationship went back to before she went into care. “She feels it’s a good sexual relationship. I don’t think she has the capacity to make those calls.”
The GAL said it was very hard for the mother and grandmother to accept advice as they wanted the baby home. The father had been quite open that he continued to see the mother. It was sad that she and her mother had not availed of the help that was available to them. “They want to believe they can do it themselves. That’s not unusual,” she said.
The GAL said the mother told her during a break in the hearing that she had sex with the father twice recently.
His father (the child’s grandfather) also gave evidence that he knew the mother for two years and her parents never told him that she had a learning difficulty. He had been friends with her parents before the child was taken into care. He never saw his son assault the mother. She stayed in his house and slept with his son. She came at weekends with her parents and sometimes her mother dropped her off or picked her up from his house. “She was like part of the family.” He said he was aware that the guards had removed her from a car she was travelling in with his son and a male friend and he had no idea why that had happened.
He said the guards had searched his house sometime later and the mother was in bed in the house at the time in his son’s bed. He said her parents had dropped her off there and were due to pick her up from there. Asked why he thought the police had raided his house, he suggested they might have been looking for stolen goods in the area. He did not know why the guards took the girl from the house and he did not ask them why they were taking her away.
The court also heard how on another occasion the mother of the child stayed in his house for a few days on the occasion of a party. He picked her up from her parents’ house. Her parents were there, he was speaking to them and they knew where she was going. They were told any time she was going to stay in his house so that they knew she would be safe. Asked if he was aware she was a vulnerable woman, he replied: “Never.”
The child’s GAL said she could not see her living with her mother and grandmother. The father had continually asserted he was not aware of her vulnerability and he continued to have a relationship with her. He now believed he had explicit permission from the gardai to continue the relationship. The facilitation of her relationship was not safe. It was not an equal relationship and was not in her interests. The father could not now assert he was not aware of her disability now that it had come up in court.
Asked by the judge if she believed her parents were facilitating the relationship, the GAL said they were not protecting her from it. She said there was huge ongoing animosity between the two families. She said she would be very worried about the emotional well being of the child if she was in the care of either parent.
The judge said he was seriously concerned about the relationship between the father and mother and said it had to be stopped. “Certainly her parents are at best ill-advised or negligent. I’m gravely concerned about this relationship.” The judge asked the GAL for her view of seeking to have the mother made a ward of court and she thought it should be explored. She said the view of the court needed to be put very strongly to the mother’s parents.
The judge said the relationship was totally inappropriate and the father’s barrister said that she would speak with the parents.
When the hearing resumed two days later, the father gave an undertaking to the court that he would no longer have a relationship with the mother.
The judge said that, having heard the evidence in what was a difficult and emotional case, he was making a Care Order for the child until the age of 18. The judge also granted guardianship to the father having been told by their solicitor that the application was being supported by the CFA.