Supervision order adjourned as father fails to secure legal representation, interim care order extended for sibling

 In proceedings before the Dublin District Court, the Child and Family Agency brought proceedings in respect of two siblings, whose family was known to social services and was not Irish. The mother was suffering from serious addiction issue.

The Child and Family Agency (CFA) sought to extend an interim care order for a teenage boy, Child A, amid allegations of physical abuse by the father and because the teen was engaging in joy-riding. The CFA also informed the court they intended to make an application for a supervision order in relation to the younger sibling, a primary school aged girl, Child B.

The lawyer for the CFA informed the court that they intended to apply for a supervision order for this girl and wished to have a guardian ad litem (GAL) appointed for her. The father and the child were present in court, the father had discharged his legal representation and so was representing himself. The mother was not in court but a solicitor who had represented the mother in other proceedings was in attendance. He said he was waiting formal confirmation from the Legal Aid Board to be instructed in these proceedings. The judge asked the CFA and the father if they objected to him being present and neither did.

The judge asked why was the child in the courtroom and said she must wait outside. The father said: “No, it is important the child knows what is going on.”

The judge replied: “It is not appropriate that this child is in court and why is she not in school?”. The father replied it was a holiday from school and he had no-one else to care for her. The social worker who was present in court and was known to the child said she would sit outside with her. This was reluctantly accepted by the father.

The solicitor for the CFA said the social workers wished to have a GAL appointed for the child prior to the application for a supervision order, so that the wishes and the voice of the child could be heard in that application. The CFA recommended a GAL who had previously worked with the girl.

The judge asked the father if he had anything to say. The father said that the social workers had taken his other children and he wanted to appeal that. The judge said he would be entitled to legal representation and to go to the office and they would inform him of how to appeal. The judge asked what language the father spoke and if he understood the proceedings. The father replied he did understand but the judge said an interpreter would be organised for the hearing of the supervision order. The judge granted the CFA’s application to appoint a GAL for the child.

At a subsequent hearing a month later, the District Court extended an interim care order for the teenage boy amidst allegations of physical abuse by the father. The teen was also noted to be placing himself at significant risk by stealing cars. An application for a supervision order in respect of the teen’s younger sister was adjourned.

The solicitor for the CFA told the court that A had been in care for almost seven months following allegations by the teen that his father had been physically abusive towards him. The solicitor said B was still in her father’s care, but concerns had been raised for her safety and the supervision order was therefore warranted.

The mother’s solicitor said the mother was not present in court and could not be contacted, so he had no instructions in relation to either application.

The father was present in court, he was not consenting to either application. It was noted that he had continuously refused to engage with the CFA and had refused assistance with regards to obtaining legal representation, despite the CFA offering to obtain a private solicitor for him. The CFA solicitor said the matter had been adjourned on two prior occasions to facilitate the father in obtaining representation but he had failed to do so. An interpreter was present to assist the father.

The solicitor for the CFA said that without representation for the father the application for the supervision order in respect of B had to be adjourned, but that the extension in respect of A had to be proceed as it would otherwise expire.

The judge said he would adjourn the supervision order to a date later that month, in spite of the fact that the father advised he would not be in the country at that time. He said he was travelling to his home country to visit his family and that B was going with him. He said he did not have a return date as of yet. The judge said the matter would be listed for hearing in his absence as he had not provided sufficient information as to the relevant dates of travel.

The father confirmed that he was not consenting to the extension of the interim care order for A. The social worker gave evidence that A had been removed from his father’s care seven months previously and was currently in a private residential placement. She said the teen had made allegations to An Garda Siochana that his father had struck him with a plank of wood and had also struck him with a bicycle. The social worker said he had told his school the same thing and that the school had treated a wound. The father had denied the allegations and had refused to work with the CFA in any way. The social worker said A had not retracted any of the allegations to date, and that an investigation was ongoing.

The social worker said the other reason A had come into care was because he had been placing himself at considerable risk. He said A was “getting into a lot of trouble and stealing cars and joy-riding.” He said the CFA had attempted to discuss safety planning with the father as an alternative to care, and had organised a family welfare conference, but the father had failed to attend the conference and wanted nothing to do with the CFA.

Social worker: “[The father] initially made suggestions that he would lock [A] in his room with a bucket to keep him inside, but this was clearly not appropriate.”

The social worker said A had recently moved placement and was no longer residing in Dublin. He said there had been multiple incidents of absconsion when he was living in Dublin as he was still close to his friends. The social worker said A was “not thrilled” in his current placement, but that his level of absconsion had reduced significantly since moving there.

The witness went on to describe two recent incidents of concern. On one occasion he said A stole a staff member’s car “and drove all the way to Dublin.” He said he was subsequently arrested by An Garda Siochana and thankfully had not caused any injury to any other person. He said A had been charged in this regard and a court date was awaited.

It was noted that A continued to attend prevention therapy which he loved. It was positive that A had been “opening up to his therapist in respect of his childhood experiences.” The social worker said A had not missed one session.

The witness was asked whether access was taking place. He said that for a long time A did not wish to see his father, but that eventually he changed his mind because he wanted to see B. An access plan was put in place and a recent supervised access had taken place and had gone well. A further access had been organised after that and train tickets had been purchased for the father in order to facilitate him as much as possible, but he failed to show up.

It was noted that the mother was suffering from serious addiction and had been generally difficult to engage. She had a social worker in a drug treatment clinic she had been attending, but there had been little to no update in relation to her progress in a number of months. The witness had been advised by the social worker that she was “not in a good place.” The witness said A really wanted to see his mother and that positive phone access had recently taken place. He said it was hoped further phone access might occur.

In cross-examination the father suggested that A wanted to return home to him. He said that any time A absconded from his placement, he always came straight back to his house. He said A also wanted to go on holidays with him. He said he was extremely worried that A had been able to leave his placement with ease and steal cars. He said A would eventually “kill someone.”

The GAL gave evidence that he had met with A last week and his clear wish was to remain in care, with a preference to have more access with his sister. He said A was aware this would mean he would also have to have more access with his father, which he was not happy about.

The GAL said his main concern was A’s propensity to escape and steal cars. He said this was very serious and that the father was correct in saying that A “could very well kill or injure someone eventually.” He said that when confronted about his behaviours, A said “he didn’t really have a choice as the keys were just there.”

The GAL said focused work needed to be carried out with A in relation to “this need he feels he has to steal cars.” He said he was not certain the correct interventions were being put in place currently.

Judge: “Have you engaged with the CFA in respect of these particular interventions you think are necessary?”

GAL: “I spoke to Probation locally to get contact details of some local support services, but I am certain that unless we manage to tackle this in a specific way, I do think this behaviour will continue and will escalate… I think that if we have this aspect under control then we can have a good result… These are very specific offences, they are not varied or multiple in nature so really it’s about targeting this aspect in particular.”

The GAL suggested that practical activities would be beneficial, particularly where A could use his hands. It was noted that A was considering an apprenticeship in mechanics and that this would be beneficial.

Having heard the evidence, the judge said he was satisfied to extend the ICO in respect of A. He said it was clear the father loved his son very much and was worried about him, but that he needed to reconsider his position in relation to the CFA and start engaging with them.

The supervision order in respect of B was adjourned to a further date.