An application for a Supervision Order in a District Court in a provincial city was adjourned pending a High Court challenge to the application.
The parents of the three children, two of pre-school age and the third who had just started school, were originally from outside the jurisdiction. They were opposing the Supervision Order.
The solicitor for the Child and Family Agency told the court that there had been a recommendation that a Supervision Order would be sought if there was no cooperation from the parents. Great progress had been made and an agreement reached and signed.
However, when social workers from the CFA went to implement the agreement [by carrying out an assessment] they were faced with filming by camera phone and they did not want to carry it out under these conditions. They offered a note-taker from the CFA, but this offer was not taken up and now they were back to square one.
The parents’ barrister said that unlawful conduct had occurred and the CFA was in breach of its own regulations concerning a child protection conference.
Judge: “There are High Court proceedings. What is the position today?” Parents’ barrister: “Exactly the same. We have asked for a child protection conference where they apply their own criteria. We want an adjournment.”
Judge: “And if there is a risk to these children in the meantime?” CFA solicitor: “According to the law on child protection conferences, there is no requirement to have a child protection conference in order to bring an application for a Supervision Order. The previous application was struck out because of the agreement. In relation to the High Court application, Tusla head office in Dublin is dealing with that.” Judge: “I’m going to hear the evidence. But the fact that there are High Court proceedings may influence my decision.”
CFA solicitor: “What is of concern to the CFA is that lawyers and law are getting in the way of the children.” He called his first witness, a social worker.
She told the court that the first knowledge the CFA had of the parents was when they presented voluntarily to the agency before their last baby was born. They had been involved with social services in the UK. The CFA wanted to carry out an assessment. When the mother went into hospital pregnant the hospital referred her to the CFA as the parents were not following advice. There was a child protection conference. The parents were invited to attend and they did. There was a plan for assessment, play therapy etc for the children.
Asked if there was any incident giving rise to concern, she said not to her knowledge.
Assessments were to take place. Then the CFA was contacted by the school principal, who was concerned that the oldest child was not settling in. The child said a friend of his parents was staying in the house and sleeping in his room. In April and May cooperation was not forth-coming from the parents and in July it was decided to look for a Supervision Order.
The CFA had told the court that it did not want to bring the application, but was forced to bring it because there was no cooperation.
The application was adjourned and a meeting took place with the parents. The content of the proceedings was explained and questions answered. A document was signed. But the assessment did not go ahead.
CFA solicitor: “What do you require? If [the father and mother] engaged there might be no basis for concerns at all?”
Social worker: “Yes.”
CFA solicitor: “Was it your view that before there was any mention of High Court proceedings there was going to be cooperation? How long a piece of work is the assessment if they engaged? If you could periodically visit the children in their home would that be sufficient?”
Social worker: “It would be common practice to meet the children at home and in school.
We would prefer if it was carried out without a court order. We would prefer not to be video-recorded when we are doing our job.”
The parents’ barrister said that another social worker had contacted the parents the day after the birth of their third child. There were six or eight visits between that and the child protection conference in January. She asked the social worker if she was aware of policy and procedure surrounding child protection conferences.
Judge: “Where are you going with this?”
Parents’ barrister: “I am just asking her in general the basis of thinking these children are at risk.”
Social worker: “I can’t say, because I have not had an opportunity to find out.” Parent’s barrister: “We are here today because the child protection conference came to the conclusion the children are at risk of emotional abuse and the baby of medical neglect.” Social worker: “Yes.”
The parents’ barrister said that the reason the children were said to be at risk was that there were a number of referrals. One of them was based on the fact that the mother had used “reasonable physical chastisement as a last resort” and that was her lawful entitlement.
“One of the reasons for considering a risk is that the parents state they feel they are legally entitled to use reasonable physical chastisement as a last resort,” she said. “The school principal, the doctor, the public health nurse and church members all said they had no concerns whatsoever. The principal said the child she was concerned about is now settling in well and his reading age is ahead of his peers. The father has also engaged his own psychologist to carry out an assessment. He [the psychologist] came to the child protection conference with a 56-page report and said he had no concerns whatsoever about the children.
“We are saying there is no risk at all. We shouldn’t even be here. What was the risk?” Judge: “These people presented voluntarily to social services for assessment. This witness has quite openly said she does not know what the concerns were and wants to go in there and see. There are no validated concerns before the court. The main concern is your clients’ refusal to engage. When someone does not engage there is a natural reaction. I don’t think there is a lot to be gained by going into [the history of] the child protection conference.” Barrister: “My objection is that the CFA should do certain procedural things. The Supreme Court has said that even though there is a lower threshold for a Supervision Order there needs to be evidence to bring the application. They should have applied their own criteria and they didn’t.”
Judge: “I’m not going to decide on that if it’s sitting up in the High Court. I’m concerned about the immediate risk to these children and the man living in the house.” The barrister said that the referrals were only hearsay, except where the mother said it was acceptable to use physical chastisement and this was a social work issue in the UK. The public health nurse had seen children and had no concerns. “Do you believe if you get a Supervision Order you can force an assessment on parents? Are you aware a Supervision Order only permits you to visit children in their home, it does not permit you to do an assessment?”
Social worker: “Yes.”
Asked if she had investigated the friend staying in the parents’ house, she said she did not.
The judge said he was going to adjourn the case as it was inextricably linked to the High Court case. “I felt I was obliged to hear the evidence of the CFA about the level of concern they had. I have considered if the children are at immediate risk or in danger. The concerns are legitimate. The behaviour of the parents is inexplicable. They present voluntarily. They agree to participate. They seek to record. They then withdraw. It’s very bizarre. Their behaviour has raised suspicions.
“I am not going to grant a Supervision Order today. If I made a Supervision Order it would probably be appealed anyway.”