A judge in a provincial city granted a Supervision Order in respect of three children although he said that he believed the grounds had been reached for an Interim Care Order. Both parents were represented by the Legal Aid Board and both had mental health difficulties, according to a social worker in the case. The children had been in care on foot of a voluntary arrangement but had been returned to their parents’ care.
A social worker said she was “quite worried about mother’s presentation” as she had a significant injury to her face which she could not explain and had not sought medical attention. There was a concern that the mother being exposed to domestic violence and was not taking ay measures to protect herself or her children.
There were also concerns about marks on the children’s bodies. The parents had initially denied that there were any marks on the children but then agreed to bring them to see a doctor. The social worker said that she had seen some small marks on the children and some marks on the mother too. She said she asked the mother about the marks and the mother had denied the existence of an injury. The social worker said that the existence of marks on the children and mother combined with denials of these was concerning. She said that she could not say definitively what it was but it was indicative of domestic violence.
The children’s father had said that the mother had threatened to harm herself and that he had called the Gardaí. The social worker said that the mother had been angry that the father had called the Gardaí and that she demanded that the father leave the family home, which he did for three days. The social worker said that the father and mother had histories of mental health difficulties but the father’s approach to taking care of his mental health was inconsistent. She also said that he had been arrested in the social work department because he became aggressive.
The CFA solicitor said that it was clear that this family needed help and asked the social worker what assistance had been offered to the parents. The social worker said that if the father stuck to a consistent approach about his mental health he could avail of a counsellor. She said that it was hoped that he was addressing his anger management but he was at times unable to control himself, unable to cope and “gets very angry and it gets on top of him”
In relation to the mother, the social worker said that she had advised the mother to talk to her GP about her self-harming but said she did not know if the mother had followed her advice. The social worker also said that the mother appeared to have a cognitive disability which seemed to impede her ability to have insight into her relationships with her children.
The judge asked the social worker whether the mother had been co-operative despite her difficulties and the social worker replied that she had. The judge asked the social worker whether she believed that the children’s health, development or welfare had been significantly impaired. The social worker replied that the mother appeared to struggle to meet the children’s needs and “their circumstances are difficult and they are struggling.” The judge asked whether it was likely that the children’s health, development or welfare would be likely to be avoidably impaired or neglected (if they were to remain at home) and the social worker confirmed that she believed that to be the case. She said that the parents needed a lot of help and that there were communication difficulties whereby the father refused to speak to Focus Ireland (which was offering services to the parents).
The social worker said that there was a pattern in which the parents disengaged when they felt threatened. She said that if the parents disengaged with services that were currently being offered to them she did not know how they would support their children. She added, in relation to the mother’s self harm, that it appeared to be a release from emotional difficulty and the worry was that there was an impulsive aspect to it that could potentially result in serious harm or death.
The mother’s solicitor pointed out that no assessment had been done on the mother and asked the social worker whether she could recall why there had been no assessment. The social worker said that it was known that the mother had a moderate learning disability. The social worker said that an assessment is “an on-going thing”. The mother’s solicitor pointed out that a cognitive assessment should be a key part of the information that would inform the social work team so that they would be aware of what level of services the mother could engage with.
The social worker said: “We do the parenting capacity assessment, look at parenting ability … the cognitive component isn’t always a requirement from a social work point of view.” The social worker said that she felt that she had a good handle on the parents’ personalities. She said she had an open and frank conversation with them and did not think there had been a great challenge in terms of their interaction (with social services).
In relation to the incident where the Gardaí had been called, the mother’s solicitor pointed out that that the Gardaí had asked the mother to come with them but did not appear to have a great concern about her and that she was free to go whenever she wanted. They did not call a GP or think it appropriate to bring her to a psychiatric unit.
The social worker said that she had spoken to the parents at length and that they feared that an Interim Care Order would be granted. The social worker said that she had explained to the parents that no matter what happened (in relation to the care proceedings) it was not the end of the road and that the social work department were committed to working with the parents. She said “the parents have work to do and the children are living in an environment where they cannot be minded. It would be great if they could address the issues and the children can be removed.”
The father’s solicitor asked the social worker whether the father had contacted the social work department as he said that he had contacted them asking for a meeting to address issues that needed improvement prior to the issuing of proceedings for the Interim Care Order. He said that he was aware that there were problems and was looking for ways to address these problems. The social worker said that the father had spoken to her on the telephone and did not ask to meet her but in fact had threatened her. The social worker said that she had challenged him in relation to his lack of action in relation to his anger and said that she had been talking to the father in relation to what he might want to do and that he has never agreed that anger is a problem for him. The father’s solicitor said that the father had agreed that he would seek treatment in relation to his anger and would attend an organisation called Men Ending Domestic Abuse (MEND).
The father’s solicitor said that the parents are “only now getting the help they need” and suggested that it might be more appropriate for the court to grant a Supervision Order. The social worker accepted that the parents were starting to address their difficulties, but she said her view was “until they are well into that process they are in a difficult spot.” The solicitor said that considering there was a commitment from both parents to do everything they could, a Supervision Order would be more appropriate. The CFA solicitor pointed out that the father had not addressed his difficulties. The judge asked the social worker whether the parents would continue to have difficulties no matter what their level of co-operation and the social worker said that they would.
The father’s solicitor said that the parents wanted to reassure the court that they would take any necessary steps in order for a Supervision Order to be granted (in place of an Interim Care Order).
The mother said that if a Supervision Order was to be granted her door would always be open.
The mother told the court that marks on the one of the children’s bodies had been caused by a slip in the shower and that she had brought the child in question to the doctor and had explained this. The judge said to the mother that, in the future if there was any violence in the home it would not be not helpful to the children not to report the violence and that (reporting any violence) would be how the mother could help her children.
The father gave evidence and was asked by his solicitor whether he had previously said that domestic violence is a matter between a man and his wife. The father said that he had said that but does not believe it. The father said that he had been going to a support group once a week and that he had looked on the internet for a course on domestic violence and anger management.
He said that he had been beaten seven days a week as a child and the reason he had missed some classes recently was that he thought his children were going to be taken into care and he wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. The father said that he had seen a psychiatrist on various occasions over the last number of years and that he attended various support services which kept him away from drugs and alcohol. The father said that his younger siblings were in care and he had not seen them for 13 or 14 years.
The CFA solicitor said that it was acknowledged that the father had a difficult upbringing and said that it was clear that he needed help. The CFA solicitor asked the father did he know why they were seeking to take the children into care and he replied: “The domestic violence and all that.” The solicitor asked the father whether he could understand that domestic violence has a huge impact on children and that the father was suffering from what had happened him (as a child) and that he was repeating his childhood. The father said that it was not too late and when he left court he would be making a phone call to MEND. The judge said that if he continued with his (violent) behaviour his children would be taken into care.
The judge, in summarising the evidence, said that the social worker had given evidence in a balanced way. The judge said that it appeared that the children had been returned to their parents’ care because the parents had threatened to revoke their consent to a voluntary care arrangement. He said he got the feeling that the CFA then perhaps felt that they had made a mistake.
The judge observed that initially when the children had been taken into care there were concerns of homelessness and domestic violence but that the homelessness problem was not an issue any more as the parents were residing in accommodation provided by Focus Ireland, though there was a question as to the longevity of this placement. He also said that there was a history of domestic violence on the part of the father and of the mother denying such violence.
The judge pointed out that the mother had a learning difficulty and that he felt sorry for her and that she had done some parenting courses but that it was hard for her “to come up to the mark”. He also said that it was a matter of concern that, although it had been acknowledged that the mother had a cognitive difficulty, she had not been offered an assessment as an adult and, although the CFA had issues with the mother’s parenting she had not been offered counselling up until now. In relation to the father the judge said that he had issues relating to anger management and violence but that he was making efforts to deal with these and had attended meetings and a psychiatrist.
The judge said that there were serious issues in relation to the care of the children and that he was satisfied that there were grounds for the making of an Interim Care Order but that he was also satisfied that there was a great deal of genuine commitment and desire on the part of the parents to improve their situation so it may not be necessary or appropriate to make such an order and it may be appropriate for the children to be visited. The judge, granting a Supervision Order for six months, said that it would be desirable for a cognitive assessment of the mother to take place and that the parents should co-operate fully with the social work department.