A full Care Order was granted in respect of two children who had suffered physical, emotional and medical neglect and inadequate supervision. A half-sibling was already in a long-term placement.
Neither parent attended court, though they were legally represented. They neither contested nor consented to the full Care Order.
The social worker told the court that she had had child protection and welfare concerns in respect of the boy when he came into care. There were poor levels of hygiene where he lived, no bedclothes on his bed, a smell of urine in the home, broken glass and beers cans on the floor, and the children were inappropriately clothed for the weather at the time.
The boy had a pre-occupation with food, he was afraid to let go of his lunch box when he started junior infants, he had poor speech and language skills for his age. The mother had had five accommodation moves in a six month period, resulting in a lack of stability and security for the children.
The children, then aged four, three and one, were found by a social worker unsupervised on the third floor of their homeless accommodation.
The social worker said that the children left their mother quite readily when taken into care, which was evidence of emotional neglect. They sought huge amounts of affection in their placements, and showed signs of a reactive attachment disorder.
At home they had been exposed to alcohol abuse and domestic violence, said the social worker. She did not believe the boy had had age-appropriate stimulation due to his poor speech, but she had no evidence of lack of toys. She did not carry out home visits but had been at supervised access.
When he came into care first the child had very little knowledge of food apart from sausages and chicken nuggets, said the social worker. He had woken a lot at night but now slept well. He had had undeveloped gross motor skills, such as not being able to put on his coat. He ate with his fingers and very quickly. He was now able to dress and shower with assistance.
A psychologist had assessed him and said he had a specific language impairment. He was not in need of speech and language therapy now (he had had therapy while in care) but a review would take place in three months.
The social worker told the court that when the child started junior infants he was defiant towards the teacher. He had thrown chairs around, pulled a scarf tightly around his teacher’s neck and refused at times to play in the school yard. He had thrown his bag around the classroom and the school felt he was a danger to himself and other children. However, he had recommenced junior infants the following September and made huge progress. He was gravitating to children that were well behaved.
The main behavioural indicators of neglect with regards to the child were bed wetting, delayed toilet training and hiding when people came to the house. He had also started to self-harm. He had become quite aggressive with his toys, he started to scream in his room and hit his head off the wall. He scraped his face on correction, bit his arm in a tantrum, boxed his own face, tied his dressing gown strap around his neck, tried to throw himself down the stairs. In more recent times, after a move to a new placement, this had calmed a lot.
He was now in a placement where he had one-to-one care with a stay-at-home parent and had responded well to a sense of security. He was treated by the foster family as their own child and they wanted to be his long-term foster carers. The psychiatrist continued to work with him. Sibling access was taking place.
The little girl had suffered similar neglect to her brother. Her speech was very delayed. Her hair was very matted and infested with lice when she came into care. She had had a lot of speech therapy and more was required, but she was off the critical list in that regard.
Their level of need was very high, they needed to be placed separately and have on-going support into the future.
The social worker said: “We need to prepare for disclosures.” Some disclosures had already been made to her. The father (X) of their half-sibling was top of their minds, they worried about their family being safe and not being hurt. The man was currently incarcerated.
The boy said he and his family were locked into a bathroom one day without food by X. He was put into a cold bath on another occasion. He was urinated upon. “X did something to us, we can’t tell because it’s a bold word,” he disclosed. X had punched one of them in the stomach. One of them saw their mother inject herself.
The social worker did not know where the mother was living. She had not had long-term accommodation at any point, said the social worker. There was drug and alcohol use but the extent of this was not ascertained.
The mother had done a detox programme and moved quickly into a rehab programme, she had stayed for a number of weeks and was doing very well, her self-care improved and she immersed herself more in access. Then she left rehab and began to miss access during which time she was seeing X. She missed two birthday accesses recently, the social worker said.
The social work assessment of her parenting capacity found she could not provide for her children even in the most basic of ways, she drank and used drugs, she could not commit to not seeing X, although she admitted he was a dangerous man. She had general learning difficulties, mild depression, and a history of a deprived and difficult childhood.
The father of the two children had presented at one of the interim care order extensions last summer but did not make contact again after that. Nor had he attended the two appointments to see the children.
The solicitor for the GAL said a long-term assessment should have been made with regards to the children’s foster placements in advance of the full Care Order hearing. The social worker responded she could not put a time-frame on it but she was very keen to have the assessment done as soon as possible.
The guardian said that X was used as a threat to the children to make them behave. The mother’s intellectual functioning was about age 11, she found getting two buses to access very difficult so the HSE had organised taxis for her.
The child protection concerns were around X, not the mother. He said because the mother moved so often, the children had no specific play areas in homeless hostels and the mother could not have brought a lot of toys with her, they watched a lot of television.
The children can present with behaviour difficulties when they’re together. The girl was doing better since her brother had left the placement, the foster carer was not dealing with him so there was much more time for her. However, she also found the loss of her brother from the placement very difficult.
The guardian told the court that the respective foster parents needed support work done to learn how to cope with the children’s difficult behaviours. The psychiatrist was working on the case now and knew the foster families, the children and the mother.
Sibling access was going to be very central to the children’s lives, said the guardian, this would include monthly access, holidays and special occasions. If their father could turn up for access a few times a year it would be important.
A full Care Order was granted.