Case studies: Emergency care order for three very young children
‘I saw three kids in a very dishevelled state. No one was present’
An emergency care order was granted for three children, all under the age of three, who had been left unattended in a flat.
A garda told the court that the landlord of a block of flats had contacted the gardaí to say the three were unattended in a flat. He went to the address.
“I saw three kids in a very dishevelled state,” he said. “No one was present. There was no light or heat, no electricity, no food. The baby was crying with hunger. The other kids were completely silent. They were in ‘onesies’ that were wet through with faeces and urine. Their hands were stone cold and they were quite unresponsive. The youngest had a top on and a full nappy. I felt I had no option but to invoke my powers under section 12 of the Act and take the children to a place of safety, because of the risks to the health and safety of each child.”
He said the flat was “Dickensian with squalor”. He brought the children to the nearest children’s hospital and informed the social worker there.
Later that evening a woman purporting to be the children’s mother presented herself to the Garda station. She said she was moving to secure accommodation the following week.
The social worker said she had been dealing with the family previously. She had made several attempts to contact the mother, who it appeared was now in another city. The father of at least two of the children had been identified. The mother possibly suffered from an intellectual disability.
The judge said he was satisfied there was sufficient evidence to make an emergency care order for eight days effectively ex parte .
He told the Health Service Executive to make as much effort as possible to contact the mother and get her to engage.
The case came up again a week later when the HSE sought an interim care order for the children. The social worker told the court she had been in contact with the mother, who was not in court. There had been a supervision order in place for the family.
The mother said she had left the children with two other people on the Saturday and that they were fed and clothed at the time. She agreed there was no electricity in the dwelling. When she got back to the house everything had been taken out of it.
She said she was supposed to move into special accommodation two weeks earlier and was waiting for this. The social worker said this did not add up in the context of what the guards had found. She thought the woman had cognitive difficulties, but she told the judge she did not yet have an advocate.
The judge said he was satisfied, in the light of the conditions in which the children had been found, that the threshold for an interim care order had been met and that the children should be placed in the care of the HSE.
Case study: 16-year-old asks to go into care
An interim care order was granted to the Health Service Executive for a 16-year-old girl, following an approach to the HSE by her school, at her request. This followed the granting of an emergency care order some days earlier.
The judge said he understood such an application was difficult for parents. “The State in all its might comes to court and says ‘We want to take your child into care’. We understand this can be very difficult. We try to assist as best we can,” the judge said.
The deputy principal of the girl’s school said the girl came to her attention when she was speaking to the school chaplain and her class tutor on a one-to-one basis. Her father came to the school and said he did not want his daughter speaking to anyone on a one-to-one basis.
Shortly before Christmas the girl came to her and said she wanted to discuss with her what her life was like at home. She said she was being treated very badly, being called names like “bitch, planker, stupid, dim-wit, dickhead, lazy shite, retard, moron, fat-ass, bird-brain” and her mother said she was a permanent accident and she wished she had never been born.
The deputy principal suggested she go away and write out the positive and negative things about home, which the girl did. She read out the results. Under the positive heading the girl wrote: “They’re my family and I love them. I don’t want to disappoint them.” Under the negative heading she wrote: “They’re constantly making me feel insecure, calling me names, telling me I was a permanent mistake and they wish I wasn’t born. I can’t continue to be somewhere I’m not happy. I feel that if I stay it might lead to something I will regret . . . I feel I’m going to end up depressed. I think I don’t want to be alive (which was underlined twice)”.
The deputy principal asked her if she would go to her parents and discuss it and she was very anxious about this. She then told her about the HSE and residential care, and told her how difficult this could be. The girl later returned with a diary. Sections of the diary were handed to the judge, who read them.
The father interjected: “We knew nothing about this diary. We did not read this diary. If we did it wouldn’t have gone this far.”
The deputy principal said she then contacted the HSE. She spoke to a social worker who came into the school some days later and spoke to the girl. The girl told her her father had come into her room and held her by the throat, pushing her against the wall. The social worker gave her an emergency phone number.
That night the girl left home at about 3.30am, and the following morning the father came to the school looking for her, very concerned. The deputy principal told him she did not know anything about her disappearance, and contacted the social services to say she was missing. The girl then rang the school, and she was brought to social services, and to a foster home.
The judge said the teacher had a role in loco parentis. “Children also have rights. They are not the property of their parents. They are independent social beings and independent legal beings.” He asked the deputy principal what was her response to the father’s objections to her talking to his daughter without him being present.
“I would have conversations with students about their concerns. Kids come in to me with all kinds of concerns. All of the allegations from [the girl] related to home, and I asked the opinion of the social services. We adopted the child protection guidelines in the school.”
She told the judge she was the deputy designated liaison officer under the child protection guidelines. “He’s asking why you did not consult him.”
“She’s 16, she’s quite articulate,” the teacher replied. “I asked her about speaking to her parents and she was extremely anxious and nervous about it. In most cases I would consult parents. But in this case I felt the child’s safety superseded parental consent.”
Not welcome home
After further exchanges, he said: “I’m leaving. You can decide anything you want to do with my daughter. We’ve been disrespected. She phoned that woman and not her mother to say she was all right. When she’s 18 she won’t be welcome home to her sisters and brothers.”
The judge said he might be referring an issue to the Garda Síochána for investigation. “I regret if you leave the court. If you stay and if you appeal you will be in a better position to advocate your case.”
“I feel no one has worked on our behalf,” the father said. “Now I am being accused of assault. If we called the child names, what person hasn’t?”
He agreed to sit down, but shortly afterwards left the court.
Another social worker said she had spoken with the father the morning after the girl ran away. She had a long conversation with him and he said his relationship with his daughter was different from that with his other children.
He felt she was obsessed with school. He said there was a happy family routine, but she ruined it by talking about school all the time.
The judge granted an interim care order for 28 days. “This is where the constitutional amendment comes to mind, where the voice of the child will have to be heard,” he said.
Case study: Interim Care Order for Roma children
An interim care order was granted for two Roma girls, despite the opposition of their mother. The District Court heard there was domestic violence in the home.
The social work department was also concerned about the children not having adequate food and heat. They had a good attendance record at school, but it was very concerned about their emotional state and what they witnessed at home.
There had been two instances where the older child had been admitted to hospital after taking her father’s medication. She said she wanted to take her own life. She was very concerned her father was going to take her to his country to be sold. She was also verbally abusive to her mother, and said her mother was weak.
The older girl also said she loved her father because he gave her money. She wanted her parents to live together again.
The social worker said she had an over-sexualised presentation for someone her age, and spoke casually about sex. Her GP was concerned about her sexualised presentation and her fixation on her weight. Recently the mother had revealed that up to the age of eight this girl had slept with her father and insisted on doing so, while the younger girl slept with the mother.
The outcome of the case conference was that the mother could not ensure the safety of the children. Despite extensive contact with all the services the mother continued to allow the father to return to the family home.
The mother had told them the father’s older son was in prison in his home country for involvement in child prostitution with children from orphanages. She said she was worried he was going to take her daughter to his country for prostitution.
The social work department was worried about both girls. The mother lacked awareness of the impact of witnessing domestic violence on the children. There was a lack of heating and food in the house. There was possible child sexual abuse of the older girl by her father, in the light of her sexualised presentation and the possibility of him taking her to his country. There was concern about her smoking and drinking and the fact she had been hospitalised twice for taking medication. There was no order other than an interim care order that could ensure their safety. Eight to 12 weeks were needed to assess the children’s needs and the parents’ capacity to meet them.
The solicitor for the mother said her client did not deny there had been domestic violence but she was resisting the interim care order because she thought the children should be with her.
The social worker said there had been extensive contact over six months with the mother, but she had failed to avail of the court’s domestic violence orders and she allowed the father back into the family home.
Asked where her partner was living now, she said he was waiting to go into hospital and was living at home until then. Asked would he be there if the children returned home, she said: “Yes. If he is guilty of more violence I can get an order. The guards will be there in two minutes.”
Asked about her concerns about her daughter’s relationship with her father, she said she took her to hospital because of a vaginal discharge, and they said it was just an infection. Asked about the father’s remark that he was going to sell her for €10,000, she said: “Sometimes he says things. I think he made a mistake with the words. He was just annoyed.”
Asked about whether she could protect her daughters, she said: “When you see children dress like that, smoking and drinking, it is hard to control yourself.” However, she said she never hit them.
The judge said she was satisfied there were ongoing issues of domestic violence and also issues relating to finances, food and heating. “I am also satisfied the HSE have taken steps to avoid this application, but those were not effective.”
She granted an interim care order on the basis of the exposure of the children to domestic violence and the neglect of the children, and ordered that each child should have a guardian ad litem with experience of Roma families so that their wishes and feelings could be known. There should also be access and support so that the children knew their parents were well.