Gardaí objected to return of Roma child due to ‘flight risk’

District Court told child appeared to be registered under two different names

Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan who is investigating the  circumstances of the Garda and social services’ handling of the case, and a similar case in the midlands.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan who is investigating the circumstances of the Garda and social services’ handling of the case, and a similar case in the midlands. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Mon, Dec 16, 2013, 23:12

Gardaí and social services objected to a blonde-haired Roma girl being returned to her family due to concerns over her real identity and because they feared she was a “flight risk”.

Details of the case - which attracted international headlines last October - are contained in the latest report of the Child Law Reporting Project, which examines childcare proceedings which typically take place in private.

The fair-haired, blue-eyed seven year old was later returned to her family after DNA tests proved she was biologically related to her parents.

The child law report contains new details heard in court regarding the handling of the case by both gardaí and social services.

It states that concerns over the child’s identity were first made to gardaí by an Estonian woman, who reported that a local Roma family had a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes.

A garda told the District Court that after making inquiries at the girl’s home, the child appeared to be registered under two different names in official documents.

Further inquiries at Dublin’s Coombe hospital - where her parents said she was born - did not yield a record of her birth, though later checks showed they did, in fact, have a record.

The garda told the court he also spoke to a consultant at a children’s hospital who said it would be “highly unlikely” that a child of Roma ethnicity would have blond hair and blue eyes.

The garda added that he believed she was a flight risk given that children in the Roma community often lived apart from their parents.

The child was taken into foster care by gardaí using emergency powers available under the Child Care Act and. A total of nine gardaí were involved in the operation.

The report also states that the child’s parents were prepared to have a DNA test carried out on their daughter and had offered the chid’s passport, on the basis that she not be taken away from the family.

The garda, however, said that handing in a passport would not prevent the family travelling to the UK.

A social worker with the HSE said authorities had a responsibility to act on foot of the Garda report and agreed with the Garda that there was a flight risk.

The social worker confirmed there had been child welfare concerns regarding other children in the family in the past which had been resolved, however, these were separate issues.

She said the girl at the centre of the case was scared when she had met her first and became upset at being taken away from her family, before settling down.

The child’s mother said she presented a passport with her child’s photo to the gardaí and pointed out that her youngest son also had blue eyes .

The child’s father added that he was prepared to have social workers drop in to their home at any time to make sure their daughter was with them while DNA tests were being carried out.

The parents’ barrister said way the case had been handled were signs of a “draconian jurisdiction” where a phone call could lead to a child being removed from her parents.

“When you analyse the evidence of the case, it comes down to the claim she doesn’t look like the rest of the family and she can’t return home because Roma are mobile and the Garda doesn’t believe the parents can be trusted,” the parents’ barrister said.

The parents later consented to their child remaining in foster care for another night to allow for DNA tests to be completed.

The following day, they confirmed that the child was related to her parents.

The judge agreed to lift the in camera rule on a request from the family that they be allowed to issue a statement to the media, in the interests of balance.

This case, and one involving a Roma child from the midlands who was taken into care in similar circumstances, are being investigated by the Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan.

The childcare law project was established last year to examine and report on childcare proceedings which are typically held in private.

The case is one of a number published today as part of the Child Care Law Reporting Project.

Directed by Dr Carol Coulter, the project receives funding from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, as well as philanthropic funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation.

The themes of alcohol and drug abuse feature prominently in the latest volume of cases, as do conflicts between parents and the HSE over matters like access.

Emotional abuse and how parenting capacity is assessed are also key themes, along with reviews of existing orders where the courts examine certain aspects of the care being given the children in question.

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