Court action by mother scuppered intervention

 

The real tragedy for the children in this seriously dysfunctional family is that a loving couple closely related by blood and affection was willing to care for them

IN HIS victim impact statement the victim in this case made specific reference to his aunt and uncle, saying they had “been very good to me and the rest of our family all our lives. As far as I am concerned they are my parents.”

The question that this trial raises, along with the trial last year of the boy’s mother for incest with another son and neglect of all her six children, is why these children had not been in the care of their aunt and uncle many years ago. They had repeatedly sought to bring the conditions in which this boy and his siblings were living to the attention of the authorities. Their first expression of concern was shortly after the boy’s birth in 1989.

There were intermittent attempts on the part of the health board to assist the family, with home helps coming in a few times a week, and the involvement of social workers.

Eventually, in September 2000, when the eldest boy was 11, the health board got the mother to agree to a joint parenting arrangement with the aunt and uncle, whereby they would be heavily involved in the children’s welfare. This would have ensured that the children were properly looked after, while they would have remained in close contact with their parents.

Two things intervened to prevent this. The mother, with the assistance of what has been described in court as a “right-wing Catholic organisation”, went to the High Court in October 2000 seeking an injunction to prevent the health board from removing the children from her care.

She was not legally represented, yet her affidavit grounding her application argued cogently why the children should remain in her care. In this affidavit she stated that she was forced by the health board to enter the co-parenting agreement, and did not do so voluntarily. She said she had “a good marriage”.

None of those involved in assisting her with this application has come forward to explain their actions.

Her application was made without notice to the health board, and was granted. The health board did not immediately return to the High Court to have it vacated, as it could have, explaining the basis for its plan, and the court’s decision remained in effect until May the following year. Despite the fact that the health board considered intervention necessary in 2000, no care order was sought after the vacating of the High Court order in May 2001.

Almost exactly at the time the order was vacated, the father started abusing his son. In addition, as emerged during his trial, he forced the boy to make false allegations against the uncle. In his victim impact statement the son said he had been made to do this “so that would not be able to get custody of me and the rest of my family”.

Last January the mother was convicted, following a guilty plea, of incest with one of her sons on dates in 2004 and to neglect of all the children and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. The court heard how the children were filthy and malnourished, with lice crawling down their faces in school.

It was only in the autumn of 2004, when other instances of abuse came to light, that the health board intervened to take all the children into care.

The Health Service Executive inquiry into what happened to allow this family fall through the net of social care will be completed in the coming weeks. But one thing is clear – this was not a case, as has happened elsewhere, where suitable residential care could not be found for troubled children.

The choice for these children was, on the one hand, between a deeply dysfunctional family where the father had an alcohol problem and the mother was involved in prostitution, where the children were obviously seriously neglected and where abuse could reasonably be suspected, and, on the other, a loving family closely related to them by blood and affection which was willing and able to look after them. Yet they were not permitted to do so.

Arrangements were made that would have allowed this to happen in 2000. This was scuppered by the High Court application, which was not contested by the health board for seven months, and even afterwards no further effective action was taken. Meanwhile, the father moved to insure against further action by forcing his son to make the false allegation.

No serious opposition seems to have been mounted to this offensive by the parents, which coincided with the father beginning to sexually abuse his son. Soon his wife followed with the sexual abuse of another son.

None of this would have happened if the children had been in the care of their uncle and aunt from 2000.