Woman receives suspended sentence after taking heroin with child present

Child found shivering, surrounded by needles in cabin at derelict house, court told

A woman whose three-year-old son was taken into care after he was found surrounded by needles and shivering with the cold in a cabin at the back of a derelict house as she took heroin has received a nine-month suspended sentence.

At a sitting of Cork District Court Judge Colm Roberts said that the child could have been electrocuted or died from hypothermia only for the intervention of "excellent" gardaí.

The gardaí had invoked their power under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 to take the child in to care.

His sibling, who was not present, was also taken in to care.

Judge Roberts said he wasn't in any way condemning Tusla for their interactions with the family. However, he emphasised lessons could be learned from the case which he stressed had several red flags.

The court previously heard that child neglect in the case had been deemed proven.

The woman had contested the case amid unsubstantiated claims that she had asked Tusla to take her children in to care.

Garda Judith Notley told the court that she found the boy with his mother and the mother's partner, who was not his father, in a cabin at the back of a derelict house in Cork on November 24th, 2017.

She said the cabin had no electricity, heating or running water and was surrounded by rubbish and builders’ rubble. She stated the child had no shoes and socks on his feet and was wearing very light clothes.

He was shivering and his pants were soiled. Garda Notley noted that there was water spurting on to open wires in the cabin. Tinfoil and needles were found around the cabin.

Tusla

Representatives of Tusla attended the hearing of the case on Monday and refuted any suggestion that the woman had asked the agency to take her children from her.

However, the agency accepted that in hindsight they could have done more for the woman.

The court heard that Tusla saw the woman and her children in the August before the incident. There was no sign of drug activity and the children seemed well cared for and content.

Tusla acknowledged that a case conference wasn’t held in relation to the woman from August 2017 until the incident in November of that year.

Efforts had been made to make appointments with her but she kept cancelling and they found it hard to get hold of her.

The court heard that the woman and her two children had been given accommodation by the State at hostels and hotels.

The woman had claimed she told Tusla that she was living in a car and wanted her children taken from her. Tusla denied this conversation had occurred.

They conducted four “home” visits with the woman prior to the incident and at all times the children seemed happy and well minded.

In June 2017 family members of the woman made calls to Tusla about her being on heroin but she denied using it when asked by the agency.

Tusla said they would never refuse to help a person who asked for their child to be taken in to care. They stressed that every effort is made to work with families in order to keep children out of the care system.

Joseph Cuddigan, defence solicitor, said his client was a drug addict who was "drowning" in difficulties at the time of the offence.

He said that whilst he wasn’t in any way attacking Tusla, the signs of heroin use are obvious with rapid weight loss and quick deterioration.

He emphasised that he felt that the children of his client should have been more on the radar of social services given her years of difficulties.

The woman is currently not living with her children, who are in the care of the State. She hopes to be reunited with them.

She is not currently using drugs and is due to go in to residential drug treatment.

Mr Cuddigan said the gardaí who put the child into care were “unsung heroes” who prevented a tragedy from occurring.

Judge Roberts said that whilst he didn’t expect Tusla “to be perfect” or “not make mistakes”, “certain systemic failures” occurred.

He insisted the child could have been electrocuted or suffered from hypothermia only for the intervention of the State.

Addressing Tusla representatives he said that the case must have given them pause for thought.

“When you saw the pictures [of the child] did you not say ‘we obviously missed something?’ It is not a case study on how best to do things. The social worker should have done more.”

Judge Roberts said with the background of domestic violence, drug use and homelessness more monitoring should have been done of the family.

However, he said this wasn’t absolving the mother of her responsibilities and her duty of care to the child.

Judge Roberts stated that it spoke volumes that the mother and her partner had been allocated money for accommodation in Cork but were keeping it to make trips to Dublin to buy more heroin.

He accepted that she was remorseful for her behaviour and endeavouring to get her life back on track.

He jailed her for nine months, suspending the entirety of the sentence for two years. The woman will engage and be monitored by the probation service in the interim. Mental health and drug supports will be offered to her.

In December of last year the woman had contested a charge of child neglect taken against her.

At that time she thanked the gardaí for taking her children in to care.

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