A baby boy was just a day old when he was forcibly removed from his breastfeeding mother at a maternity hospital by gardaí and social workers on foot of an emergency District Court order, the High Court has heard.
The circumstances of the removal caused “huge trauma” to the mother, baby and the professionals involved, Pól Ó Murchú, solicitor for the mother, said in a sworn statement.
He was very concerned about the absence of a suitable protocol or guidelines by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency (CFA), in relation to the removal of a newborn child from their mother, especially in the "harrowing and very traumatic" circumstances of this case.
Sunniva McDonagh SC, for the mother, secured leave this week from Mr Justice Seamus Noonan for judicial review against the CFA over how emergency and interim care orders were recently made for the infant. The matter returns before the judge on Wednesday.
The mother claims the circumstances of the child’s removal breached the personal and family rights of herself and the baby and she was deprived of a right to be heard before the emergency order, which allowed for forcible removal of the child if necessary, was made with no notice to her.
It is also claimed the order was disproportionate and involved “poor childcare practice”.
The CFA sought the emergency order because social workers believed an “immediate and serious risk” to the child would be triggered as soon as the parents learned of the court proceedings.
That arose from the CFA’s previous involvement with the parents and their several other children, all subject of care orders. The concerns included domestic violence as the mother was seen with significant injuries, a chaotic lifestyle and the mother’s refusal to engage with social workers.
Missing for four days
In his affidavit, Mr Ó Murchú said no “extraordinary or compelling” reasons were advanced by the CFA to justify the emergency care order being sought and implemented as it was.
The District Court made the emergency order the day after the child’s birth and the child was removed by force under a District Court warrant. An interim care application was returned to three days after the birth.
When asked to act for the mother in opposing the interim order application, the solicitor said he was very concerned he had no time to familiarise himself with the case.
There was a long and complicated history of the CFA’s involvement with the family, he said. The mother told him she wanted the infant returned, especially as the establishment of breastfeeding was a positive benefit for the baby.
The District Court, for reasons including its view of an immediate risk to the child and because an emergency care order was in place, refused applications by Mr Ó Murchú and a lawyer for the father to adjourn the interim order application.
A social worker gave evidence of the history of serious concerns about the home situation, including lack of supervision and a “strong sense of spirituality” on the mother’s part. One child was missing for four days without gardai being notified and the mother also spoke of “demons” and her entitlement to beat the children.
The social worker said the life style was “quite chaotic” and the relationship between the parents was a risk factor. The mother had significant injuries, had been punched in the face, strangled and beaten but it was difficult to meaningfully engage with the parents about those matters and they were also inconsistent about attending access visits.
The social worker considered the parents continued to pose a risk.
A child protection unit Garda, one of three involved in the child’s removal, said she explained to the mother in hospital there was a court order for the child’s removal and had made every effort to persuade her to hand over the child but the mother was unwilling to do so.
The mother had a bible in one hand and the baby in the other, there was concern whether the child’s head was sufficiently supported and she and her colleagues were anxious to ensure the baby did not fall, the Garda said. An element of force was required to remove the child and she herself found the incident very distressing, the Garda said.
A social worker involved in the removal had confirmed, from the time of the child’s birth, there were no concerns about the mother’s management of the baby while a second social worker said it was considered there was a risk to the child if allowed to remain with the mother .
The mother testified she wanted the baby and all her children returned to her, was very upset by how the child was removed and would co-operate with social workers only if her baby was returned to her. She also said her husband was verbally but not physically abusive to her, she did not wish to be with him and wanted her own accommodation.
* This article was changed on November 14th to correct a factual error.