Man challenges Child and Family Agency investigation of wife’s care of children

Man criticises agency’s failure to return children to his custody, High Court hears

The agency considers it  an ‘impossible’ situation, as the children, currently with a foster family, refused to return to their father, the court heard. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

The agency considers it an ‘impossible’ situation, as the children, currently with a foster family, refused to return to their father, the court heard. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

 

A man is challenging the Child and Family Agency’s “flawed” investigation into complaints about his estranged wife’s care of their two children and its failure to return them to his custody having been refused an emergency care order (ECO) for them.

In High Court proceedings, he wants orders requiring the agency to re-open its investigation into his complaints over his wife’s care of the children, aged 12 and 13.

The court is further urged to overturn the agency’s “flawed” assessment and finding last November the man coercively controlled and abused his wife, which he strongly denies.

He claims his wife has been “actively alienating” the children against him for some time and she was required by a District Court order earlier this year to vacate the family home to allow him to move back to take care of the children, of whom he was granted primary custody.

The CFA considers it is in an “impossible” situation for reasons including the children, currently with a foster family, became distressed when it was sought to return them to their father and “steadfastly refused” to return, Mr Justice Charles Meenan was told on Wednesday.

An application by the CFA for an interim care order (ICO) for the children was due before the District Court later on Wednesday, the judge heard.

In court documents, the man said he volunteered the children into temporary care last week after they were reported distressed at school and refusing to come home. They had made complaints at school he had removed their mobile phones (which he claims were used for their mother to contact them in breach of a court order) from them about midnight some days earlier.

The man said he volunteered the children going into temporary care to avoid “a scene” at the school and in hope they would return home when matters had “cooled down”.

He claims, when he withdrew consent to their temporary care the following day, the agency sought an ECO, which the District Court refused late last Friday. It was agreed the children would be returned last Saturday morning but that had not happened, he says.

Having heard the ex parte application for leave to bring judicial review proceedings against the agency, Mr Justice Meenan said this was a “difficult and complicated” matter involving the custody of children, not helped by the fact that, following the agency’s failure to get an ECO last Friday, it was about to seek an ICO later on Wednesday.

The judge granted leave to Micheál P O’Higgins SC, for the father, to bring the judicial review proceedings and returned those to Friday.

While declining to put a stay on the ICO hearing, he said the District Judge dealing with that should be made aware of the judicial review proceedings.

Mr O’Higgins earlier said he had been requested by the CFA to outline considerable correspondence between it and the man’s solicitors in which, inter alia, the CFA said there was a different threshold for an ICO compared with an ECO. Counsel disputed any new evidence had emerged since last Friday warranting the ICO application.

In his proceedings, the man wants orders directing the CFA to conduct a fresh investigation, involving a different team of social workers, of a range of complaints by him dating from last year, detailed by him in correspondence last March, “concerning child protection and welfare concerns, to take account of new evidence, changed circumstances and events” that, he claims, corroborate his complaints about the continued care and custody of the children by their mother.

He also wants orders quashing the agency’s finding and assessment, communicated to him in November 2020, of no ongoing risk to the children from their mother.

It is claimed the agency’s investigation to date was “fundamentally flawed” and its failure to uphold the man’s complaints breached his family life and other rights.

Among various claims, it is alleged the agency was required to re-investigate having regard to new evidence from an independent family therapist who expressed his belief the children were not safe in their mother’s care and were displaying warning signs of parental alienation.