Judge orders return of three children to mother who left UK following care order

Mother tells court she ‘panicked and fled’

A grieving mother who fled the UK to avoid a care order had her children returned to her by the Dublin District Family Court last night after a judge found taking them into care was “not proportionate”.

The children had been taken into care on an emergency basis by the Child and Family Agency days after they returned to Ireland and in co-operation with UK authorities. They sought an interim care order yesterday to keep the children with foster parents for a longer period pending full assessment.

Legislation came into force last month which allows limited reporting of childcare and family law cases for the first time.

Over a two-day hearing, Judge Brendan Toale heard the mother had been living in the UK with her three young children and an infant. She had been living apart from her husband for a time after a domestic violence incident, but had been attempting reconciliation.


The infant died and social services in the UK raised concerns about the family. The day after the infant’s funeral, they interviewed the parents and said the three children should live with their paternal grandparents and that their parents should not stay at the house.

No legal advice
The parents signed an agreement to abide by the conditions but did not get any legal advice. After a number of visits, the social services formed the view the parents were staying at the house and sought a care order.

In evidence, a UK social worker said they were concerned the domestic violence might recur, there were problems with one of the children’s teeth and the two schoolgoing children had an attendance record of only 85 per cent. They believed the mother had depression following the birth of one of her children and they thought alcohol abuse might be an issue.

The Child and Family Agency social worker told Judge Toale there were concerns the mother might leave the country before assessments could be done. There was a risk the children’s basic needs might not be met given the mother’s history.

Counsel for the mother said her client rarely drank. She asked whether the social worker thought it was normal for a mother to have a few drinks at Christmas with her family. “If you’re caring for children, no,” the social worker responded.

She accepted the child’s father was not in Ireland.

'Punched twice'
Giving evidence, the mother conceded her husband had "punched her twice" when he had been drinking. She did not press charges, but gave him "an ultimatum never to come back".

She was subsequently evicted from her council property because of a “benefit cap” in the UK. The children had missed school because of illness and attending a funeral, but were “always well kept”. Last November, her husband “wanted to make a go of it”, and they were together over Christmas, she said. She had been naive about the effect on children of seeing domestic violence, but now understood she did wrong and put “the children at risk”.

When the UK social services told her they were going to get a care order, she “panicked and fled” to Ireland.

Judge Toale said at best there was a risk of domestic violence if the parents were together, but it was clear the father was in the UK so the risk was low.

He said flight risk “was not and could never be a basis in itself” for making an interim care order, and evidence of other risks had not been provided.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist