AT THE END of September last year, there were 6,329 children in care in Ireland.
In each case before the court, a judge had to issue a care order, ruling that the State was taking the appropriate course of action.
Later, the same judges are asked to rule on whether the children should return home to their parents, or remain in care.
Previously, all such court hearings were in camera (private) and the media could not attend. That rule was changed so a light could be shone on proceedings, and society could be made aware of the issues that the court deals with in relation to family breakdowns, children in care, and domestic violence.
Having done so on a number of occasions last year, TheJournal.ie spent another two days in the family courts recently to report on the nature of the cases that come before it. In the second of this four-part series, Tusla has come to court seeking to place the children of a family into care.
A SUPERVISION ORDER was granted by the courts late last year in respect of a family with young children.
That care order allows the local authority the legal power to monitor the children’s needs and progress in their lives at home, where a social worker will advise, help and befriend the children.
Last week, such were the ongoing concerns of the Child and Family Agency Tusla that it sought the court to grant an interim care order which would see the children taken away from the parents and placed in care.
The uncooperative parents, and their attitude to their social worker, had created further concerns about the welfare of the children in their care, according to Tusla.
The lengthy case concluded with the judge ruling that the children should stay with their parents for the time being, but that a number of issues needed to be urgently addressed to ensure the safety and welfare of the children going forward.
Giving evidence to the court, the family’s social worker said that the family had a long history of dealing with child services and that there were numerous concerns surrounding substance abuse and domestic violence in the home.
Since the supervision order was granted allowing the social worker to visit periodically, she said that there would be a “tense situation” every time she visited the home.
She said that the father engaged in passive aggressive behaviour towards her with both parents unwilling to let the social worker speak to the children alone.
The father would rarely speak to her directly, or acknowledge that she was even in the house, she said.
This atmosphere soured the relationship between the social worker and the older child, she said. This child had originally appeared warm and friendly towards her early on in the process, but there had been a “huge change” in this regard.
The child now looks dejected when I come to the house.
On another occasion, she said that the father told her that she had “no right” to pick the children up from school or bring them to McDonald’s when that proposal was put to him.
The situation got heated on a number of occasions in front of the children as well, the social worker told the court.
She said that the agency had tried multiple avenues with this family, and said that they hadn’t complied with the previous supervision order.
“We need a decision to be made one way or another,” she said. “I know it’s not comfortable to work with a social worker who’s pursuing this.”
She concluded by saying that taking the children into care for an interim period would be in their best interests.
A difficult situation
Counsel for the parents countered that it was perfectly understandable that the parents would not be welcoming when the agency wants to take their children away.
They said that there had been no additional concerns around the children’s welfare and safety since the original supervision order and the agency’s suspicion that some things may be going unreported doesn’t mean that there are such negative things still occurring in the home.
“This family is under a lot of scrutiny,” the court heard.
The social worker was also challenged on her legal right to meet the children alone, to which she repeatedly insisted that it would be beneficial for the children that she does so.
Giving evidence earlier, the children’s guardian ad litem – the court-appointed guardian to give children a voice in court – said that several meetings had taken place with the children in recent weeks which left the impression that they were polite and mannerly.
The parents’ engagement with the guardian had been very positive, the court heard.
However, the guardian said that he could not provide an opinion on whether the children should be placed into care.
Having been the second guardian to be appointed to the children, and only taking on the role recently, there had not been sufficient time to form an opinion on that as of yet.
Also, the guardian did not have access to the full Tusla file on the family and therefore could not put essential context into what was being witnessed during these visits and said that gaining access to the full file could allow a comprehensive opinion to be given.
I’m trying to assess the experience of this family, but I’m only getting a snapshot of what’s going on.
Counsel for the family also argued that access to the full file was essential for them, so as to understand the reasoning behind why Tusla wanted to take the children into care.
Stay where they are
The social worker had made a number of recommendations for the children going forward, and these were accepted by the judge and the family, also.
They included that the children attend all necessary medical and dental appointments, they attend some form of youth group outside of school and, perhaps most importantly, that the social worker can see the children separately and on their own outside the home once a week.
When the parents agreed to these measures, the judge determined that while the supervision order would persist until later this year, the children could stay at home with their parents for now.
“This court doesn’t operate on worries or concerns,” the judge said. “It operates on facts.
It is an extremely Draconian act to take children away from their family.
Having heard all of the evidence over a period of weeks, the judge found that it was likely that the eldest child had been threatened on one occasion by the father.
The judge also found that the father had adopted a “defensive strategy in dealing with social workers” that was “inappropriate”.
It was also pointed out that the mother’s assertion that she did not suffer from domestic violence was at odds with the evidence of the social worker.
Despite this, however, the judge ruled that if the parents cooperated with these measures, it would not be in the children’s best interests to take them away at this time.
I’m not satisfied it would be appropriate or necessary to take them away.
Addressing the parents regarding the social worker, the judge said that she is “doing her job, and must be allowed to do that”.
This depends on their “openness, cooperation and engagement”, the judge added before concluding: “I’m relying on you”.
Comments have been closed for legal reasons