Sunday 18 August 2019

Questions raised over ability of courts to deal with complex cases of children in care

Stock picture
Stock picture
A judge has questioned the adequacy of the District Court to deal with complex cases of children in care. (Stock photo)
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A judge has raised concerns about the ability of the Irish court system to deal with complex child care cases.

The judge's comments were included  among 20 published today by the Child Care Law Reporting Project, an initiative launched in 2013 after the law was changed to allow reporting on cases involving orders under the Child Care Act.

In one case an emergency care order was made for a baby who suffered a non-accidental injury, which his dad admitted happened after he threw the child on a bed.

The child's mother agreed to the order.

Gardaí were called after the baby was brought to hospital.

Scans showed it had suffered a subdural haematoma, a collection of blood outside the brain commonly caused by trauma to the head.

A court heard the father, who was minding the child when the injury was sustained, gave several versions of events to hospital staff. These included that the baby had a seizure and that it had fallen off the bed.

However, he later admitted to a nurse that he had thrown the child onto the bed.

The man informed gardaí and produced himself at a Garda station but has since fled the country.

Abuse

In another worrying case, a judge has questioned the adequacy of the District Court to deal with complex cases of children in care.

He was speaking after it took 68 days of hearings over two-and-a-half years for a decision to be reached on care orders for five children.

The children were initially taken into care as a result of neglect, but when in care allegations of sexual abuse also emerged.

Details of the case are among 20 published today by the Child Care Law Reporting Project, an initiative launched in 2013 after the law was changed to allow reporting on cases involving orders under the Child Care Act.

Reporting restrictions mean the identity of the judge and where they were sitting has not been disclosed.

The judge said the length of the proceedings raised "serious questions about whether the District Court has the rules and procedures in place to handle such complex cases".

He said neighbouring countries had much better procedures and Irish courts tended to move quite slowly.

Several interim care orders were given in the case before it was ultimately ordered that the children, all under the age of eight, be taken into care for their own welfare until they are 18.

There was also evidence heard from several witnesses, including social workers, psychologists, paediatricians, foster carers and neuroscientists.

It emerged during the case that the mother of the children was herself the victim of incest and sexual abuse since the age of five. Both parents had mental impairments.

Tusla, the child and family agency, and the HSE had been in contact with the family for several years as the mother had given birth to her first child at the age of 16 while she was herself in care.

The project has also detailed a case where two children, who had been placed in care, made "serious allegations of rape, physical abuse and emotional abuse against a relative" but gardai did not begin interviewing one of them for 17 months after they were referred to the relevant services.

 

Irish Independent

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