Litany of neglect at home spanning 15 years

THE family became known to the Western Health Board from 1989.

1989 to 1995

THE family became known to the Western Health Board from 1989.

The Public Health Nursing Service become involved with the family following the birth of their first child after a neighbour reported the parents’ alcohol consumption; and alcohol being given to the baby. A nurse visits and finds the baby pale and irritable.

A relative was concerned about the baby’s severe untreated nappy rash. The social work file detailing this period is missing, meaning it is not possible to determine what action, if any, was taken.

In 1990, the nurse visited as Mrs A has just given birth. She told the inquiry Mrs A told her some days later that she had drunk 11 vodkas the evening before the birth and had not realised that she was in labour. The inquiry team finds the file note makes no reference to the alcohol consumption.

In 1993, a member of the public complained about neglect of the children to Public Health Nursing. In these years, the home management advisor told the inquiry Mrs A spent a great deal of money on alcohol at times.

1996 to July 2000

BY 1996 there were four children in the family including a newborn baby. The PHN records show ongoing issues about the hygiene of the new baby. A social worker visited the family in May 1996 and described the family home as “very stark, cold and bleak.”

The social worker said the level of alcohol being consumed by both parents was “problematic”.

The first case conference of the health board professionals involved with the family took place in November 1996. It was the first of 11 over the next eight years.

Among the significant issues raised were an uncertainty that the children were being adequately fed, concern that both parents were drinking to excess; and that the family money was being spent on alcohol rather than food.

The report said: “The house and environment constitutes a situation of neglect… I feel the children are suffering as a result of their (parents) bad management.”

The minutes of the meeting showed the parents were to be informed that an application for a supervision order “may be considered an option for the WHB”.

In December 1996, a home management advisor recorded that the parents were resisting spending money on food and were purchasing significant amounts of alcohol when brought shopping by her.

In February 1997, a locum PHN reported finding no food prepared for the children coming in from school, the baby’s clothing being soiled and dermatitis evident on the baby’s head and neck.

Two new concerns emerged in February 1998. A fire-setting incident by one child and a young child being sent to the town, one and a half miles away, to collect shopping (including alcohol).

In early September, the Area Medical Officer (AMO) visited the home in response to concerns by the nurse about the baby. A neighbour advised the AMO that she was concerned the parents were drinking heavily. The officer saw the child and described hygiene as “poor”. The AMO wrote to a senior social worker suggesting that the Social Work Department might put in more support.

A social worker visited in November following the birth of last child and recorded there were no problems. Later that day, another neighbour spoke to the Social Work Department alleging the children were out in very cold weather with very little clothing.

On January 8, 1999, a social worker visited the family who made the report six weeks earlier.

This family outlined what they had seen: the children not being properly clothed and, specifically, that an older child was pushing the buggy past their house while the baby was “freezing”.

They also told the social worker, that they heard from others, that Mrs A was involved in (inappropriate behaviour) and that the children were in cars with her when she was travelling to and from that activity. The inquiry team found no record of a visit being made to the A family to discuss the serious issues raised.

Between February 1999 and May 1999, no social worker was allocated to family A.

In June 1999, a caller phoned the main Social Work office to say that Mr and Mrs A were in the local pub all day every Friday. When a social worker visited, Mrs A said, the previous week, she drank so much that she blacked out and could not remember what happened. Relatives reported that on that day the eldest child, then aged 10, was left babysitting the five younger children ranging in age from nine years to 10 months.

In February 2000, a relative provided very detailed information including a lack of heating in the home, no cooked food, children not getting a hot meal, a smell from the children’s bedroom with piles of clothes thrown on beds, the parents drinking heavily, the children being taken to pubs frequently, Mrs A being engaged in (inappropriate behaviour and in the manner in which she travelled there placing her children at risk), the oldest child being made to get up early to care for the baby, and the children being sent to bed around 6.30 each day. A social worker put the allegations to Mrs A who denied each point.

2000 to 2002

IN August 2000, relatives again reported concerns about the children. On a visit, a social worker was given access to all the rooms.

He said: “Going around the place, it was just squalor. It was just horrible… there was just filth everywhere, no proper bedding… the smell was overpowering”.

He put this to Mrs A and said he would be back in three days at which point there was some improvement. Mrs A told the inquiry team the parents orchestrated the visits of various professionals by confining them to the living room as much as possible.

On October 10, 2000, health board professionals met with Mr and Mrs A to present the proposed shared parenting schedule.

It was pointed out to the parents that while this proposal was voluntary, the WHB would, if necessary, apply for care orders for all six children because of the level of concern they now had.

While the parents initially said they would cooperate, they then claimed they were being forced to sign up to it and secured a High Court injunction preventing it as they felt they were adequately looking after their children.

A child care worker called in November 2001 and was told by the parents that one of their children had been sexually abused by a person outside the home. That was investigated and found to be entirely without foundation.

2003 to 2004

IN July 2003, a social worker received a call from the social worker in a local hospital. She said that the same child had been referred by the family’s new GP, with a query of sexual abuse, following a presentation to him of bleeding and abdominal pain. The child was referred to a regional hospital for more specialist examination.

In May 2004, the parents visited a home help to say that one of the children had talked about behaviour of a sexual nature.

In mid-2004, one child requested they be received into the care of the WHB and this was agreed.

A social worker recorded that the child who had told of the (behaviour of a sexual nature talked about earlier) was admitted to hospital with stomach pains.

In September 2004, allegations were made by one of the children concerning physical and sexual assault by Mr A.

On October 1, 2004, the child who had first spoken of the inappropriate sexual behaviour was again admitted to the regional hospital. A referral requested that a urine sample be checked. A paediatrician raised concerns that the sample, brought from the home, had been contaminated.

On October 11, 2004, the remaining five children were taken into the care of the WHB based on the information provided by the child who was already in care.

On October 12, Mr A was interviewed by the social worker. He was later interviewed by the gardaí and again denied all allegations. Interim Care Orders were granted in respect of all six children on October 2004.

On November 16, 2004, the Interim Care Orders were extended, with parental consent, for a further six months.

Both parents have been before the courts and both have been convicted. During their trials, the mother admitted sleeping with one of her sons on four occasions, beginning when he was 13. Another son told how his father began abusing him when he was 12.


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