Munster abuse trial: Family support worker tells of encounters with parents

The witness described her visits with the family both scheduled and unscheduled in which she said she observed that the parents didn’t display much affection, praise or encouragement to the children
Munster abuse trial: Family support worker tells of encounters with parents

Sonya McLean and Fiona Ferguson

A family support worker has told a jury of her observations during visits to the home of children who were allegedly abused by their parents and other family members.

The witness described her visits with the family both scheduled and unscheduled in which she said she observed that the parents didn’t display much affection, praise or encouragement to the children.

She later made a referral in relation to her concerns about the children and prepared a report for a case conference. The trial has heard the children were taken into care in 2016.

The six family members, who can't be named for legal reasons, are accused of abusing three children between 2014 and 2016. The accused are the parents, aunts and uncles of the children. They range in ages from 27 to 56 and live in various locations in Munster.

The parents are also accused of neglecting five of their children. All of the accused have denied the charges against them.

The family support worker with a children's charity told Bernard Condon SC, prosecuting, that she was allocated the family’s case in October 2015.

She outlined that after initial visits, it had been decided to support the family with an afternoon routine in relation to homework and dinner.

Cuddle

In outlining her observations she said at one point their daughter sat close to the support worker and snuggled into her, but when the support worker suggested to the mother that the little girl may want a cuddle from her, she said the woman didn’t respond.

The witness described how on another occasion when two of the children placed their hands on their mother’s tummy, she pushed them away.

She described during one unscheduled visit that the home was chaotic. The children had biscuits and lollipops before, during and after dinner and homework was done on a dirty table. She said the toddler was climbing on couches and tables, and she had to prompt the mother to ask the child to get down.

She said she found the mother “was quite passive in her interactions with the children” and said she did not respond to the toddler’s tantrums.

Children's behaviour

“In managing the children’s behaviour they didn’t listen to her and moved on to do whatever they were doing,” the witness continued.

She outlined several interactions with the family, including one where during an outing at a local park and play centre the parents had to be prompted to supervise the children using the toilet and were unresponsive when one of the boys continually told her that he needed to go to the toilet while playing in a park.

At a further meeting in November 2015, she said she observed one of the younger children's nappies was full and hanging right down between his two legs, heavy and soiled. She said she was at least an hour into her observations at the house before it was changed.

She said on occasions while she was in another room a door would be locked with a parent alone with a child and she would hear whispering going on, but when she came into the room the conversation and tone would change.

Service meeting

The witness told Mr Condon that a service meeting was held and she shared her assessments. She said it was observed how chaotic the afternoons were in the home and it was decided to focus on an afternoon routine with the family in relation to homework and dinner.

She said the parents seemed to be open to working with the plan, but the mother tried to redirect the conversation and she had to ask her to listen to see if she understood.

She said at a visit in February 2016, the parents appeared to be struggling to manage the children and the routine and were highly critical of the children and aggressive in their interactions.

The witness said it was in and around this time she made a social work referral due to concerns about the children's physical and emotional well-being. She outlined her concerns to include the rough interactions, threatening behaviours, a lack of warmth, the living environment and cursing and foul language.

The witness said there was a case conference in March 2016 for which she prepared a report on the summary of service for the family and the focus on the afternoon program.

She agreed with Mr Condon that had been the end of her interaction with the family and the children were taken into care the following month.

The trial continues before Mr Justice Paul McDermott and a jury on Friday.

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