Belfast Telegraph

'Damaged' girl (13) can be separated from her mother and moved from Northern Ireland

By Alan Erwin

An isolated girl effectively shut off from the outside world can be separated from her mother and moved from Northern Ireland, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice O'Hara approved sending the 13-year-old to live in the Republic in a bid to undo severe damage he said went far beyond never having been to school.

With no equivalent services north of the border, he granted a health trust's application for the girl - identified only as S - to stay at a specialist centre in Co Dublin for seriously troubled children.

His verdict was reached after hearing evidence of the teenager's unconventional and austere upbringing, bereft of any real friends and entirely tutored by her mother at their home close to Belfast.

Detailing further issues about the girl's appearance and state of the house, along with episodes of extreme, hysterical behaviour and a relationship with her 49-year-old mother he described as being well outside merely unusual, the judge said: "She needs urgent specialised and intense intervention."

In a newly published ruling Mr Justice O'Hara also expressed surprise that statutory agencies had not shown a real interest in the child's educational and domestic arrangements years sooner.

"There should have been checks to ensure that S was in fact being schooled and to an acceptable level. These seem not to have taken place."

Both the mother, referred to as M, and her daughter opposed the trust's application, which came after it obtained a series of interim care orders.

Although originally from Northern Ireland, the court heard how M had lived for periods in the UK, Europe and United States.

She was said to have been impressed by California's free spiritual life and returned home having developed friendships with people who shared her thinking, dress style and general approach.

Having split up from S' father, she moved with her daughter to a small town near Belfast and decided to teach the girl at home.

Despite acknowledging M's devotion to her child , Mr Justice O'Hara pointed out: "They are completely enmeshed with each other to the effective exclusion of the outside world."

Police were contacted last December after neighbours reported the girl screaming and behaving strangely at her home.

Social workers who then visited the property had to use a torch because there were no overhead lights upstairs, the court heard.

They found the door to S' bedroom off its hinges and that she slept on a small thin foam mattress on the floor.

"The descriptions of their home suggest a Spartan existence without luxuries or treats," commented the judge.

Concerns were raised at that stage about the girl's appearance: she was so small that she sat on a booster seat in a kitchen chair.

"She looked much younger than a girl close to her 13th birthday and her clothes were too small, her skin was pale and her hair was matted and greasy," Mr Justice O'Hara added.

The pair's isolation was said to have been compounded by financial limitations which made it difficult for them to even travel into Belfast.

Unlike almost every other child of her age S has no real friends while her mother is without proper support.

Although the girl has been assessed as having above average intelligence, an educational psychologist identified notable gaps in her learning, social and emotional development.

During one episode she threw a bottle of water around a social worker and insisted she would not be made to go to see a doctor.

In a subsequent visit about a cold the GP noted both mother and daughter appeared to be unwashed and smelly, the court heard.

They responded that it was a lifestyle choice before S refused to be examined in any way - a stance supported by M.

In February this year police found the girl extremely cold and walking along a busy road towards Belfast.

Angered at their intervention, she accused officers of having beaten and pinned her down.

Bouts of screaming and aggression were detailed over which M appeared to have little or no control.

At one stage the mother was recorded as having said she felt "created a monster".

She had placated a child who had been her confidante for years and now tries to negotiate because she feels authoritarian parenting no longer works, it was claimed.

After the first care order was made the mother and daughter were referred to a family centre on an emergency basis in March.

The court heard how S was seen punching M and repeatedly acting hysterically.

Having studied expert opinion that M and S need to be separated, Mr Justice O'Hara had to decide whether it was in the girl's best interests to live outside Northern Ireland for some time.

Ruling that it was, he said: "It is simply unrealistic to think that S will not be damaged even more by staying with her mother."

The judge confirmed there was no alternative to the specialist programme available at the facility in Dublin.

"S is a much damaged, isolated child whose relationship with her mother has long since gone beyond being unusual," he pointed out.

Even though the pair both objected to the proposals, the judge held that the girl has insufficient understanding of the issues and that M unreasonably withheld consent.

He added: "In my judgment the greater risk to S lies in allowing her to stay with her mother in any setting in Northern Ireland."

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