A 23-year-old woman has been given a suspended prison sentence for the ill treatment of her own son, who was taken into care at the age of three with injuries including a broken arm and a brain injury consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
“The accused by failing to protect her son and by allowing him to be neglected, failed in her fundamental duty as a mother,” said Judge Keenan Johnson at the recent sitting of Portlaoise Circuit Court, imposing a four-year prison sentence on the woman, suspended for five years.
The accused, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, pleaded guilty to a charge of ill-treatment of a child, between December 1, 2012 and August 4, 2013, at a location in Laois.
On or about August 3, 2013, the gardaí received an anonymous report of concerns about the welfare of a three-year-old child and investigations disclosed that in December, 2012, the child was admitted to Temple Street hospital for a brain scan. The child underwent a further brain scan in August, 2013, which indicated a deterioration in his condition and an indication that he had been subjected to severe shaking.
The boy had a broken arm with two fractures, lesions on his body and fibrous scars in his mouth.
“It was clear that the victim child had been subjected to serious assaults and abuse while in the care of the accused and her then partner,” said Judge Johnson.
The child was taken into temporary care, and when the mother became pregnant again in 2014, there were concerns about the welfare of her new child. She was arrested in April 2014 and during interview told the gardaí the injuries were inflicted by different partners.
The child was present at adult parties and the accused acknowledged that she permitted third parties to chastise the child, blaming two ex-partners for causing the injuries.
“It was clear that the accused was aware of the lesions and bruises on the victim child and yet she never notified the authorities of these or made any effort to protect her victim son,” said Judge Johnson.
A victim impact statement prepared on behalf of the child said that the child had been living in “a non-safe, insecure and fearful environment”. As well as a number of injuries, he was diagnosed as having a left-sided chronic subdural haematoma, consistent with being shaken.
The child has been in care since and is now doing well in school and has caught up developmentally and socially. He has overcome the early trauma of his childhood and is now residing with the accused’s parents, with the accused having reasonably regular contact with the child.
“Society takes a very dim view of adults who neglect their children and this is for good reason... Any sentence imposed must reflect society’s abhorrence of such behaviour,” said Judge Johnson.
He noted that the accused was a mere 16 years of age when she gave birth to her son. “I think it’s fair to say that she was no more than a child herself and certainly did not have the necessary requisite maturity or skills to parent properly,” he said.
The judge ruled that a custodial sentence would have an adverse impact not only on the accused but also on her daughter and the victim child.
Saying that it could be argued that the maximum sentence of seven years is too low for offences of this nature, the judge said that an immediate custodial sentence would not serve the interests of justice.
Judge Johnson imposed a four-year sentence, suspended for five years with conditions that the accused must enter a peace bond for five years, and submit herself for probation supervision for 18 months.