A jury at the Central Criminal Court has heard two of the children at the centre of an alleged abuse trial were brought to the attention of social services up to five years before they were taken into care.

A social worker who first began working with the family in 2014 said she was aware a report had been made in 2011 about two of the children.

They were with their mother who was attending a neo natal hospital visit when staff noticed they had third degree burns, were grubby and dirty and wearing heavy clothes in warm weather.

She was also aware there had been visits to the family home where a colleague was "shocked" by the level of "dirt, flies and nappies" in the house. She was also aware that gardaí had been called a number of times over concerns about the children being unsupervised.

The social worker said she first met the family in 2014 amid concerns for one of the children.

Despite numerous case conferences and detailed support plans being put in place, concerns continued to rise about the children, especially in early 2016 when the father admitted giving the children medication to make them sleep.

They were taken into care in 2016, but the parents initial access visits later had to be stopped for the welfare of the children.

Parents were 'absolutely filthy dirty' at meeting

The social worker explained how in 2014 she and a colleague met the parents in a neutral setting at a health centre.

She said that at that first meeting both parents were "absolutely filthy dirty" and had made no effort to clean themselves before the meeting.

She raised concerns with them about the running of their home and the care of the children and they denied everything that was put to them, she said.

The woman said the children's mother gave a different answer each time the same question was asked. She said everything that was put to them went around in circles and was deflected and the woman blamed everyone except herself.

She said she was concerned that the mother seemed more concerned with getting the social worker to help with material things, such as new doors or a new car, which was not in her remit.

At the end of the meeting the level of concern had risen to such an extent, and the patterns of behaviour since 2011 – including accidents, a dirty home and a second outbreak of scabies – it was decided to open an assessment of all five children in the family, she said.

Unannounced visit to family home

She decided to pay an unannounced visit to the family home in October 2014. She said the outside of the house was strewn with broken things and rubbish, just two-and-a-half months after the family had moved there from a smaller house.

Inside, she found it to be "desolate and quiet" with piles of clothes around the house. She described the house as filthy with no cleaning products, soap, toothpaste, toilet roll or detergents visible. There were not toys or pictures, only a filthy play pen with broken things in it.

When she raised concerns about a piece of old pizza on the floor near the front door and the risk of attracting rodents, the mother said she needed a new front door rather than consider cleaning up the food, she said.

She said that at first, she did not think there was anyone else in the house because it was so quiet, but later noticed in the corner there was a pushchair with a blanket over it. She lifted the blanket to find an 18-month-old child tightly strapped in.

The social worker said he was pale and grey, had not been washed and was "blank and unresponsive" to her attempts to stimulate him. He had spindly legs and a distended stomach and had filth under his chin when she lifted it to talk to him.

Children's speech was not developed

She said that in the course of her meetings with the other children and visits to the home after, she found them to be polite when speaking to a professional, but their speech was not as developed as it should have been for their ages.

They were unkempt and uncared for and were "sad and lost". The home could be like "a three ring circus" at times with children jumping, climbing, crying and walking around with one shoe on.

A case conference involving a number of professionals who had contact with the family was set up in December 2014 and it was decided that the children were at risk of neglect.

She said a plan was put in place for the basic care of the children, and parents were instructed to ensure the children were adequately washed, fed and dressed each day. Extended family had been asked to assist with these tasks.

The family had been asked to go to only one doctor and collect medication from only one pharmacist because they had been attending various out-of-hours doctors.

They had also been told to take children for various medical and dental checkups, and take up a crèche place for one of the younger children.

Throughout her contact with the family, the mother constantly asked her when they would be closing the case.

She kept assuring the social worker she was bathing the children, but they continued to appear unwashed and were missing various appointments she said.

The woman said that as a social worker she was trained to watch out for disguised compliance where families would seem to comply with the requirements until the case was closed and a pattern would emerge again.

A second case conference took place in June the following year, and again the children were placed on a register as being at risk of being neglected.

She said another range of support services were put in place to teach the parents how to care for the children but they were not seeing the changes.

There were continuing concerns about the children, including their weight and the drinking of carbonated sweet drinks.

Baby's bottle filled with coke

She said the mother had been seen by a family support worker filling a baby's bottle with coke and yet she consistently denied that they drank anything but water. A family support worker was regularly checking on the family, but there were no improvements.

The concerns continued for the rest of that year and into the following year, and Tusla's involvement intensified. There remained huge concern around the children’s food, hygiene, health, weight and teeth.

By January and February 2016, concerns were "very high" in particular about the children being given a medication that was not prescribed for them.

She was aware that one of the children had been prescribed melatonin to help him sleep. She asked the parents if they were giving the medication to the other children and the father confirmed that he was.

"His answer was yes he was giving it to them because they won't settle and won't stay quiet and he gave the most to (his daughter) because she was the hardest to knock out. I was shocked, I could not believe what I was hearing," she said.

The children were finally taken into care in April 2016. They initially had access visits with their parents and later with extended family at the request of the family.

The social worker said that during some visits the children's mother constantly whispered to the children asking them where they were living and details about the location and roads.

She was repeatedly asked not to do that but continued. The children became distressed before and during access visits and eventually they were stopped, she said.

She was shown photographs of the family home, but said it bore no resemblance to the house she used to visit. There were no shelves, photographs or hanging baskets as the photographs depicted. It was not brightly painted as shown in the photographs, she added.

She said the photographs she was being shown were taken a year-and-a-half after her visits and the garden was so tidied up it was hard for her to recognise.

Additional allegations against another person

Earlier, the jury heard that one of the children made additional allegations against another person after her interviews with gardaí were recorded.

They jury heard further evidence from a second specialist garda interviewer. The garda was asked about a subsequent allegation made after the children’s interviews were recorded.

Asked why no further interview was carried out with the child, the garda said they had already recorded two interviews with the girl and it was felt that was sufficient. She said they were dealing with a vulnerable child whose welfare was paramount.

She was asked if it was usual practice to carry out further interviews in cases where additional disclosures were made by children. She said every case was different.

She also repeated that guidelines for taking interviews from children were advisory and not mandatory. She accepted that inviting children to make notes or write things down was not included in the guidelines.

It was put to her by defence counsel for one of the accused, an uncle, that the allegations against his client were only made after the children had made notes.

Senior Counsel Conor Devally suggested that inviting children to read what they had written down was broadcasting or recording allegations that are not really spontaneous, but formulated in the absence of gardaí.

The garda replied that she did not believe allowing the children to read from their own notes was in any way in breach of the guidelines or procedures.

Mr Devally said gardaí did not know what communication the children had received from another sibling over social media before they made their notes. He said that despite extensive efforts it was not possible to retrieve messages that could have been sent between the siblings.

The six on trial include the children's parents, aunt and uncles. The parents are also charged with willful neglect of five of their children. They face a total of 88 charges between them including rape, sexual assault and exploitation. All charges are denied.

The jury has been reduced from 15 to 14 members after one juror was excused this morning because a relative was awaiting the results of a Covid-19 test.

The judge told the jury they had empanelled a 15-member jury at the start of the trial for reasons such as this and could continue with 14 jurors.