A jury at the Central Criminal Court has heard social workers believed a couple accused of abuse and neglect of their children may have had undiagnosed intellectual disabilities.
Six people are on trial for a range of abuse offences. The children's parents are also facing charges of willful neglect of five children. All charges are denied.
The jury was told it was "a recurring theme" in social work reports that the parents may have had intellectual disabilities and found it hard to follow directions about caring for their children.
A lead social worker who dealt with the family for two years was being cross-examined by defence counsel.
In reply to questions from Mark Nicholas representing the children’s father, she agreed that it been suggested a number of times in the family’s case file that the parents may have had an intellectual disability.
The social worker said while they fully understood everything what was being discussed at meetings, it was a consideration that they may be operating at a lesser intellectual capacity than their peers.
She agreed with Mr Nicholas that the children’s mother had attended a school for those with special educational needs.
Mr Nicholas said it was an "echo" or a "recurring theme" throughout the reports that the parents may have had difficulty operating and responding to directions from social workers.
He said it was also a feature that things improved with the family while supports were in place and then disimproved if supports were reduced.
Mr Nicholas noted that one report detailed how there were some improvements in the home because there had been constant reminders given to the parents.
The social worker said those improvements came about because extended family members were "rallying together" and helping with cleaning and cooking.
'Green shoots' of improvement
She said as the inside of the house got cleaner the outside got dirtier and then became an issue with the council as they were threatened with eviction.
While she agreed there were "green shoots" of improvement, she said there were other pieces missing, such as children's medication not being collected for months on end or appointments being missed.
She agreed that the parents had always cooperated with social workers and were always open to their visits.
However, she said often the family would not be at home when they called at times when families might be expected to be home.
During cross-examination by Senior Counsel Dean Kelly, representing the children’s mother, she agreed that she had described the level of supports given to the family as "monumental".
Asked if the case was "out on its own", she said there were many other families who could also need such supports, but she did her best to secure everything possible for this family.
She confirmed that the mother would often use words like "supervise" and "boundaries" that she would have plucked from social workers’ reports.
However, she did not agree that she was simply "parroting" the words back like a child.
She said she believed the woman understood what the words meant and would say things in front of her to the children like 'I’m going to supervise you now’ and 'you must have boundaries’ but would not be enforcing those things.
Mr Kelly said a psychologist had later found that his client, the children’s mother, had a mild learning disability.
He also said the social worker’s final report in April 2016 said despite more than 16 months of intensive work and professional involvement the couple was unable to comprehend their responsibilities in caring for their children.
They also lacked insight into the long-term effects of their alleged neglect on their children. The children were taken into care after that.
The jury also heard that on her fifth pregnancy the children’s mother did not attend any medical appointments until six weeks before the birth.
After all five of her children were taken into care in April 2016, she went on to have a sixth child.
The social worker said she visited the woman in hospital and would describe it as a "concealed pregnancy" about which social services knew nothing.