TO: Paula Bennett, Social Development Minister
Cc: Children's Commissioner, John Angus; Labour spokesperson on Social Development Annette King
It is with huge regret and disgust that once more, New Zealanders wake up to find "caregivers" accused on brutally assaulting and torturing their children.
Over the weekend we were once more treated to a story that reminds us that some (many?) children live in abject misery in this country. No Merry Christmas for them.
In this case, a nine-year-old Waitakere girl was beaten, starved and neglected over a period of two years and finally found hiding in a cupboard earlier this year.
She was taken into hospital shortly afterwards suffering starvation and dehydration. Her parents are in court facing 36 charges related to her care.
Her mother faces a charge of assaulting another girl.
The worst thing about this case, and what leads me to write to you today, is that unlike many other young children who are murdered and bashed by their caregivers, this girl was known to authorities.
She had been removed from her parents after being born - clearly a wise move in retrospect - but bafflingly, was returned to them two years ago.
Although CYF had apparently worked "intensively" with the family, no one understood the level of abuse this girl suffered until her grandmother called the police, many months after her torture had begun.
Not only was the girl known to authorities, but her parents were too.
Her mother had received medical care for two broken hands she sustained after beating her daughter. She probably even qualified for ACC payouts from these injuries. Her unemployed parents would have been known to WINZ.
We know social workers are overworked and underpaid - it is fruitless blaming them for this disaster. I am prepared to bet that the problem is one of a general policy that CYF has of "reuniting families" - even when this is in the worst interests of the child.
I'd love to know why CYF spent precious taxpayer money working with this family to try and show them how to love and cherish their daughter, when it must have been abundantly clear the family were not up to the task. As evidenced by the fact none of them reported the abuse for years, it's a pretty safe bet that the wider family were also beyond help.
It might be true that the policy of returning kids to their families stands because there are not enough foster parents out there. But there are good reasons people do not take up fostering, and one of the main ones I have heard from people considering this option is that they know that the same families that spat out these unloved, neglected children have the right to see them and take them back, seemingly on a whim.
There is no way a normal person would put themselves through fostering a child, only to see it return to its abusers - or the abuser's wider, also dysfunctional, family.
It is too late for the little girl in Waitakere and the countless others who have met horrific fates. But surely there is something we can do to improve our ability to keep neglected children out of bad homes. And ideally, ensure parents who are violent sadists never gain custody of any children ever again.
If the Government would put as much time into thinking about the way CYF works as they do about the Rugby World Cup, for example, that would be a fantastic start.
Dita De Boni
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