Social workers bid to close name-and-shame blogsite

By Simon Collins

Five years after their baby son died in state care, a West Auckland family has hit back at the social workers involved by naming them on a renegade website aimed at holding such people to account.

Four-month-old Patrick Martin died in a Methodist Mission family home two weeks after Child, Youth and Family Services (Cyfs) took him from his parents, Craig and Louise Martin, in May 2002.

An inquest found the baby died of sudden infant death syndrome or cot death.

However, in a posting on the blogsite, the Martins have alleged he was not being fed the right formula.

The site, which gives the email address of another social worker and describes the personal appearance of several others in derogatory terms, has attracted a storm of protest from the Social Workers' Association, the Social Workers Registration Board and the Public Service Association.

Ministry of Social Development chief executive Peter Hughes has instructed lawyers to "do whatever is necessary to get rid of this website".

"We will be working 24/7 until that is done," he said.

The site states: "This blogsite is dedicated to all those people who have been bullied, intimidated or 'familially raped' by the Department of Child, Youth, & Family: People, it's time to get your power back."

The website invites people to email "name-and-shame" stories - "and we will publish them - uncensored".

"Photos of any and all offending parties are welcome, together with private and public addresses, contact details, car registrations, etc," the website adds.

Among the messages on the website are ones calling certain social workers "truly evil", "inexperienced" or like the Gestapo.

Another accused a judge of making an important decision after a "liquid lunch". Derogatory references are also made about the appearance of some social workers.

A ministry spokeswoman said in an email that "any subsequent publication or repetition of the defamatory material by the NZ Herald would be viewed as a knowing dissemination of the material".

A Pukekohe caregiver who has looked after children in Cyfs care for many years, Terry Gosset, has set up a rival website attacking the renegade blogsite's founders for refusing to disclose their identity.

The site's author or authors refused to be interviewed except by email.

The email said they were staying anonymous "to illustrate how frustrating it is for parents and families that become 'anonymous' casualties of the state-sanctioned, corporate abuse of Cyfs towards them".

"When you consider children have repeatedly died in Cyfs care, that no one has ever been held to account (except the esoteric 'system'), then it is quite clear that going through the appropriate channels is not useful," they said.

Cyfs had 5314 children in care at the end of last June, about half of them Maori.

The Children's Commissioner received 343 complaints about the service in the year to June and another 56 complaints went to the Ombudsmen.

However, Children's Commissioner general manager Gordon McFadyen said his office did not have the resources to investigate every complaint and exercised "discretion" about which ones to look into.

"We tend to make a decision to look into matters where we have some common themes coming through - systemic things, rather than individual complaints," he said.

The Family First lobby group and United Future MP Judy Turner called for a new independent authority to hear complaints against Cyfs, similar to the Police Complaints Authority.

The Minister in charge of Cyfs, Ruth Dyson, said through a spokeswoman that she had asked Cyfs officials to report on the possible creation of an "independent review panel" with non-Cyfs members.

National Party Cyfs spokeswoman Anne Tolley said an independent authority "might be something that would be of assistance" but she also warned against setting up a new bureaucracy or drawing Cyfs staff away from frontline child protection work.

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