Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Parents to blame for failing child - Bennett

Paula Bennett. Photo / Janna Dixon
Paula Bennett. Photo / Janna Dixon

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett angrily dismissed suggestions she or Prime Minister John Key could have acted to halt abuse suffered by a 9-year-old Auckland girl whose mother was jailed yesterday.

But a ministerial report on the case released yesterday by Ms Bennett found "the system may be seen as failing this child" - and cited 25 different agencies involved in her life.

At her sentencing yesterday, the mother's lawyer Lorraine Smith criticised Mr Key and Ms Bennett, from whom her client sought help with her daughter months before police discovered the badly abused girl.

"The Prime Minister and the Minister of Social Development failed both [the girl] and her mother.

"CYF was not engaging with the family at all."

But a sometimes emotional Ms Bennett vehemently dismissed Ms Smith's claims yesterday.

"That child was so deeply failed by those parents that were supposed to protect her," she said.

"So it's fine to sit back now and try to blame someone else or a government while in the meantime you are dehydrating, starving and beating your child.

"I don't stand up and take responsibility for that. She should stand up and take it herself."

She said it appeared from former Secretary of Justice Mel Smith's report "that most of the professionals and agencies who dealt with the mother of this child were manipulated into thinking she had her child's best interests at heart".

"This is a woman who wrote to the Prime Minister asking for help for herself, deliberately disguising the abuse her daughter was suffering at her hands."

Child Youth and Family head Bernadine MacKenzie said all of Mr Smith's recommendations for CYF were being introduced.

"There is no doubt we should have done a better job protecting this vulnerable young girl.

"There were periods after she was returned home when our monitoring was poor and there were several instances of unacceptable social work practice."

Ms MacKenzie said the social worker responsible would have been subject to a disciplinary process had she not already left.

"We also failed to work as well as we should have with other agencies and professionals to ensure information was shared effectively."

In his report, Mr Smith said he had identified failures of communication, assessment, supervision and management in the 25 agencies involved in the case, and "... most seriously it seems, failures to focus on the child's safety, welfare and protection".

"Reasons can be found for all these things but that does not excuse the fact that the system may be seen as failing this child."

Mr Smith made 13 recommendations which he said "if implemented fully, should substantially reduce the instances of child abuse".

Top of the list was "the incontrovertible need for all those involved in child safety, welfare and protection, to ensure a child-centred perspective that focuses on the child".


SYSTEM FAILURE

Those involved

*13 agencies in contact with child last year: CYF; Waipareira Trust (Family Start); Waitakere Family Court; child's lawyer; Court-appointed psychologist; counsellor; Marinoto Child and Family Services; primary school; GP; Auckland Specialist Services - CYF; police; Senate Nursing; Housing NZ.

* 12 involved in child's earlier life: Waitemata DHB - antenatal clinic; Anger Change Trust; Plunket; independent caregiver (Mar 2002-Dec 2005); IOSIS Family Solutions; Middlemore Hospital; Public Health Nurse; Home Care for Kids; Improving School Attendance Programme; Waitakere Hospital - Rangatira Ward; Starship Hospital; Te Puaruruhua

RECOMMENDATIONS

* Ensure all involved in child safety have a "child-centred perspective"
* Appoint experienced social workers to clusters of schools
* Make sure social workers appropriately record information to CYF central data system
* Urgently review memorandum of understanding on child abuse between ministries
* Review information sharing between government and non-government agencies
* Accept information sharing law changes
* Review legislation on mandatory child abuse reporting
* Pass Crimes Act amendments to protect children
* Advertise changes once they are passed
* Research issues around care of vulnerable children by extended family
* Establish a process for multi-agency case consultation
* Establish a child protection court
* Lift the level of CYF social work skills and practice.

- NZ Herald