Caregiver alleges closed Family Court system is open to abuse
A Child Youth and Family caregiver has been humiliated after the organisation wrongly suggested she was being investigated for abuse of a child in her care.
The false allegation was used to prise information about her from a kindergarten and Housing New Zealand.
The woman says the incident happened while she was in a two-year court battle to continue caring for the child who had been put with her as a baby and had lived with her for more than four-and-a-half years.
A CYF social worker sent letters to the child's kindergarten and to Housing New Zealand, drawing on section 66 of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989. Section 66 is cited when a person is under investigation for abuse, and the recipients are compelled by law to provide any information requested.
Both letters asked a range of questions about the caregiver - her address, the name of the child's GP, any concerns the kindergarten had about the child, her legal status in relation to the child and more.
The letters stated: "Child Youth and Family is in the initial stages of an investigation of the care and protection of the child."
Subsequent information revealed that the caregiver had not been under investigation, and the social worker used the letters incorrectly to get private information.
The carer, who had looked after the child for three years when the letters were sent, had an exemplary record. Social workers and psychologists appointed by CYF reported she was a confident, capable caregiver who had developed a strong bond with the child who stayed with her until just under the age of 5.
The caregiver, who cannot be named for legal reasons, realised something was amiss when she was at kindergarten. "I attended an event for parents at the kindergarten, and most of the teachers avoided me," she says. "I was really humiliated and couldn't understand why this was happening."
Auckland regional director of Child Youth and Family Sharon Thom said the agency was within its rights to ask for such information.
"We have a responsibility to ensure every child in our care is safe and well, including the ability to request information from other government agencies, schools, etc. As this child was in our care, Child, Youth and Family was entitled to request information from the kindy when concerns arose.
"Unfortunately, the wrong form was used when information was sought."
Thom did not elaborate on what these concerns were.
The caregiver, who says the incident is one of many concerns she has about the way CYF treated her, says the agency has not apologised for sending the letter.
The child remained in her care for nearly a year after the letters were sent.
"The issues highlighted here are just the tip of the iceberg, but they can't be discussed publicly as it was evidence given in the Family Court, which is a closed system. The trouble with closed systems is that they are open to abuse."
She hopes her case will highlight the limited rights caregivers in New Zealand have, and how easy it is for such incidents to occur.
"As caregivers, there is absolutely no protection," she said, "no unions, no support."