EXCLUSIVE: Shane Neil blames himself for death of his son Isaiah who was left in a hot car. But he feels social workers ignored his concerns about his partner's synthetic cannabis addiction.
The father of a baby left in a hot car while his family slept inside the house has told the Weekend Herald he should be in prison for his son's death.
Eight-month-old Isaiah Neil died after being left in a car on a hot day for several hours outside his grandparents' home in Ruatoki, the Bay of Plenty, in November 2015.
Shane Neil was unaware his son was in the car, but did not call 111 when he found the infant "limp, unresponsive and hot".
Instead, Isaiah was placed in a cot for another three hours while his parents slept off the "zombie" effects of smoking synthetic drugs.
Neil pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 months' home detention, while Isaiah's mother, Lacey Te Whetu, and grandmother Donna Parangi were jailed for three years on the same charge.
The two women left Isaiah to sleep in the car - with the windows and doors shut - so they could smoke synthetic cannabis inside the house.
For this reason, Justice Graham Lang found them to be more culpable than 31-year-old Neil for the death.
Home detention was granted as the evidence was unclear if Isaiah could have survived even if Neil had called 111.
Speaking publicly about Isaiah's death for the first time, Neil says he felt the sentence was lenient.
"I feel lucky to not be in prison. I'd agree with some of the public who thought that wasn't long enough.
"I do blame myself ... I failed. The last two years have been like waking up from a bad dream every day. Except it's not a bad dream, it's reality."
The interview with Shane Neil was part of a Weekend Herald investigation which found the dysfunctional family were flagged to the attention of Child Youth & Family 12 times in the three years before Isaiah's death.
There were 10 official "Reports of Concern" dating back to November 2012; three specifically about Lacey Te Whetu's addiction to synthetic drugs in the months before Isaiah's death.
Four complaints were laid by Neil at times when he had split up with Te Whetu during their on-again, off-again relationship.
The CYF file obtained by the Weekend Herald shows social workers did follow-up on concerns, but often gave more weight to Lacey Te Whetu's explanations.
She often pointed to Neil's own behaviour, including mental health issues and an assault conviction for hitting her.
Yet escalating concerns about Lacey's mental health, addiction to synthetic cannabis and violence towards Neil were not acted on quickly enough.
"The social worker wouldn't accept any of the information I passed on," Neil told the Weekend Herald.
"She said without evidence, it was just my word against Lacey's...but they weren't made up stories. They were true."
Since Isaiah's death, CYF has been restructured into the Ministry of Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki.
The organisation reviewed its involvement with the family and identified a number of issues, including that CYF didn't act with the appropriate urgency in assessing Isaiah's safety, especially as more information emerged over time.
Oranga Tamariki refused to release a copy of the review to the Weekend Herald, but instead released a bullet point summary of the findings under the Official Information Act.
The social work practice could have been improved in the following areas:
*More robust information gathering to form an accurate picture of family dynamics and functioning in response to reports of concern.
*Better understanding of cumulative harm and assessing new information in the context of previous family history.
*Improved assessment of the parenting capacity in light of the issues raised.
As a result, the Ministry's office in Whakatane now has more comprehensive assessments, record keeping and supervision to make better decisions
"My sympathies go out to all those who loved this little boy," said Tayelva Petley, the Bay of Plenty regional manager.
"His death was incredibly sad and traumatic, including for those who've been held to account."
She said the Ministry for Vulnerable Children is building a sustainable system, not instant solutions, to put children and their whanau "front and centre".
"This work will take time if we want to do it properly; it will take four to five years to complete the task of creating a totally new care system that is truly focused on our most vulnerable children and young people."
The circumstances of Isaiah's death could be examined in more detail in a Coroner's inquest once the criminal proceedings are concluded.
This would not be until the Court of Appeal has ruled on whether to quash Donna Parangi's conviction for manslaughter.
She was found guilty at trial, in contrast to her daughter and Neil who pleaded guilty.
Neil said admitting his fault was difficult, but the only way he "was going to have any sort of peace, even just a little bit".
He struggles to explain why he and Lacey didn't call 111 straight away, other than to say his judgment was clouded by synthetic cannabis.
"Neither of us were in a fit state to be parents."
Nearly two years after Isaiah's death, Neil recalls the panic when they realised their mistake.
"We tried to cool him down with some water and his whole body went cold. From hot to stone cold," said Neil.
"I think he was gone then. It was hard to accept as reality at the time. It was like a bad dream."
Read the full Weekend Herald investigation.