Caregiver punished for belting kids

By Melissa Nightingale

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A woman who hit children in her care with belts and wooden back scratchers was sentenced to community work yesterday.

Defence lawyer Stephanie Burlace said the defendant, Bella Tipene, went to Child Youth and Family Services three times to try to get help looking after the children before she resorted to physical discipline.

Tipene, 59, has pleaded guilty to two counts of assault with a weapon. She appeared in the Whanganui District Court before Judge David Cameron for sentencing.

Judge Cameron said the two victims, aged 7-9 and 5-7 over the time of the offending, were in Tipene's care at the time.

"While in the care of the defendant these two children were subject to numerous incidents of physical discipline," he said.

He spoke of one occasion where Tipene tried to hit a victim on his hand with a wooden back scratcher, but missed and hit the child on the bridge of his nose, causing a small laceration and dark bruising.

The boy was kept home from school for two weeks while the bruising healed. Judge Cameron said Tipene "asserted" the boy was kept home because he had the flu, but he noted she had pleaded guilty to the incident as it was described.

On another occasion, Tipene told one of the victims to hold out his hands, and he was going to get "five of the best".

The child described each of the smacks as moving progressively further up his arms.

Other times, Tipene smacked the children around the body with the back scratcher or a leather belt.

Tipene told police the children were "damaged as a result of their past" and had "significant behavioural problems", Judge Cameron said.

Ms Burlace said Tipene was having trouble handling the children after they were put in her care, and went to CYFS for help on a number of occasions.

After receiving no help, she turned to physical discipline.

Tipene has previous convictions for drink driving, assault on a police officer, and disorderly behaviour.

She is considered to be a low risk of reoffending.

She no longer has care of the children.

"This form of discipline might have been acceptable in the past but it it totally unacceptable these days," Judge Cameron said. He sentenced her to 80 hours of community work, saying her health problems made an electronically monitored sentence difficult.

He also ordered the destruction of the belt and back scratcher.

In a statement to the Chronicle, a Child, Youth and Family spokesperson said Tipene only asked for help once the investigation had begun, and help was then offered to her.

"There is never any excuse for violence," the spokesperson said. "The court has found her responsible for harming the children and she is being held to account for that."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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