Social worker admitted Child, Youth and Family should have removed toddler from violent home, says her caregiver. Now Vivienne is traumatised from watching her mother's murder.

The police repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of Marie Harlick's baby girl with social workers in the months before her mother's death.

The 35-year-old was beaten to death in her Opotiki home in November last year and her partner Robert Hohua will be sentenced next month for her murder.

A Herald investigation this month revealed a number of missed opportunities to prevent the murder, which was witnessed by her daughter Vivienne, who was just 19 months old at the time.

She was found by police lying beside the body of her mother, hidden under a blanket.

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The toddler, who turns three in March, is now being raised in Auckland by her mother's aunt who is also called Marie Harlick.

In an interview with the Weekend Herald to mark White Ribbon Day today, Harlick describes the ongoing terror Vivienne suffers from what she saw that night.

Read more:
Herald investigation: The Misery of Marie

Saving Vivienne - The ripple effect of her mother's murder

The Weekend Herald can also reveal the police made four official "Reports of Concern" to Child Youth and Family about Vivienne during 2016.

These four notifications were among 11 police callouts during Harlick and Hohua's violent two year relationship.

At the time of the murder, Hohua was on bail for an assault on Harlick in August 2016 where he punched and stomped on her head.

Marie Harlick was beaten to death in an assault witnessed by her youngest daughter. Photo/Supplied.
Marie Harlick was beaten to death in an assault witnessed by her youngest daughter. Photo/Supplied.

According to court records, the 36-year-old used Vivienne as a shield when police arrived at the Opotiki address to arrest him.

Hohua also shoved aside two of Harlick's older daughters, aged 11 and 12, who tried to protect their mother.

CYF were also involved when Harlick was arrested and charged with cultivating cannabis in April 2016.

She pleaded guilty to possession of a Class-C drug, although her family and probation officer suspect she was taking the blame for Hohua.

Harlick was sentenced to eight months' home detention but was not supposed to live with Hohua at the Wellington St address where she was murdered.

Putting aside the four "Reports of Concern" from police in 2016, at least one more was made in 2015 when Vivienne was only two months old.

She was knocked out of her pram during an assault on Harlick, to which Hohua later pleaded guilty.

"Their incompetence led to Vivienne being strapped in a pushchair and watching her mother being beaten to death," her caregiver Marie Harlick told the Weekend Herald.

"Vivienne has suffered a horrible trauma. She wakes up in the night screaming, 'Mummy, mummy', absolutely screaming in terror. Absolute terror."

Vivienne, 2, now lives with her great-aunt Marie Harlick in Auckland. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Vivienne, 2, now lives with her great-aunt Marie Harlick in Auckland. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Vivienne, 2, now has a new life with her great aunt Marie Harlick in Auckland. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Vivienne, 2, now has a new life with her great aunt Marie Harlick in Auckland. Photo/Alan Gibson.

A senior social worker from CYF, now the Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki, drove from Whakatane to Auckland to visit Marie Harlick and Vivienne.

At this meeting, Marie Harlick says the social worker admitted the agency should have uplifted Vivienne out of the violent home.

Her niece had been identified as an urgent case in CYF meetings for weeks before her death, Marie Harlick said the social worker told her.

"[The social worker] sat there and stressed to me they will do anything that I need, they'll pay," Marie Harlick told the Weekend Herald.

"I sort of felt they were trying to redeem themselves, that's how she was talking.

"I really felt uncomfortable because I was sitting there listening to this woman say how they had let Vivienne and Marie down. So there's a big problem there leading up to her death."

Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Standen, head of the CIB in the eastern Bay of Plenty, declined to comment on multiple warnings to CYF as the case was still before the courts.

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children refused to answer questions about Vivienne's case despite Marie Harlick signing a privacy waiver for the Weekend Herald.

"In the case of Marie Harlick's tragic death, our primary concern remains the privacy of the child involved, and we won't discuss details of the case.

"Child, Youth and Family were working with Marie, alongside other agencies, at the time of her death, our focus was the child.

"Following Marie's death we worked with the whanau to ensure appropriate care arrangements for her daughter."

A Coronial hearing would likely assess the actions of all the agencies involved, said the Ministry for Vulnerable Children.

Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said what happened to Marie Harlick and Vivienne was an "extremely sad story" with a familiar narrative - failures by multiple agencies.

"We hope that with greater awareness of these issues, agencies will be working together more closely to help keep women and their children safe from domestic violence," said Judge Becroft.

"This after all is the new cooperative, information sharing model that the new Oranga Tamariki system will provide.

"To do that, all services need to be alert to the signs of domestic violence, and know how to take action to help. All services, whether they are specifically for children or not, need to ask themselves: how is the child affected? What steps can I take to make sure they are safe? As well as the steps they may be taking to assist the adults involved."

The same CYF branch in Whakatane warned about Vivienne was also repeatedly warned about the dysfunctional family of Isaiah Neil, a baby who died after being left in a hot car in November 2015.

An internal review revealed staff were taking shortcuts to meet timeframes, failed to notice the clear pattern of behaviour and no one reviewed the agency's involvement over a three year period in which 10 reports of concern were made.

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children said a number of changes had been made at the Whakatane office, including the recent appointment of a new site manager and extra staffing.

There will now four teams, instead of three, which will mean lower caseloads.

Robert Roupere Hohua will be sentenced next month for murder. Photo/Alan Gibson.
Robert Roupere Hohua will be sentenced next month for murder. Photo/Alan Gibson.

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584 • Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz

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