Two teenagers who escaped from a youth justice facility have been on the run for a week during level 4 lockdown - a situation described as "utterly outrageous" by an Auckland councillor.
The teens, aged 13 and 14, escaped from the Whakatakapokai Youth Justice facility in Weymouth last Friday.
Whakatakapokai is a secure facility used to house young people who are in the youth justice system but at a lower level of offending.
Manurewa-Papakura Ward councillor Daniel Newman said he did not know how they escaped but had been advised the pair were last seen running down Weymouth Rd towards the shops and the roundabout one block south.
It was believed they knew someone in Weymouth and ran to their house before visiting a sister who also lived locally. They then headed towards West Auckland.
Social workers and police were regularly checking associates of the pair but had not yet found them.
Oranga Tamariki general manager youth justice services Peter Whitcombe said he could not comment on details of the escape for security reasons but said guardians and the community were informed promptly.
"An immediate security review and debrief was conducted and is ongoing. In the interim, mitigating actions have been put in place at the residence to avoid any immediate risks whilst the formal review is being completed," he said.
An email sent by the Whakatakapokai manager at the time of their escape said it was "obviously an incredibly disappointing situation, however our neighbourhood is not at any immediate risk".
Newman said the fact two teenagers were able to escape from the facility, which is in a residential area, was bad enough, let alone the fact it happened while the city was in level 4 lockdown.
"The fact that these young people are at large in South Auckland in level 4 is absolutely unforgivable because we are living under the most stringent public health order," he said.
In an email sent to acting secretary for children and chief executive of Oranga Tamariki Sir Wira Gardiner yesterday, Newman said the escape during lockdown was "utterly outrageous and reflects poorly on Oranga Tamariki's performance both at that location and in relation to young people committed to your care".
"I note that young people are sent to Whakatakapokai because it is a Youth Justice facility
mandated by the Environment Court in reliance of submissions that Oranga Tamariki would operate that institution as a safe and secure environment. Clearly, Whakatakapokai is not secure if two young people were able to abscond," he wrote.
Whitcombe said the youth residences were not prisons but were securely built and not easy to escape from.
"Their primary purpose is the rehabilitation of young people. Our job is to support behaviour change, alongside their broader needs to ensure we have less victims of offending and reduce them escalating into the adult prison system.
An investigation was conducted every time a young person absconded and resulted in recommendations and changes to the facility and broader youth justice residences, he said.
Newman said the escape put the Manurewa community at risk because any movement during the current Covid outbreak was a material risk to the health of the people who were moving as well as anyone they came into contact with.
"This particular community in South Auckland is battling with Covid and trying to get our vaccination numbers up. The last thing we need is for absconding rangatahi to be at large in our community in direct contravention of the public health order."
He said Oranga Tamariki needed to be held to account for the failure because it was responsible for making sure everyone in its care was adhering to the lockdown rules and staying in one place.
Whitcombe said all youth justice facilities adhered to Ministry of Health Covid 19 guidelines and he had no concerns about the virus being a " factor in this event".
"We take the health of the young people in our care and our staff seriously as well as the wider community," he said.
He said young people completed an isolation period and, if necessary, were tested when they came into a youth justice facility to make sure they did not introduce the virus to other young people or staff.
Whitcombe would not comment on the health of the two teens for privacy reasons.