EXCLUSIVE: Paternal family of Isaiah Neil have written to Social Welfare Minister Anne Tolley seeking answers about the death of the eight-month-old.
Social workers were repeatedly warned about the dysfunctional family of a baby who later died in a hot car while his carers smoked synthetic cannabis inside the house.
Specifically, concerns were raised with Child Youth & Family Services about the baby's mother frequently smoking synthetic cannabis in the months before his 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.
His mother, Lacey Te Whetu, and grandmother Donna Parangi were convicted of manslaughter and jailed for three years yesterday, while his father Shane Neil is likely to receive home detention.
But documents obtained by the Weekend Herald show there were at least eight referrals to CYFS about his family in the years leading up to his death, including two about synthetic cannabis in the house in the months before his death.
One family member was so worried about the "zombie" state of Isaiah's mother while stoned on synthetic cannabis that she took two of her children home for their safety.
In 2013, another concerned relative warned CYFS that Isaiah's older siblings could be the "next Nia Glassie", in reference to the Rotorua toddler killed in 2007, because of the dysfunction in the family.
Last night, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children - which replaced CYFS - confirmed social workers "didn't act with the appropriate degree of urgency in assessing Isaiah's safety".
Now the paternal family of Isaiah Neil have written to Social Welfare Minister Anne Tolley seeking answers over his death - left in a hot car while his primary caregivers smoked drugs and slept.
"As his paternal family, we used all the means necessary to advise the authorities that the children were in an unsafe environment," the family says.
"How are we to stop our babies from dying if we are not getting the support from the relevant agencies?"
Isaiah had been left in the car for several hours outside his grandparents' home in Ruatoki, the Bay of Plenty, in November 2015.
His mother, Lacey Te Whetu, and grandmother Donna Parangi, decided to leave him in the car so they could smoke synthetic cannabis.
Isaiah was in the car with the windows closed in direct sunlight during the middle of the day. The average temperature outside was 20C, but inside the car could have reached 45C, according to expert evidence.
Te Whetu and Parangi fell asleep before the baby's father, Shane Christopher Neil, found him in the car a few hours later, limp and lifeless.
But instead of calling 111, Neil put his infant son in a cot and fell back asleep for several more hours.
Paramedics declared Isaiah dead when they were finally called around 6.30pm.
Outside her Ruatoki home, Parangi declined to comment.
"I'm sick of the media making this family look like s***."
The trio were yesterday sentenced in the High Court at Rotorua after being convicted of manslaughter.
Parangi and Te Whetu were each jailed for three years. Neil was handed a sentence of one year and 11 months in prison - which makes him eligible for home detention.
His final sentence was adjourned for a home detention report to be completed.
The death of any young child was tragic, said Justice Graham Lang.
"It is even more tragic when the death is completely needless and is caused by repeated failures by parents and those entrusted with his care."
Members of Isaiah's paternal side of the family want Social Welfare Minister Anne Tolley - also the MP for the East Coast electorate were Isaiah died - to investigate the circumstances leading to the boy's death.
In a letter sent to Tolley, and given to the Weekend Herald, the relatives say they told social workers about the unsafe environment where Isaiah and other children were living.
These included calls and letters explaining the dysfunctional family dynamics, drugs, drinking and violence.
"We are in complete dismay at the inaction of relevant people, particularly Child Youth and Family social workers, considering the escalating concern and increased frequency of referrals from both sides of Isaiah's whanau which clearly identified the children as vulnerable," the relatives say.
"With the parents and grandmother being held to account, it is time for the relevant authorities to provide answers to our questions."
The letter questions why Lacey's sister, Kylie Te Whetu, was advised to return the children back into the unsafe environment.
This refers to August 2015, just three months before Isaiah died, when Kylie Te Whetu visited the Ruatoki home.
She found her sister Lacey Te Whetu and mother Donna Parangi "stoned" unconscious on synthetic cannabis and described them as "zombies", according to court documents released to the Weekend Herald,
Kylie Te Whetu took the two older children back home to Auckland, but Isaiah was left in the care of his mother.
About a month later, Lacey wanted her children back but Kylie Te Whetu didn't want them living with her.
CYFS documents show the police called Kylie Te Whetu, who told the officer about Lacey's addiction to synthetic cannabis, who in turn reported the matter to social workers.
This "report of concern" was not resolved at the time of Isaiah's death three months later in November.
The two older children, whom Kylie Te Whetu reluctantly returned to Ruatoki, were then taken into the care of CYFS when their baby brother died.
The CYFS file obtained by the Weekend Herald shows at least 8 referrals to the social welfare agency dating back to November 2012 - before Isaiah Neil was even born.
There are allegations of domestic violence by Shane Neil and Lacey Te Whetu against one another, emotional abuse and neglect of their children, and concerns about drugs and alcohol.
One was a anonymous email from a relative of Shane Neil to CYFS, who raised multiple concerns about domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, poor parenting and developmental issues for Isaiah's older siblings.
"I am afraid these children will become another victim of our inability to act. If they are not the next Nia Glassie, then they will be (at this trajectory) in all the wrong statistics that continues to repeat cycles," says the email, sent in September 2013.
Nia Glassie, 3, was beaten to death in Rotorua in 2007.
While the email noted there were no signs of violence against the Neil children, the whistleblower said "to be perfectly honestly, there are too many similarities" with the Glassie case.
"The ineffective parenting or caregiving, the immaturity of the caregivers, drugs, alcohol and violence, turning a blind eye and creating a culture of silence."
Social Welfare Minister Anne Tolley confirmed she had received the letter and she has asked the chief executive of the ministry for more information.
"This is clearly a tragic case and my thoughts are with all those who loved Isaiah."
Since Isaiah's death, CYFS has been renamed the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki.
Tayelva Petley, the Bay of Plenty regional manager, said the organisation had reviewed its involvement last year.
The review identified a number of issues, including that Child, Youth and Family didn't act with the appropriate degree of urgency in assessing Isaiah's safety, especially as more information emerged over time.
"We have learnt from this and improved our monitoring of case activity on the site," said Petley.
"Better practice on Child, Youth and Family's part may not have prevented Isaiah's death, but the social work practice could have been better.
"The death of little Isaiah is incredibly sad and our sympathies go out to those that loved him."
The officer in charge of the police investigation, Detective Brennan Paulsen from the Child Protection Team in Whakatane, declined to comment on the family's interactions with CYFS.
But he said Isaiah's death was "absolutely preventable".
"Even just leaving the windows open would have saved him," said Paulsen.
Paulsen warned of the dangers of synthetic cannabis, as "no one can know exactly what is in they're smoking".
The wider circumstances leading up to Isaiah's death could be examined in more detail at a Coronial inquest hearing.
A spokesman said Coroner Wallace Bain had to wait until all criminal proceedings are concluded, which includes the time for any appeal against conviction or sentence.
Dr Bain held the inquest into the death of Nia Glassie and made a number of recommendations about the monitoring of vulnerable children.
Full letter to Social Welfare Minister Anne Tolley
Re: Isaiah Neil
Dear Minister Anne Tolley,
I am writing on behalf of some members of the paternal whanau with regards to our nephew Isaiah Neil who passed away while under the care of his parents Shane Neil and Lacey Te Whetu and his grandmother Donna Parangi.
We are working through our hurt and starting to consolidate how this tragedy occurred and how we as a whanau could have prevented it from happening.
As his paternal family, we used all the means necessary to advise the authorities that the children were in an unsafe environment - calls and letters were made to Child Youth and Family Services explaining the family dynamics, the drug use, drinking and violence; and that the children were exposed to elements children should never be exposed to.
Yet the children remained in the care of Lacey. We are in complete dismay at the inaction of relevant people; particularly Child Youth and Family social workers, considering the escalating concern and increased frequency of referrals from both sides of Isaiah's whanau which clearly identified the children as vulnerable.
We are still struggling to understand why Kylie Te Whetu was advised to return the children to Ruatoki back into the unsafe environment; when she had seen first hand the caregivers passed out from drugs and the kids were unsupervised.
How was this able to happen? Who was the social worker responsible and what were the reasons for the inaction?
There were a number of services involved with the family, why were alarm bells not sounded from any of these organisations?
How are we going to stop our babies from dying if we are not getting the support from the relevant agencies?
And how exactly is a change in name going to mean our babies are safe and our concerns heard?
What is particularly hurtful is the media and social media, many believe that the whanau were sheltering and condoning this behaviour.
This is utter nonsense and has put many of us in a heightened state of stress and anguish for almost two years now.
With the parents and grandmother now being held to account it is time for the relevant authorities to provide answers to our questions.
We look forward to hearing back.
Paternal whanau members
Warning to CYFS: Children could be "Next Nia Glassie"
September 2013 - Anonymous email from family member alleging domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, warning Neil/Te Whetu children could be the "next Nia Glassie".
Multiple reports of concern to CYFS follow over 2014 and 2015, including criminal family violence charges laid against both Shane Neil and Lacey Te Whetu
23 February 2015 - Isaiah Neil born.
4 June 2015 - Report of Concern to CYFS. Shane Neil states his partner Lacey Te Whetu is purchasing synthetic cannabis instead of food for children. Still being investigated at the time of Isaiah's death.
31 August 2015 - Report of Concern to CYFS. Kylie Te Whetu caring for Lacey's two older children because of concerns about her sister's use of synthetic cannabis. Still being investigated at the time of Isaiah's death.
2 November 2015 - Isaiah Neil died.
12.30pm - Donna Parangi and Lacey Te Whetu arrive home in Ruatoki after purchasing $40 of synthetic cannabis.
Leave Isaiah in the car with the windows up, in direct sunlight.
Mother and daughter smoke drugs, then fall asleep. Shane Neil wakes up and smokes drugs, then falls back asleep.
Around 3.30pm - Shane gets Isaiah out of the car. Appears hot, sweaty and lifeless. Baby put into cot and Shane falls back to sleep.
Around 6.30pm - Lacey wakes up to find Isaiah lifeless. Calls 111.
6.52pm - Ambulance arrives and paramedics attempt CPR. Police arrive.
7.30pm - Isaiah pronounced dead. Other injuries, such as bruising and adult bite mark found.