The Minister for Children is demanding answers from Oranga Tamariki over its handling of reports of concern about a little girl used as a "sexual plaything" by her own mother.
The Herald can today reveal that the little girl had been on Oranga Tamariki's radar since 2013 and in the years leading to the mother's arrest multiple people called OT to report her for neglect and suspected abuse.
While the agency are refusing to comment on the case publicly, the Minister for Children is calling on the agency to provide her with answers around it's handling of the case.
And National's spokesperson for children is calling for a full investigation.
Earlier this month the Herald revealed reported that a Northland-based mother had been sent to prison for 10 years after admitting sexually abusing her daughter who was just 5 at the time.
The girl was coerced - bribed with sweets and treats - to take part in sex with the mother and her boyfriend on various occasions.
The woman has been granted permanent name suppression to protect her daughter - who is now in the care of another family and cannot legally be identified.
She pleaded guilty to four charges of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection, and one charge of publication of an intimate visual recording - a photograph of her abusing the child that she sent to her boyfriend.
The boyfriend - who also has suppression - was jailed in December.
At her sentencing the woman tried to blame her own childhood abuse and "abandonment issues" - saying she had feared the man would leave her if she did not comply with his sexual requests.
But Judge Duncan Harvey said her offending was "appalling", "inexplicable" and "ugly".
"It is difficult to imagine a more vulnerable victim than a 5-year-old girl being preyed on by her mother… she was preyed upon and became a sexual plaything for the enjoyment of (the man) and, I suspect, yourself," he said.
After the story was published the Herald heard from a number of people who said OT - formerly Child, Youth and Family - had been called repeatedly about suspected neglect and abuse relating to the girl.
Between 2013 and 2019 there were multiple reports of neglect, and suspected physical or sexual abuse.
One person who was closely connected to the girl and her mother about three years ago spoke to the Herald about the concerns they had at the time.
His partner at the time reported the concerns of neglect and physical abuse to OT.
At least one other person later reported concerns of suspected sexual abuse.
He claimed the mother effectively neglected the child and he and his partner were forced to take over caring for her.
"(We) bathed and fed her daughter. I read her stories and put her to bed. I watched Barbie movies with her," he said.
"I did all the things a parent should be doing."
The man said he knew of others who had reported concerns to CYF at the same time his partner did.
"Every time, CYF response was that because (we) lived there, then she's not in harm because we can look after her if her mother isn't."
He claimed Oranga Tamariki "didn't even bother to visit or investigate" and if they did he believes she would have been taken off her mother.
The man said he was shocked to read the story about the mother's conviction in the Herald.
"I didn't realise how bad it was," he said.
"It was absolutely heartbreaking for me to read it ... There are other friends who called (OT) and also (a relative of the mother)."
The Herald sought comment from OT who refused to speak about the specifics of the case.
"We can't comment about the specifics of this case due to privacy considerations and permanent suppression orders imposed by the court," said regional manager Rena Hona.
When pressed further a "media support specialist" said the agency would not be commenting further.
Oranga Tamariki refused to say:
• The date the agency received each call of concern about neglect or abuse.
• What action was taken after each notification.
• Whether the child was taken out of the mother's care before her arrest
• Whether it felt it had done enough to protect the little girl.
The agency also refused to respond to the specific allegations of neglect reporting and inaction by the man who contacted the Herald, or his suggestion OT could have prevented the girl being sexually abused by acting sooner.
The Herald sought comment from Minister for Children Tracey Martin about the case and the refusal of OT to comment.
Martin confirmed she had been in contact with OT about the case.
"The Minister has asked the Ministry to tell her what happened in this case – if concerns were reported and what was done about that," said a spokesperson.
Martin herself said the crimes against the girl were "horrific" and it was a "relief" the offenders had been dealt with.
She said the response given to the Herald by OT was "disappointing".
"It is critically important that the public has confidence in the Ministry and that people report their concerns about children's safety," she said.
"That requires Oranga Tamariki being as open as possible about its work and challenges."
National's spokesman for children Alfred Ngaro said the abuse was "very traumatic" and "something absolutely no child should ever have to experience".
"The allegations that have been brought forward are very serious and deeply concerning, and I would ask the Minister to launch an investigation into these claims to find out whether or not they are true," he said.