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CYF Acknowledges Sade Errors

A review by an independent barrister into Child, Youth and Family’s involvement with Sade Trembath, the toddler who was seriously injured by her grandmother Patricia Bissett, has revealed a mixture of good and below standard social work practice, says chief social worker Mike Doolan.

“I commissioned a review of Child, Youth and Family’s practices and procedures as they affected Sade because of the serious injuries she suffered and the allegations made against Child, Youth and Family in relation to this case,” he says.

“Social workers put significant time and effort into helping Sade and deserve credit for this. However this good work did not extend to all their dealings with Sade and this innocent little girl ended up being brutalised by the person who was supposed to be caring for her. I apologise for the Department’s shortcomings.

“Child, Youth and Family received and investigated three notifications relating to the care and protection of Sade. The first and second investigations found no care and protection concerns whereas the third did raise some serious issues relating to Sade’s well-being,” says Mr Doolan.

The review found that Child, Youth and Family acted quickly when it became aware of serious safety concerns for Sade in her parents’ care. Social workers obtained interim custody, placed her with short-term caregivers and convened a Family Group Conference (FGC) to consider her situation, including her longer-term care arrangements.

“Patricia Bissett presented as a willing potential caregiver. Although this subsequently proved to be an unsuitable placement, it was supported by a doctor and by the decisions of the FGC, which included family members and Counsel for Child.

“The review has found Child, Youth and Family’s social work practice in this case lacking in some areas.

“My review findings are as follows:

1. Although it appeared to be a suitable course of action to follow, the placement proved to be inappropriate.
“The placement of Sade with her grandmother was made by social workers but with the full knowledge and approval of many others. However, although she was keen to care for her granddaughter and was seemingly supported by the family it was clear from the caregiver assessment that there could be difficulties with this placement. Patricia Bisset disclosed a history of violence in the family, though not of herself as the perpetrator. A police check showed alcohol related crimes and several people had expressed concern (although not at the FGC) about her use of physical discipline. To balance this, social workers assessed that she had made considerable progress in addressing these matters in recent years. She was approved as Sade’s caregiver with a note that close monitoring and strong family support would be required. My review found that Patricia Bissett did not receive the family support that was expected and the Department failed to adequately monitor the placement,” says Mr Doolan.

3. Whatever the involvement of the social worker with the grandmother, it appears that the involvement did not engage her in any open and meaningful way.
“The grandmother was seen by a social worker on several occasions after Sade was placed with her. She was provided with financial support in line with Child, Youth and Family policy. Soon after the placement she told social workers that she was not coping, was financially in trouble and had fallen out with family in Palmerston North. She did not specifically say that she was having trouble looking after Sade and if this is what she meant, it was not picked up and acted upon. Patricia Bissett did indicate she wanted to return to Whangarei where she believed she had other family support and Child, Youth and Family provided financial help to enable her to do this,” says Mr Doolan.

5. Sade was seen by social workers subsequent to the placement being made.
“Sade was seen by social workers after the placement was made. On the last recorded occasion she was seen, it was noted that she looked well and appeared happy. On two occasions when social workers visited the home they were told Sade was asleep and they didn’t see her. Social workers should have made sure they sighted Sade on those occasions,” says Mr Doolan

The review also found a number of administrative failures and deviations from Child, Youth and Family policy.

“Despite the Department’s failings in this case, social workers did not knowingly or intentionally leave Sade in a dangerous situation. Staff were genuinely appalled and shocked at the horrific injuries inflicted on Sade. We are deeply sorry this little girl was placed in a situation where ultimately she was not safe. Patricia Bissett was not the best caregiver for Sade. As Sade was in its custody, Child, Youth and Family accepts that it had the ultimate responsibility to protect her from further harm,” says Mr Doolan.

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