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CYPFA Reports On James Whakaruru Case

The tragic death of four-year-old James Whakaruru highlights the importance of swiftly notifying CYPFA or the police about any suspected abuse of children, says chief social worker Mike Doolan.

"The only notification we received about James was from police in July 1996 following an assault on James, for which his mother's partner was jailed. We made sure James was safe.

"Then in 1997, we were asked by the Family Court to prepare a report to assist the Court to make a decision on custody matters. The mother assured us she had decided not to live with the partner anymore and our report therefore concluded James would be safe in her care, particularly as there were grandparents around.

"It turned out, with tragic consequences, that the couple did later live together and James was exposed to the partner's violence again," says Mr Doolan.

"In the two years since our last involvement, no-one told us the couple were back living together and, in the absence of another notification, there was no basis for us to investigate further. If a member of James' wider family or anyone else suspected he was in danger or was being abused we should have been notified. We will always respond if we are notified."

Whilst an internal review of CYPFA's involvement with James and his family does disclose some practice issues, it also shows CYPFA never knowingly left James in a dangerous situation.

The review found social workers could have done better in three areas, says Mr Doolan.

"First, when the police first told us about James being beaten in 1996, we could have taken our investigation a bit further. We could have tried to find out more about James' family. James was safe though. He was with his grandmother and she was anxious to keep him safe.

"Second, we could have assessed James' mother's abilities as a parent more thoroughly. While everyone was concentrating on her partner and the abuse he had inflicted on James, no-one looked closely enough at how protective of James his mother would prove to be in the long term.

"Third, the Family Court asked CYPFA to monitor the child's environment no less than once weekly between March 5 1997 and April 8 1997 and this was not done. An explanation for this was given to the Court when our report was presented and the Judge was still able to make a final decision. I am not happy about this failure to comply with a court request. But I really cannot say that this failure to visit over a period of one month in 1997 contributed in any way to the sad death of James two years later."


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