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Reports target Govt agencies over child deaths

Katherine Rich MP National Party Welfare Spokeswoman

12 November 2003

Reports target Govt agencies over child deaths

"The names of the murdered children have changed but the same issues remain within Child, Youth and Family," says National Party Welfare spokeswoman Katherine Rich, commenting on the two reports out today on the deaths of Olympia and Saliel Aplin.

"It's clear that Labour learned nothing from the Commissioner's previous report into the death of James Whakaruru or the report of Judge Mick Brown. After four years under this Government, New Zealanders do not have a child protection agency that they can rely on or have any faith in.

"I don't blame CYF for the girls' deaths. But as an Opposition member of Parliament I must hold CYF accountable for some appalling errors of judgment and mistakes. It failed to adhere to fundamental processes for dealing with these cases.

"It's a disturbing list of failures: not using risk assessment tools, not referring sexual abuse allegations, minimising the concerns of the girls, file notes which indicate only five conversations with the girls, and a continued playing down the shocking violent situation that they lived in. This was not the service that the Aplin sisters deserved as New Zealand citizens.

"CYF is often the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. But the public still expects emergency calls to be taken seriously, recorded, and for the ambulance to turn up on time - properly equipped and staffed," Mrs Rich says.

"What's also worrying is the Government's politically correct Roopu team which was set up to deal exclusively with Maori cases. In my view this contributed to the failures of the Department when dealing with the Aplin/Howse family. The theory of separate teams might look good on a chalkboard, but when there are not enough Maori social workers and Maori children are vastly overrepresented in care and protection, as well as justice cases, it was never going to work.

"It is important to have services sensitive to cultural issues but if a separate team is to be set up it must be adequately resourced, staffed and lead. This didn't happen. When the Roopu team which looked after the Aplin notifications carried a case load 36% higher than the other team, faced a caseload of higher complexity, and lost the site manager who had provided leadership for the team, the social workers on the Masterton Roopu team were on a hiding to nothing," says Mrs Rich.

"There are many lessons to be learned from these reports but one of the main ones is about our society. Unless we tackle the growing problems associated with inter-generational welfare dependency and the normalisation of family violence, there will continue to be a steady stream of Saliel and Olympia Aplins.

"There are two main recommendations in the Commissioner's report that I strongly endorse.

"The idea of strong local child protection teams is something that deserves further investigation. Local CYF staff will always know local families better than a call centre. While many individual social agencies like police, schools and CYF held separate pieces of the Aplin puzzle, a local child protection team which met regularly might have been able to construct a full picture of the fatal situation these girls were in," Mrs Rich says.

"The report also highlights concerns I have had for sometime that police and social workers at the frontline can sometimes become desensitised to violent situations that would shock average New Zealanders.

"Violent and abusive situations for children should never become normalised or just another incident," says Mrs Rich.

Ends

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