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Deaths of Saliel Aplin & Olympia Jetson - Response

Media Statement

12 November, 2003

CYF Responds to Report into Deaths of Saliel Aplin & Olympia Jetson

Child, Youth and Family today released the Chief Social Worker's review of CYF involvement with Olympia Jetson and Saliel Aplin.

The report makes it clear that Child, Youth and Family should have done a better job and for that the Department has apologised to Charlene Aplin and her family.

Eleven year-old Olympia Jetson and 12 year-old Saliel Aplin of Masterton were killed on 3 December 2001 by their stepfather, Bruce Howse, who is now serving a life sentence for their murders, with a 25 year non-parole period.

The purpose of the review was to examine whether Departmental policies and procedures had been followed, whether the practice had been of a good standard and whether any identified gaps in practice could be addressed. The review was not an inquiry into the cause of death or responsibility for death.

CYF General Manager, Social Work and Community Services, Verna Smith accepts the Chief Social Worker's findings.

"The findings show that the Department's processes and policies that direct our social work practice are fundamentally sound. However, of concern to me is that, in the case of Olympia Jetson and Saliel Aplin, policies and procedures were not followed."

Ms Smith said that Child, Youth and Family had been involved with the Jetson/Aplin/Howse family since the late 1980s. The social worker involved in the case had worked diligently with this family throughout the course of her involvement with them.

She had sought supervision on all relevant matters regarding the Aplin/Jetson family throughout this case including the period from August 2001 onwards. She did not work alone and discussed the case as required with her supervisor.

"However, the Chief Social Worker's report finds that during a critical stage in the Department's involvement with the family, from August 2001 to 4 December 2001, there had been a lack of rigour applied to CYF decisions which may have arisen from the long familiar relationships between the family and those who were involved with them.

"Normal checks and balances of the care and protection system did not operate effectively in this case. We encourage long-term relationships with families but need to balance the benefits of familiarity with the need to use proper policies and processes at all times," Ms Smith said.

Ms Smith said the supervisor resigned from the Department last year. Appropriate disciplinary action was taken in relation to the social worker involved, and she had now left the Department.

Since receiving a copy of the review Ms Smith said the Department had:

- reminded all staff of their obligation to follow Departmental processes and policies which go to the heart of CYF's child protection work.

- Reminded staff that the use of the Risk Estimation Tool, or a record of its exemption, is mandatory.

- reminded staff of the requirement to use the Serious Abuse Team (SAT) protocol, and implemented revised training across the country.

Since 4 December 2001, Ms Smith said the Department had taken the following steps to support the Masterton site:

- strengthened on-site management and leadership in Masterton during 2003.

- provided additional support and practice advice from the Chief Social Worker's advisory team.

- provided additional social work resources from the Wellington office.

- strengthened collaboration with other key agencies, especially Police and Health.

- worked closely with community partners on initiatives to address family violence; the 'Rise Above It' and 'Everyday Communities' campaigns.

- contracted an addition Social Workers in Schools position in Masterton.

Ms Smith said the Department welcomed the additional resources that the Baseline Review will provide to enhance practice and provide management information systems to assist the Department to do its job better. The Baseline review will lead to stronger regional management structures within Child, Youth and Family. A review of those structures will be done next year.

Child, Youth and Family has also accepted the findings of the Commissioner for Children's report into the deaths of Saliel and Olympia.

"The findings indicate the need for organisations such as Police, Women's Refuge and Child, Youth and Family to work together to have a clearer and shared understanding of when reported incidents of family violence should come to the attention of Child Youth and Family, given that up to 60 per cent of families who experience domestic violence also experience child abuse," Ms Smith said.

SUMMARY OF REPORT ATTACHED

Summary of The Chief Social Worker's Report Into The Case Of Saliel Aplin & Olympia Jetson

A Summary of Findings of a review by the Chief Social Worker into the involvement of the Department of Child Youth and Family Services (CYF) with Olympia Jetson and Saliel Aplin, released today are:

- Between 1989 and 1993 the department's involvement was marked by appropriate investigation and conclusions were reached in consultation with the family, Police, health professionals and the Care and Protection Resource panel.

- From 1994 to 1999 there was evidence of careful cross-agency consultation and a reasonable standard of social work practice and judgement applied throughout.

- Overall, the extent and detail of record keeping in this case was comprehensive.

- Regarding the period of August 2001 to 4 December 2001, there are eight practice issues which the Chief Social Worker commented on:

1. After a 3 August notification the social worker carried out her job well. She responded immediately to satisfy herself that Olympia and one of her siblings were safe.

2. Call Centre staff, when taking information on 3 August 2001 on two children, ought to have made sure they recorded this as two separate notifications. Rolling the two children into one note always runs a risk of one becoming "lost' in the system.

3. Information received 3 September 2001 should have been entered onto the case recording system as a new notification. If this had been done, there would have been an open case that would have required a considered decision by the social worker and supervisor before closure of the case

4. The Practice Manager should have been consulted

5. Failure to follow the Serious Abuse Team (SAT) joint Police/Child, Youth and Family protocol on 3 August and 3 September 2001 were serious breaches of Departmental policy. The SAT protocol requires that social workers notify Police in matters of sexual or serious physical abuse.

6. The social worker and supervisor should have used the Risk Estimation System tool to help them assess probable risk after Olympia retracted allegations she made against Bruce Howse.

7. A letter was sent to Charlene Aplin asking for her to contact the social worker after phone calls and a visit to the home weren't successful in reaching her. It is acknowledged that extensive effort was made by the social worker to make personal contact with Charlene Aplin before the letter was sent, but the view of the Chief Social Worker is that this letter should not have been sent.

8. A lack of rigour applied to the decisions in this case may have arisen from the long, familiar relationship between the family and those involved with them. The normal checks and balances of the Care and Protection system did not operate in this case.


ENDS

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