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Marae Investigates Exposes CYFS Shortcomings

Marae Investigates Exposes CYFS Shortcomings

The Child Youth and Family Service has apologised to a Taranaki woman for placing her with a convicted rapist when she was 16.

On TVNZ’s Marae Investigates programme this morning, the Service admitted it had let her down.

In 2001 the woman, who was referred to as Joanne, was placed under CYFS care while completing a Youth Court supervision order for her part in a vicious assault.  CYFS confirmed to Marae Investigates that it followed the recommendation of a Family Group Conference and sent her to live with an uncle without doing any criminal checks.

It turned out the uncle had been convicted of a vicious gang rape.

Joanne told the programme she was moved after she complained she’d been sexually abused, but by then she claims she’d been raped not only by her Uncle but by his friend who has since died of aids.

27 year old Joanne now lives with HIV as does her first born son.

In a written statement CYFS Deputy Chief Executive David Shanks said the Service was very sorry for what had happened to the woman but confirmed at the time in 2001, staff weren’t required to do checks around family placement decisions made at youth justice Family Group Conferences.

David Shanks said “Staff at the time were still however expected to assess the caregiver's suitability.  In hindsight it appears we didn't do a good enough job around this and we let (name witheld) down.”

He confirmed it had only become mandatory to do criminal checks on all caregivers earlier this year.

When asked why mandatory criminal checks had taken so long to be made policy, Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett told Marae Investigates that the main thing was it had and went on to demand families take more responsibility.

“There are cases where it’s not CYFS that are placing the young people, it’s the families themselves and at some level we need to look at that all of community, all of Whanau care and look out for that young person.” said Ms Bennett.

But Green Party co-leader Meteria Turei says CYFS needs to check its records to ensure other children haven’t been placed at the same level of risk.  Speaking to Marae Investigates she claimed there were systemic problems with the Service.

“Now the Minister of Social Development has put out claims that she wants to remove even more children from their families in order to protect them.  But it’s clear the State is not necessarily a safe place for these kids.”  said Ms Turei.

Meanwhile the woman at the centre of the story says she’s very pleased to have received an apology, all be it through the media and CYFS have said it will hold further discussions with her to see how else it can support her.

To view the Marae Investigates story – go to www.tvnz.co.nz/maraeinvestigates

Transcript of the interview between Scotty Morrison and Green Party Co-leader Meteria Turei follows -

Clearly CYFS failed Joanne.  Is an apology enough?

No I don’t think it is.  This is a systemic problem.  There will be other children placed in the same level of risk that they haven’t identified yet.  They need to review their files from that period of time and check on those children to make sure that they were safe in State care.   I think the other issue here is that the Minister has not completely confirmed that children who go through the Youth Offending process… that their caregivers are properly vetted for their criminal convictions and their safety.   That is still unclear really from what she said.

CYFS has admitted that vetting all caregivers was only made mandatory last year … too late isn’t it?

It is too late for those children who have been injured in the process and they need to be identified.  CYFS needs to go through its records again.  It’s not about identifying individual CYFS workers because many of them work very hard to find safe placements for children.  But there is clearly a systemic failure that the system needs to provide for. Now this woman’s  whole life has been deeply damaged as a result of the State failing to take her safety seriously.  Now the Minister of Social Development has put out claims that she wants to remove even more children from their families in order to protect them.  But it’s clear the State is not necessarily a safe place for these kids.

The Social Services Select Committee report tabled in Parliament this week highlights gaps in the way our children are treated via CYFS and the Family Court and a lack of accountability.  Is this report going to mean these gaps are closed?

There are some very good recommendations in this report and I want to do a shout out for Chester Burrows for bringing that enquiry to the Social Services Select Committee,  One of the areas identified is the Youth Court Judges saying that CYFS needs a provision that’s specifically about children who go through the Youth Offending process because there is a gap in the policy there but also recognising that there is a high turn over of social workers in CYFS so trying to maintain stability for that child and their care over a long period of time is really difficult because of the high turn over which is about CYFS and the way that they’re funded, the conditions that their employees are working in, the case load that their social workers have and all the processes around making sure those kids are safe.  So there’s a lot of work still to be done.



[via Marae Investigates | Television New Zealand]

Statement from Ministry of Social Development Deputy Chief Executive David Shanks

For the purposes of privacy Marae Investigates is calling the young woman "Joanne"

"Joanne" should never have gone to live with an uncle who was a convicted rapist and we are very sorry this happened to her.
We believe Joanne's claim that she was mistreated in his care, which makes it even more unacceptable.
The Ministry of Social Development does not condone the placement of any child or young person with a convicted sex offender.
In 2001 it wasn't mandatory for CYF staff to do criminal checks around family placement decisions made at youth justice Family Group Conferences.
This was a gap in CYF policy.

Staff at the time were still however expected to assess the caregiver's suitability.
In hindsight it appears we didn't do a good enough job around this and we let Joanne down.
We're re-examining our decision-making around the placement as a result and will be inviting Joanne to meet with us to talk about this.
I can assure the public that our assessment process has been strengthened in more recent years, with staff expected to do police checks if there were any concerns around family/whanau placements.
Early this year it became mandatory to do criminal checks for these placements.*
A range of other safety checks are now also required, including home visits.

The Ministry believes that CYF responded appropriately when Joanne informed her social worker that her uncle had abused her.
She was immediately removed from the home.
CYF then supported Joanne to meet with the Police Sexual Abuse Team and statements were taken. Counselling for Joanne was also arranged.
Prosecution decisions are a matter for the Police and the complainant.
When we met with Joanne last year we offered to arrange counselling for her and that offer still stands.
We understand her anger and distress and will be having more discussion about further support we may be able to provide to help her to address what happened.


*Link to current caregiver assessment policy for youth justice placements

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