28 Sep 2010

CYF admits mistakes in child drowning case

9:49 pm on 28 September 2010

Child, Youth and Family has admitted a series of mistakes in its handling of the case of a mother who left her son to drown.

The 29-year-old woman, who has name suppression, was sentenced on Tuesday to two years and 10 months in jail for the manslaughter of the 13-month-old boy, who drowned when left alone for 15 minutes in an adult-sized bath in their Auckland home last November.

The court heard that the toddler and his five-year-old sister had been placed with Child, Youth and Family (CYF) because their mother was depressed and their father violent.

During the woman's trial in the High Court in Auckland, questions were raised about the department's involvement, and about how her older child had also been sexually abused while in its care.

Social workers 'missed checks'

CYF admits the girl was sexually assaulted by a 13-year-old who was also in its care.

It is apologising for social-work practice that it says was short of its best, saying that its social workers were pressured for time and missed a series of checks.

CYF deputy chief executive Ray Smith told Checkpoint a family meeting and a parental assessment, which should have taken place before the children were returned, did not take place.

Mr Smith says staff believed the children would be safe because there had been no problems during 12 unsupervised visits with their parents.

'Exemplary mother' portrayal not accepted

Before Justice Brewer sentenced the woman, her lawyer, John Anderson, asked him to take her previous good character into consideration, and either convict and discharge her or impose a sentence of home detention.

Justice Brewer said, however, that he did not accept the portrayal of the defendant as an exemplary mother.

He told the woman that she was aware her son was not yet stable enough to be placed in such a situation and that her actions were at the higher end of criminal neglect.

The judge also said that he did not like giving permanent name suppression but that in this case identifying the woman could identify the young girl.