16 Feb 2017

Family demand answers over toddler's death

4:58 am on 16 February 2017

The family of a Southland toddler who died want to know why his mother was put in charge of protecting him when she was suspected of injuring him.

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Photo: 123rf

Her partner, who had criminal convictions and a history of violence, was charged with murdering the boy in October 2015, but was then found dead in prison weeks later.

The boy's family said they would be hiring a lawyer for the upcoming inquest to make sure CYF was asked tough questions about the 17-month-old's death.

All names are suppressed in the case, and Child Youth and Family will not comment about its internal review of how social workers handled the case.

Three relatives of the toddler's father had a two-hour meeting with CYF to lay out its recommendations from that review.

An aunt told RNZ that the agency appeared to get to the nub of what went wrong - but then told them the recommendations were not enforceable.

"We were shocked to be told that ... CYF can simply decide whether or not to implement them.

"What use are the recommendations if they are not enforceable? It says to our family, 'Your child meant nothing.'"

CYF had been unable to explain to why the boy was left so vulnerable, including why he was sent back home from hospital five days before he died, after he had been admitted with a thigh fracture and other unexplained injuries.

The agency admitted it consulted only two people when drawing up its safety plan for the boy to go home, the aunt said - the boy's mother, and her partner.

The partner was on bail for violence charges and was so volatile he had been denied unsupervised access to his own children.

Just one day before the toddler's return home, a report noted the mother was a suspect for causing the injuries to the boy, and another said she did not appear protective.

"All we know is one part of that safety plan was that the mother was not to leave the children in her partner's care unsupervised," the aunt said.

"In one part, the mother is certainly considered a suspect and then all of a sudden a safety plan is being devised with her.

"Our family did confront CYF about this and we were not given a conclusive answer to that."

The wider family was left out of the loop at the time the toddler was injured.

"If CYF had given us the decency of advising us that our nephew had been harmed before he was placed back in the home, our family certainly would have worked with the agency to do what we could to intervene."

The family worried that any recommendations from an inquest would also lack teeth, though they would use a lawyer at that hearing to try to hold the agency to account.

Labour Party social development spokesperson Jacinda Ardern said the law must be changed to give power to coroners' recommendations, though her party had recently to push such a law change through.

"There is no requirement on a department like CYF to respond or even acknowlege the issues that are being raised," Ms Ardern said.

"Where the system is falling down is the response to what's found. So I don't imagine any family will ever be satisfied with that process until we do something with the outcome."

However, social workers should not be hung out to dry over tragedies and the wider issues like under-resourcing ignored, she said.