Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Government to address child abuse system failings

The Government will adopt the majority of recommendations from an independent review into the actions of Government agencies leading up to the tragic death of 5-year-old Malachi Subecz, Minister for Children, Kelvin Davis announced today.

Following Malachi’s murder at the hands of his caregiver in 2021, Dame Karen Poutasi was appointed to investigate what agencies could have done better. Each agency also completed a review into its own actions.

“It’s essential the system changes. Mistakes were made and the Government is committed to fixing them so they are not repeated,” Minister Davis said.

“Dame Karen has made 14 recommendations, of which the Government has fully accepted nine and is committing to look carefully at the remaining five.

“The death of a child is heart-breaking so we need to do what we can to ensure we have a system that keeps kids safe and well in New Zealand. These changes will help to achieve that.

 “What’s clear from the findings is that the lack of a safety net to protect children most at risk from falling through the gaps failed Malachi and his family.

“This isn’t acceptable and agencies across the board need to do better,” he said.

Several recommendations have already, or will soon be actioned including addressing confusion around when information should be shared, multi-agency teams working with the community and the linking of medical records, the Minister said.

The report also highlighted other recommendations, including mandatory reporting and automatic vetting of caregivers when a solo parent is imprisoned. These will need to be looked at in depth by Ministers and Cabinet next year, said Mr Davis.

“We know the family and the public will be looking for swift action but we need to make sure that any changes we make do not bring with them unintended consequences.”

“For example, mandatory reporting could see a potential flood of unnecessary reports. We need to find the right balance between reporting cases that need to be flagged and teachers and others reporting out of fear they might be penalised if they don’t.

“The process around vetting of caregivers for parents in jail needs to be considered carefully too, but we are committed to looking closely at the options and we will take action to help ensure something like this does not happen again.”

A separate Practice Review by Oranga Tamariki has also found the agency made mistakes that should have seen the concerns of Malachi’s family investigated sooner.

“I have been assured that the senior staff at Oranga Tamariki who were involved in this case no longer work for the organisation,” Mr Davis said

“What Dame Karen’s report has highlighted is that while Oranga Tamariki is on the right track with the reforms, including the Future Direction Plan and the Action Plan, there is a huge urgency to those changes.”

Other findings in the System Review include a serious failure by the early childhood centre to follow its own Child Protection Policy.

Associate Minister of Education, Jan Tinetti said while the centre’s licence had been cancelled, there was a need to investigate how child protection practice in the sector could be better monitored.

“In October this year, the Education Review Office (ERO) initiated changes to the way it reviews Early Learning Services to ensure that a centre’s Child Protection Policies are in place and enacted appropriately. The Ministry and ERO will be working on a plan on how to improve the monitoring of child protection practice at early learning centres,” she said.

Another of Dame Karen’s recommendations is for Manatū Hauora (Ministry of Health) to be brought into the Child Protection Protocol system.

“Manatū Hauora has accepted the findings in the review and work is already under way with other agencies on meeting this recommendation,” Health Minister, Andrew Little said.

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