Those who care - 'our grief is huge'

Last updated 11:15 31/01/2012
Pat Booth
Pat Booth writes a weekly column for Suburban Newspapers.

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It's a photo of a smiling baby holding a little teddy bear. He's looking up at a smiling face, both full of love.

I wept when I saw those smiles – and the words that went with them.

They're an echo of a top-level call for an urgent study of Child Youth and Family's duty to provide for young children like him.

This deep concern is from those closest to the resulting pain – carers who lovingly, willingly choose to carry the day and night burden of children in need.

They tell of tears and fears, and paint a worrying picture.

Carers' experiences shared with this column bear out the concerns of former ombudsman Mel Smith whose report quoted last week calls for urgent study and action involving "kin placement" and concerns among professionals that, too often, the wishes of a parent or parents or whanau prevail.

That Smith report highlighted major problems which need urgent attention from the government – and a Maori community and MPs appearing to ignore a problem which too often ends in injury or death for children who need aroha.

That photo illustrates just one case history of many from critical carers:

"I collected him from a local hospital. A tiny scrap at one day old, but very beautiful.

"Typically, there was no social worker with me as I went about the myriad of papers to sign upon release into my care.

"Both his parents are in their 30s – mother has drug problems and is transient.

"She had another child from another relationship, now in his teens and living with his biological father. She has been estranged from her own family for many years, working and living on the street.

"The baby was unnamed and remained so for the first six weeks. Of course we gave him a name for the time being. We loved him.

"We made it clear after only those first weeks that we were happy to look at a home with us for life.

"But CYF was looking into extended family of both his parents for options for his care with whanau.

"None of his father's family was interested.

"A maternal uncle and his partner were but that uncle had a long list of convictions, including violence and past gang associations.

"It took six months for a decision on this wee boy. By that time, he had formed strong bonds with our family and us with him.

"His father came weekly for supervised access. Although he was unsuitable to parent, he was committed to these visits.

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"He was slowing down the process of a permanent placement, not wanting the baby taken out of the area. CYF eventually promised him regular air travel and accommodation for visiting.

"But I've no doubt he was coerced into signing, allowing his son to be taken so far away.

"The maternal grandmother then became CYF's next option – almost as if she was the best they could come up with to keep the stats looking good – baby's return to whanau.

"I spoke with grandma on the phone and had many concerns over what she said, which I documented. I reported these to CYF's social workers along with my own concerns over attachments, etc, and – given her age – the long-term future for the child. Grandmother was 62. She'd be 80 in his late teens.

"I also wanted to ensure the best, thorough transition over several days to allow the baby the best possible move to his new family. I was basically told where to go by CYF.

"Even offering our own home for grandma to stay and be able to care for baby in familiar surroundings as she got to know him and his routines, that she come to our house to see where her grandson had lived and been loved all those months ...

"But no way.

"She had made it clear that she and her husband's lifestyles as retired people wouldn't change in anyway as CYF would have to pick up the slack so they could continue with holidays, gym time, golf, etc.

"We had a follow-up phone call after he left, and a watered-down offer of counselling only after I explained the huge impact his new placement had on our family including our own children. Also their lack of follow-up support for us.

"We have had one email from his grandmother on how he is, but other than that no other information or contact. This is normal procedure.

"Grandma learned from CYF of my concerns and our phone conversations, and was totally anti-us as foster parents.

"CYF failed us and the baby by not keeping our concerns confidential.

"Grandma refused to do any transition. CYF flew her in for the handover, booked her for three days into a motel and flew her out.

"CYF also paid for her to have a support person with her, and provided her with all the necessary furniture, car seats, clothes, respite care, etc, and a boarding allowance of $170 a week for her grandson.

"We get the standard board allowance which equates to about one cent an hour working on a 24-hour, seven day-a-week job, less the food and costs of caring for a child.

"Obviously from this we don't care-give for the money.

"And you feel you're on your own. Like the day I first picked him up, no CYF person was there when I handed him over at a local cafe.

"It was a very tense meeting and emotional, obviously, because we were handing over a very precious child we had picked up from hospital and brought home just as we would have if he was our own.

"I had prepared well for the hand-over, applied for new clothing so he would have new things to grow into over the next few months, asked CYF to buy him a suitcase for his things, bought toys, had a special blanket made for him, and a teddy, all from our own pockets, so he would at least go with something to call his own.

"In 15 years of caring for babies I have managed to get CYF to buy me one car seat – my husband and I have supplied the rest.

"We've never been offered any respite care, or any other help financially or emotionally.

"He was one of eight newborns we have cared for – 18 children in all. Some have been moved to placements you could be happy about, because you knew that it has been well considered from every aspect and well-planned.

"But there have been more I have been absolutely horrified about that CYF would even consider such a disastrous decision for the child's future.

"We believe he's with his maternal grandmother. But feel that it was just a front for him to eventually end up in the care of the uncle CYF had refused as an option. This was also hinted at by a CYF social worker.

"I kept a diary for him of his first few months of life and I still hold this, in case he should want to know more about those six months with us."We prepared so well and so much for that day. The goodbye was brief and curt, and as I held him for the last time my heart was breaking. My eldest daughter who had helped care for him for those last six months was devastated. Not just by the fact he was going but the circumstances he was going to and the unknown.

"I'll always remember how she cried, and his grandmother turning on her – `What are you crying for? He's not your baby.'

"Our grief is huge, we care-give because we care ... and yet CYF tells us it's just a job and not to get emotional. How strange, when anyone knows that unless you care about these children we may as well commit them to a life of dysfunction, drug abuse, promiscuity and crime.

"We could almost send them off with a warning sign to the public, `Back to their whanau, back to the cycle of abuse'."

All this foster family has is that diary, the smiling photo, their memories and their misgivings.

Next week: "CYF told us: Don't fall in love with these children."

- North Shore Times

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