OPINION: In life Chris and Cru Kahui were unwanted and unloved. In death their names have become synonymous with the national shame - our failure to protect our most vulnerable children.
The report of the inquest into the death of the twin boys lays bare the full horror of their brief existence. They were born prematurely at National Women's Hospital in Auckland on March 20, 2006, and discharged into the care of their parents, Macsyna King and Chris Kahui, on May 7, 2006. Less than six weeks later, they were readmitted to hospital suffering from traumatic brain injuries. They died a few days later when their life support systems were switched off. Post-mortem examinations showed that in addition to the brain injuries that caused their deaths, both had fractured ribs and Chris also had a fractured femur.
The twins' father was subsequently acquitted of their murder after a jury trial, although coroner Garry Evans, who is able to reach his findings on a lower standard of proof than the criminal courts, pointed his finger clearly in one direction. ''The traumatic brain injuries suffered by Chris and Cru Kahui were incurred by them during the afternoon/early evening of 12 June 2006, whilst they were in the sole custody, care and control of their father,'' he said. He rejected the suggestions of Mr Kahui's lawyer that the injuries could have been caused by Ms King or her brother Stuart, who lived in the same Mangere house as the twins' parents.
The case triggered a bout of national soul-searching and Mr Evans has recommended several measures to better protect vulnerable children. They include the establishment of specialist child protection teams under the auspices of district health boards, charging health and education authorities with statutory responsibility for child protection and considering mandatory reporting for suspected cases of child abuse.
However, his report makes clear that there are no easy solutions. ''There is an element of randomness about such extreme acts of violence that defies prediction,'' he says, quoting former children's commissioner John Angus.
Such was the case with the Kahuis. Before their readmittance to hospital, health professionals had reason to be both concerned and reassured about their wellbeing.
In the 30 days leading up to their release from Middlemore Hospital's neonatal unit, Ms King visited them on just 11 occasions and Mr Kahui even less frequently. Many of the visits were fleeting. But in the weeks after their discharge they were seen by health professionals on at least seven occasions. None reported any concerns. On the contrary, the twins were said to be ''doing nicely'', putting on weight and being well looked after.
In hindsight, hospital staff should have attached greater weight to the intermittent appearances of the boys' parents at the hospital, but the state can do only so much. It cannot install a police officer, a social worker or a health professional in every home.
Children will only ever be safe when those whose primary job it is to protect and nurture them - their families - do their jobs.
- © Fairfax NZ News