Agencies admit risk of more child tragedies
The government department trusted to protect our most vulnerable children says the death of a Morrinsville toddler prompted an improvement in their systems – but some children will still fall through the cracks.
Child, Youth and Family chief social worker Paul Nixon took the stand in the Hamilton District Court yesterday during the second day of an inquest into the death of toddler Hail-Sage McClutchie.
Sage died of a traumatic head injury on September 27, 2009, while in the care of her mother, Kelly Percy, and step-father Adrian Wilson-Minimita.
She was sick for several days before her death, but the couple did not seek medical treatment for her.
Police initially launched a homicide investigation, but last April decided there was no criminal culpability and closed their investigation.
Coroner Peter Ryan is now trying to unravel what happened in the lead-up to Sage's death and make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.
Yesterday Mr Nixon admitted that CYF did not know the toddler existed until her death, even though they had removed one child from Ms Percy before Sage was born.
Ms Percy was also receiving a benefit from Work and Income for Sage.
Mr Nixon said despite CYF and Work and Income both being part of the Ministry of Social Development, the agencies did not regularly share such information.
He told the court that their processes had since improved, and the current Green Paper on vulnerable children would help.
However, he could not guarantee that every child born into a family with a CYF history would come to the agency's attention, even after those changes.
Health professionals or the parents themselves still had to alert them to the fact that another child had been born to parents who had a history with CYF.
Mr Nixon said the Privacy Act also affected the scope of information-sharing.
At present information can be disclosed only if it will "prevent or lessen a serious or imminent threat" to an individual.
But in cases of child abuse, that risk was often not apparent, he said.
At the end of the inquest, Sage's aunt, Desi Walker, made an emotional plea for change.
The child's entire life was fully funded by the taxpayer, Mrs Walker said.
"All of New Zealand had a vested interest in this child – on the day Sage died, we all lost.
"All of the time that was invested in Sage went to waste, along with her beautiful smile and a future full of possibilities."
She said information-sharing between government agencies had to improve, or other children like Sage would fall through the cracks.
"Vulnerable children don't give birth to themselves...to me, more needs to be addressed to support the vulnerable adults who hold our children's future in their hands."
Mr Ryan reserved his recommendations.