Young suicide victim 'let down' by CYF

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 11:27 10/05/2013
Krystal
LET DOWN: Krystal was 12 when she committed suicide.

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A 12-year-old girl who killed herself while in foster care was let down by Child, Youth and Family, who failed to provide the support she needed, a coroner has ruled.

The child, Krystal, whose last name is permanently suppressed, was found dead in her bedroom by her seven-year-old sister at her Auckland foster home in 2008.

A Coroner's finding released today said Krystal took her own life after being sent to her room for fighting.

Her caregiver, who had been looking after the girls for just three weeks, was not properly informed of the child's fragile mental state due to a number of errors by social workers.

Krystal was also not provided with the counselling she needed, the coroner said.

It is believed she was the youngest child to have taken her own life while in state care.

In her ruling, Coroner Morag McDowell said Krystal was one of eight children from a Northland family of 12 taken into care when her parents were arrested on drugs charges in 2006.

All eight children were initially placed with family foster carers but were removed after Krystal alleged she had been sexually abused.

However, before the children left the foster home, the social workers told the caregivers about the allegations, leading to a "distressing" confrontation between the foster mother and Krystal.

Krystal was "tearful and despondent" but calmed down after a counselling session, the ruling said.

Before being placed at her new home, Krystal was then assessed by a social worker - a stranger, because her normal case manager was sick - and given a test for drug and alcohol risk, psychological distress and suicide risk.

However, the social worker tallied the score wrongly, meaning Krystal was not referred for further support when she needed to be.

McDowell said this was a lost opportunity to manage her mental state.

"There is a clear possibility that had psychological support been provided to Krystal she may not have made the choice she did in taking her life," the coroner said.

McDowell found Krystal was also not offered counselling after an evidential video interview with police.

"This was another missed opportunity to manage Krystal's mental state," the finding said.

After their arrival in Auckland, the children were split up and placed with various carers, and Krystal's siblings blamed her for separating the family, which upset her further.

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McDowell found the care plan provided to the new carer, whose name is also suppressed, was poor.

It did not detail when the sexual allegations were made, and she was not informed Krystal had undergone a risk-screening for suicide.

Again, McDowell said, the opportunity to provide support was missed.

The coroner found that at no time was there a "big picture" assessment of Krystal's situation.

"Krystal was obviously a vulnerable 12-year-old girl facing a number of emotional and psychological stresses," she said.

"It does not appear that these evident stressors were given appropriate consideration and acted upon."

Among her recommendations, some which the agencies had already addressed, was an instruction to Child Youth and Family that it review the way the care plans were formatted and shared.

She also recommended that police and CYF discussed the policy around offering counselling following evidential interviews.

She concluded that Child Youth and Family did not provide adequate support and care to Kystal.

"I consider Krystal's case as a tragic reminder to front-line social workers and those involved in the immediate care of children, of the requirement to be child - rather than process-focussed," McDowell said.

The names of the social workers involved in Krystal's case are suppressed, and a hearing later this month will decide if the suppression becomes permanent.

The allegations of sexual assault against her caregiver were dropped after Krystal's death.

HOW TO GET HELP

  • Suicide Prevention Helpline 0508 828 865
  • Youthline 0800 376 633
  • Depression 0800 111 757
  • Samaritans 0800 726 666

- Stuff

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