Family feared for baby in CYF care

The family of a drug-addicted baby who died in Child Youth and Family care say they raised concerns for his welfare after finding mould on his clothing, spots on his skin and severe nappy rash, during a visit.

Ricco Rain Spittal-Chadfield was found dead in his port-a-cot in his temporary foster parents' home on May 3 last year, aged about 10 weeks old.

An autopsy found the cause of his death to be sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).

An inquest into Ricco's death began last week before coroner Tim Scott with the Marton-based CYF appointed carers of the child giving evidence at a special interim hearing.

The carers, whose names are suppressed, felt under "very considerable threat" from Ricco's father, Daniel Spittal, who allegedly threatened them after his son died.

Three CYF staff, whose names are also suppressed, were called to give evidence when the inquest resumed in the Marton District Court yesterday.

According to a submission from CYF staff, the mother of the child, Tara Chadfield, was a heavy user of drugs and was on the methadone treatment programme for a methamphetamine addiction while pregnant with Ricco.

A "safety plan" was drawn up by CYF staff for Chadfield to allow her to parent Ricco but he was taken into CYF custody after his birth when it became apparent he was having withdrawal symptoms from the drug.

There were also concerns raised about Chadfield hiding a hypodermic needle in her clothing and taking her methadone but appearing so sleepy she was in danger of dropping her baby.

The inquest heard how social workers who visited the carers' Whanganui house thought it was cluttered, damp and had a mould smell when it was first inspected in March 2012. Further staff were sent to check the house but it was cleared and Ricco was put into their care.

Ricco's carers said there was an oil column heater in their room, where Ricco's bed was set up, but admitted it was turned off at night.

Social workers also raised the issue of the couple using a port-a-cot as the baby's bed, which did have a solid mattress and base, but this was replaced with a softer mattress after it got wet.

A cold room and a soft mattress could be considered risk factors in a SUDI death, the court heard.

A "solid" cot was ordered by CYF staff but the request was "misplaced" and it did not arrive until the day Ricco died, some five weeks after he first went into their care. None of the social workers checked the mattress in the cot.

Ricco's carers disputed how much information they were given about his health, saying they now question whether he was a healthy baby, as they were told, and believe his exposure to drugs put him at a higher risk of SUDI.

Whanganui CYF had since changed its practices and parents are now given more information about SUDI and social workers have a checklist to follow when inspecting children's sleeping arrangements.

Caroline Norton, Chadfield's mother and Ricco's grandmother, attended the hearing and said Chadfield and a social worker took Ricco to hospital after allegedly finding mould spots on his clothing, the nappy rash, and spots on his skin.

A social worker said she was told about the mould on Ricco's clothing and asked to see it, but was told it had been taken home and was just around the top of the clothing, where mould could form when babies spilt milk.

She did not raise the issue with the caregivers but did talk to them about the rash following the hospital visit.

The inquest is to be reconvened at a later date.

Manawatu Standard