An autistic Auckland boy, who died after he escaped from a respite home, left through a gate staff used to smoke and which had previously been found unlocked, an inquest heard today.
Julian Stacey, 11, who had the mental capacity of a 1 to 2-year-old, escaped from the Garden Court home, in Mangere, South Auckland, on the afternoon of February 7, 2010. The home that provides care for intellectually disabled children is run by Spectrum Care Trust.
He was found by police drowned, floating facedown in a duck pond 250 metres from the home, in an adjacent park.
Julian had a history of escaping from home and respite care and staff had been aware that he loved water and that the nearby pond and stream were a risk to the boy.
Julian's mother, Natasha Stacey, accused the staff at Garden Court of laziness and covering up previous escapes by her son.
Safety in the home had declined in 2009 and Julian escaped from the home several times, often travelling several kilometres from the home, Stacey said.
"There are instances after instances of failing to provide a reasonable standard of care, there was no urgency to investigate matters properly," she said.
On the day of his death staff failed to provide Julian with the fulltime care he needed while playing outside, Stacey told the court.
"I feel that the staff became lazy and were used to Julian wandering in and out.
"That is why they left him unsupervised. There is no excuse to the events that happened on this day where we lost our son."
The staff failed to consult the risk plan designed for Julian when he escaped. It identified the pond as a risk and said staff should contact police immediately and then Stacey.
Instead, Stacey was told Julian was missing when she arrived to pick him up, and she was the first person to contact the police.
"It was me who told police to go to the pond," she said.
She accused the Spectrum Care staff of negligence in not following Ministry of Health rules around risk plans and said she believed they delayed calling the police.
When staff eventually contacted police about half an hour after Julian was first noticed missing they failed to convey the serious risk his condition created.
Garden Court staff member Vijay Naidu told the emergency service call taker Julian was a normal functioning 10-year-old who couldn't speak.
Because police are regularly presented with cases of missing children, the call failed to convey the seriousness of the risks facing Julian, police told the court.
"I think there would have been a sense of urgency certainly [if his condition had been explained]," Sergeant Sascha Huff, the officer in charge of the inquest, said.
Stacey also expressed concern about the initial attending police officer who found Julian in the pond, assumed he was dead and chose to photograph the scene.
She feared the officer had missed an opportunity to resuscitate Julian and asked the coroner to make a recommendation that police first attempt to save lives before conducting a scene examination.
"I request this so someone else's boy or girl has a better chance of living," she said.
She broke down as she read her statement to the court, comforted by her mother, wearing a T-shirt with Julian's portrait.
"He was my world, my heart, my soul, my everything. He was the other half of me. The thing that got me out of bed every day," Stacey said.