Boy left hypothermic by caregivers

Last updated 15:28 16/01/2013

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A Whakatane boy suffered life-threatening hypothermia after being subjected to cold-water showers by his Child Youth and Family caregivers.

Soon after the 2-year-old came into their care last year, Stephen and Eunice Towns began smacking him and giving him cold showers as a form of corrective discipline, a court has been told.

On one occasion - after he refused to eat his breakfast - the boy was forced to spend more than 10 minutes under the cold water causing his body temperature to drop to dangerous levels.

He was unconscious when taken to Whakatane Hospital on May 11 and had a core body temperature of 31.6 degrees Celsius, placing him at risk of fatal cardiac dysrhythmia.

In the Whakatane District Court this week, the Edgecumbe couple admitted abusing the boy over a five week period with Eunice Towns, 42, pleading guilty to grievous bodily harm and assault. Her husband Stephen Towns, 52, pleaded guilty to assault.

They will be sentenced in the Tauranga District Court on February 18, the Whakatane Beacon reported.

A second woman, aged 19, faces a charge of wounding with reckless disregard to which she has pleaded not guilty. She has interim name suppression and will next appear in the Whakatane court on February 5.

The Towns were approved Child Youth and Family caregivers who had previously cared successfully for various children over the years.

However, last year was a difficult one for the family, with stressful events affecting Eunice Towns' ability to react calmly to situations.

In spite of this, the couple agreed to take on the care of three children under the age of three, including the victim, who arrived in early April.

Within three weeks the couple were feeling the stress of caring for the children alongside their usual family and work responsibilities, and began using excessive force when grabbing the pre-schooler, bruising various parts of his body.

When he refused to do as he was told his foster mother would push him, causing him to fall over.

She also began giving him regular cold showers of up to a minute, up to three times a day.

Her husband was doing the same thing, pushing the boy, smacking him and giving him cold showers to discipline him.

On May 11, when he refused first to eat his breakfast, then play with any toys, Eunice Towns became very upset and took him to the shower where she made him sit under the fully cold water for five minutes before increasing the level above cold to wash him.

Another woman took over the showering and noticed the temperature but made no attempt to increase it.

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The boy was under the cold water for between 10 and 15 minutes, and began suffering hypothermia within five minutes of getting out of the shower.

By the time he reached Whakatane Hospital his  condition was life-threatening.

Doctors also noticed multiple abrasions and extensive bruising over much of his body.

The couple admitted reacting poorly and abusing their positions as caregivers.

Eunice Towns expressed extreme remorse but could not provide a reasonable explanation for what she had done.

-Whakatane Beacon

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