File shows tragedy of Leon Jayet-Cole unfolding

Leon Jayet-Cole died last year after suffering a serious head injury while in the care of his stepfather, James Roberts.
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Leon Jayet-Cole died last year after suffering a serious head injury while in the care of his stepfather, James Roberts.

Autistic boys Leon Jayet-Cole, 5, and his older brother would have taxed even the best parents. Reporters Martin van Beynen and Blair Ensor look at how the boys fared in a drug-taking, violent and dysfunctional family environment.

It is easy to cast blame after the death of Leon Jayet-Cole who was taken to Christchurch Hospital on May 27 last year with serious head injuries and died the next day. His stepfather James Roberts was charged with his murder and died this week in a suspected suicide.

Unusually Stuff has had access to the entire Child Youth and Family (CYF) file on Leon's family. In hindsight, the risks to the family look fairly obvious but the file also shows the enormous resources provided to the family and how intensive help was never enough to keep it out of strife.

Emma Jayet, Leon's mother, and her husband James Roberts, Leon's stepfather.
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Emma Jayet, Leon's mother, and her husband James Roberts, Leon's stepfather.

Read more:
* Warning signs before Leon's alleged murder 
Leon hospitalised with head injury months before death
* Leon's father calls for inquiry

CYF certainly tried. The family had attentive social workers and complaints about the family were promptly investigated. Explanations for injuries to the boys were checked with hospital specialists and several plans were put in place to support the mother Emma Jayet.

What emerges from the file, however, is a lack of skepticism about Jayet's and Roberts's assurances about the boys, a lack of thoroughness in investigating concerns and a failure to sustain monitoring. 

CYF, from the file anyway, appears to have been too eager to get the family off its books and shifted onto another agency. Neighbours were not spoken to and even claims from a housing trust that suggested serious abuse and violence were not rigorously pursued. The trust told CYF Jayet was violent and aggressive but capable of putting on a good show for social workers.  

But this was a family for whom crisis was normal. Each crisis required intensive work, engaging many agencies. It was never easy to find care for the boys due to their needs and Jayet's track record did not help.

CYF was clearly trying hard to keep the family together and saw Roberts as a usually positive influence despite his history including convictions for drugs, violence and aggravated robbery.

The boys seemed to like Roberts  and he appeared to have often supported Jayet in difficult circumstances. A complicating factor for CYF was the difficulty in distinguishing injuries caused by the boys' autistic behaviour and those caused by abuse. 

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The conclusion is, however,  inescapable. The home provided by Emma Jayet and James Roberts was dangerous, especially for two demanding, special needs and labour intensive boys like Leon and his brother. In fact it's hard to imagine a worse environment.

Leon was born on 19 April, 2010 to Jayet and her then partner Michael Cole. Jayet, then 31 and a former stripper, already had four children, two of whom did not live with her. Leon's older brother by two years was autistic and at the time of Leon's arrival was still unable to speak.

Leon was soon showing signs of being autistic although by the time he died he was, unlike his brother, capable of some speech. Both boys had to be watched. They ran away, fell over, were climbers, put objects in their mouths and got into everything.

They needed routine, quiet, consistency and continual help from a number of agencies. In addition to looking after the boys Jayet needed to get them to kindergarten or school and to appointments. She did not have a driver's licence and did not have a car. 

Her relationship with Leon's father Michael was volatile and by 2012 they had split up. Emma had a protection order against him. By the time the relationship ended, CYF had five notifications alleging abuse of Leon and his brother and his sister. 

Emma had no criminal convictions but CYF knew she had been a hard drugs user, was unreliable and was often in financial strife.

She and James Roberts, a counsellor with a criminal history, began a relationship in early 2012. Roberts had a young child who lived with the mother. 

Jayet and Roberts broke up several times, mainly, it appears, because he could not cope with the boys and also found their sister a handful. He ended up in hospital with a perforated eardrum after a fight with Emma in February, 2014.

Michael Cole, who often bought groceries for the family, continually reported what he thought were abuses to CYF. Social workers found him aggressive and rambling and did not like his style of parenting. 

A period around the end of 2013 and into 2014 illustrates the problems CYF and other agencies faced with the family. Having broken up with Roberts, Jayet had a breakdown and was admitted for a short stay in psychiatric emergency on December 2, 2013 and then moved to an agency offering respite care.

The boys were cared for in three different placements and returned to Jayet's care on Christmas Eve despite concerns about her mental condition and her ability to look after the boys.

By New Years Day, Jayet was again needing psychiatric emergency care and the boys were placed with various agencies. Leon was returned to Jayet on January 8 because his carer had other commitments and was struggling with Leon's behaviour. Without any confidence Jayet was handling the stresses of looking after Leon, his brother was returned to the home about a week later. 

By the end of January Jayet's housing need was becoming an emergency. The women's trust which owned the house where she was staying wanted her out but Jayet had nowhere to go. The trust would not recommend her to any other agency.

The file shows the agencies fighting about whose responsibility it was to get Emma and her family a house. No house was found by the time, Jayet was packing to move. The family ended up in an emergency house in Barrington before moving to a Housing New Zealand house in Redwood in April 2014.

Roberts was by then back on the scene and he and Jayet went to Nelson to collect a pure bred Rottweiler puppy which Roberts was getting cheap. Jayet received a positive review from CYF in May, 2014 and it closed the case saying there were no present care and protection concerns for the children. 

By September the family were again drawn to CYF's attention when Leon's older brother came to school with bruises to his head, knee, torso and lower lip. Roberts had been looking after him at the time he got the injuries. The following month CYF decided on a joint investigation plan and by then Leon's kindergarten had conveyed concerns about Roberts' attitude, about Jayet being unwell and Leon being unsettled.

A social worker visited Jayet, pregnant with Roberts' child, at home on November 7. Jayet denied drug use as indicated by text messages but admitted smoking cannabis outside the home. Roberts arrived home during the visit and told the social worker he smoked cannabis and at times obtained harder drugs for his friends because he knew suppliers. The social worker referred the case to a panel for further assessment. By December 1, about six months before Leon's death, CYF had taken no action and did not step into the family's life again until April 8 last year when an official found the children home alone.

CYF then made an unannounced visit on the family home and called Leon's school and other parties. The school told CYF about Leon having a sore foot and marks on his face. 

CYF was still investigating when Leon was killed.

 - Stuff

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