CYF admits failures over death

08:03, Oct 03 2012

The suspected suicide of a 12-year-old girl in state care may have been prevented if Child, Youth and Family (CYF) had properly informed caregivers of her history and distressed mental state, a coroner has heard.

The girl, Krystal, whose last name is permanently suppressed, was found dead by her 7-year-old sister at her Auckland foster home in 2008.

The Ministry of Social Development said in a coroner's hearing in Auckland today that its care plans for Krystal fell well below standard, because it had failed to disclose to her new foster family full details about allegations of sexual abuse and her suicide risk.

It also admitted that social workers had incorrectly interpreted a suicidal screening test completed by Krystal leading to a lack of support or counselling and a "tragic" outcome.

"What we missed out here were the needs of Krystal," ministry representative Nova Salomen said.

"We were focussed on systems... instead we need to be seeing, knowing and valuing children."

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 by a person there. The charges were later dismissed after her death.

Krystal and her sister had been with the new caregiver, from Barnados, for just three weeks when she died.

In a Coroner's hearing into the death in Auckland today, the court heard Krystal died of likely self inflicted injuries on the evening of September 13, 2008.

Her caregiver , whose name is also suppressed, said Krystal and her sister had been sent to up bed following a "horrific" fight with hair-pulling, punching and kicking, which shocked the foster family as Krystal had appeared happy and settled in prior days.

The next the caregiver heard from them was when the younger girl came downstairs saying Krystal was dead.

Following the death the caregiver told police the plan she had been given was one of the "worst she had ever seen" and in hindsight, it lacked detail.

It didn't include information about the sexual abuse allegations, or notes about a video interview given to police about the allegations just weeks earlier, or anything about a suicide screening test.

Instead, CYF told the caregiver verbally about the abuse allegations and that the girl felt "guilty" for breaking up her family.

Barnados manager of residential services Paul Smith, who provided the plan to the caregiver on behalf of CYF, agreed it did not have enough information.

There was a second plan, provided to Barnados on September 4 but not given to the caregiver before Krystal died, that had more historial information but still did not mention the abuse allegations or related investigation, or the suicide screening test, he said.

Ministry for Social Development's Marion Heeney, who was the regional director for the CYF northern area at the time, said it acknowledged there were a number of areas where best practice was not followed.

As well as the lack of information in the care plan, the application and reponse to the suicide screening test were not up to standard.

Heeney said social workers knew Krystal was distressed following the disclosure of sexual abuse but did not do enough for her. They should have provided counselling and sat down with the caregiver to discuss her "distressed" mental state.

They also should have helped her to stay in contact with her siblings, as she had been a mother figure to them and cared "constantly" for the babies.

"Given her history there could have been more frequent  social work and additional support provided to her," she said.

However, Heeney noted Krystal was extremely young to have committed suicide and workers were likely not thinking that would be a likely outcome in her case.

"Krystal was more emotionally fragile than anyone realised at the time. She was a very young girl."

The Ministry of Social Development and Barnados said a number of changes had been made to their systems since Krystal's death - including better communication and better oversight of the risk screening system.


Those in crisis or concerned about someone who may be in crisis can call these confidential helplines:

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Samaritans 0800 726 666

Depression 0800 111 757




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