Abused boy left permanently disabled 'deeply regrettable' - Oranga Tamariki

By Contributor

Oranga Tamariki held a family conference two days before a boy suffered a disabling brain injury. Photo / NZME

By Ric Stevens, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Te Matau-a-Māui

Oranga Tamariki says it is "deeply regrettable" that it was unable to prevent a little Hastings boy's brain injury that left him with a permanent disability.

The ministry says it is reviewing its involvement with the boy's family to see if there was more it could and should have done in his case.

The boy's father and stepmother pleaded guilty to child abuse and neglect when they appeared in the Napier District Court last week.

The stepmother also pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm to the child, who is now aged 7.

The couple are due to be sentenced next month and have name suppression until then. They are on bail but the Crown is seeking jail sentences.

According to court documents, Oranga Tamariki was involved with the boy and his family at various times, including at a family group conference two days before he suffered a severe head injury at age 4 in January 2020, while in the care of his stepmother.

It was the second head injury sustained by the boy that has required surgery.

Contacted for comment on the boy's plight, Oranga Tamariki said the injuries inflicted on the child were "extremely distressing".

"Oranga Tamariki did not have legal custody of the child at any point," Dee McManus-Emery, transitional deputy chief executive, Services for Children and Families, said in an emailed statement,

"When this child first came to our attention, we began working with whānau and other agencies to understand what had happened and together we put plans and support in place for the whānau," she said.

"Despite these efforts it is deeply regrettable that we were unable to prevent the further harm that occurred to this child.

"This is something we take extremely seriously, and we have taken steps to look closely at whether there was more that we could and should have done in this case."

According to a Crown summary of facts presented in court, Oranga Tamariki was alerted to the boy's case when he attended a daycare centre between September 2018 and May 2019, when he was 3 years old.

Centre staff became concerned that the boy had facial injuries that were not accidental. When asked, the boy said "Mum" had caused them.

The staff documented and photographed the injuries and reported them to Oranga Tamariki.

"Although Oranga Tamariki followed up on the report, no conclusions were reached," the Crown summary said.

In June 2019, the boy suffered a head injury for which he was hospitalised. He was flown to Wellington, where a craniotomy was performed to relieve bleeding between his skull and brain.

After this incident, Oranga Tamariki placed the boy into the care of his grandmother in another centre.

The Crown summary said the boy was returned to his father and stepmother's care "by arrangement with Oranga Tamariki" in December 2019, for Christmas.

A family group conference was called by Oranga Tamariki the following month to discuss his ongoing care. During that conference, a phone call was made to the person temporarily looking after the boy to check for any bruises. None were reported.

Two days after the conference, the boy suffered the second, more serious, head injury while in the care of his stepmother.

Flown to Wellington for another operation, the boy was found to have bleeding on both sides of his brain and "extensive" damage to the brain itself.

"(The boy's) life will be permanently altered in that he will suffer permanent disability," the Crown summary said.

The boy has siblings.

McManus-Emery said in her statement: "We are confident that the tamariki are now in safe and loving placements."