Social workers ’did their best’ placing teen with gang associate

The 14-year-old boy was dropped at an address where a Mongrel Mob associate was serving a community-based sentence for earlier offending. - Photo: Wikicommons

Oranga Tamariki has backed the decision of staff at Child, Youth and Family (CYF) - its predecessor - who placed a vulnerable 14-year-old boy into the home of a Mongrel Mob associate.

The boy was initially housed at the address as an emergency placement over a weekend in late November 2016. However, he remained there after the weekend.

Following a meeting in early December the boy's family believed he would be housed at a motel for three days until other arrangements were made so he could return to them.

Instead, he was dropped back to the address where the Mongrel Mob associate was serving a community-based sentence for earlier offending.

The placement was made against the wishes of police youth aid and without the knowledge of his family.

The teenager that night went on to be part of a crime spree with the gang associate, involving multiple burglaries and culminating in a police chase which ended when a third person - the car's intoxicated driver - crashed into a power pole.

The incident occurred in December 2016 and more than a year after it took place RNZ has obtained a copy of the review under the Official Information Act (OIA).

The released information reveals the review was only requested by CYF's national office following media interest in the boy's placement.

Oranga Tamariki extended the deadline on the OIA request in December last year because "the consultations necessary to make a decision on this request are such that a proper response cannot reasonably be made within the original time limit".

However, the OIA response reveals the review was not completed until the week after the OIA response deadline was extended.

It is understood the boy's family were not spoken to as part of the review process and were not provided a copy of its outcome.

The partially redacted review does not make any mention of the gang links at the address the boy was placed into nor the motel the family believed he was destined for.

It revealed some failings by social workers, including not undertaking further assessment of the placement or exploring the risk factors of all occupants of the home.

Oranga Tamariki's care task force general manager Peter Whitcombe admitted to RNZ that finalising the review "took too long".

"We want you to know however that much of the review was completed within months of the request, however, with changes in staffing between the end of Child Youth and Family, and Oranga Tamariki starting, the finalisation of this review did not occur until December 2017," he said.

When asked if Oranga Tamariki, as the successor of CYF, admitted CYF got this wrong, Mr Whitcombe responded: "We always want to be reflective, learn from what we did well and from areas in which we can improve. We have confidence that staff at the time this situation arose did their best during a difficult situation."

Oranga Tamariki was working hard to support its staff with the tools and resources necessary to do the best by the people they worked with, he said.

"Our social workers work tirelessly with a commitment to putting the needs of tamariki first," he said.

"We are working hard to ensure they have the right support and resources to do their best for children and families, and recognise that limitations in the right kind of care environments being available in the past has meant that this has occasionally compromised offering the very best of responses.

"We're doing things differently like developing small local remand homes and recruiting and training specialist foster carers. We are providing better advice to judges on the circumstances of the young person and how any decision may impact them in the future.

Oranga Tamariki needed to hold young people accountable for their mistakes, as well as helping them to make better decisions, he said.

"Our partnership with police and other experts is strong and we've developed new ways to guide te tamaiti through the justice system, keeping them, and their communities, safe.

"Over the last year we've developed a new set of professional standards for social work, which guides our professionals, making sure they hear children's views, work with families and whanau, create and share plans that will keep kids safe, and help them thrive."