Government not to blame for abuse: Bennett

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett angrily dismissed suggestions she or Prime Minister John Key could have acted to halt horrific child abuse suffered by a 9-year-old Auckland girl whose mother was jailed yesterday.

But a ministerial report on the case released yesterday by Ms Bennett found "the system may be seen as failing this child" - and cited 25 different agencies involved in her life.

At the sentencing of the mother yesterday, her lawyer, Lorraine Smith, criticised Mr Key and Ms Bennett from whom her client sought help with her daughter, months before police discovered the badly abused girl.

"The Prime Minister and the Minister of Social development failed both [the girl] and her mother. CYFs were not engaging with the family at all." However, during a press conference yesterday, Ms Bennett vehemently dismissed Ms Smith's claims.

"That child was so deeply failed by those parents that were supposed to protect her.

So it's fine to sit back now and try and blame someone else or a government while in the meantime you are dehydrating, starving and beating your child.

"I don't stand up and take responsibility for that. She [the mother] should stand up and take it herself." Ms Bennett said it appeared from former Secretary of Justice Mel Smith's report "that most of the professionals and agencies who dealt with the mother of this child were manipulated into thinking she had her child's best interests at heart".

CYF head Bernadine MacKenzie said all Mr Smith's recommendations for CYF were being introduced.

"There is no doubt we should have done a better job protecting this vulnerable young girl.

"There were periods after she was returned home when our monitoring was poor and there were several instances of unacceptable social work practice." Ms MacKenzie said the social worker responsible would have been subject to a disciplinary process had she not already left.

"We also failed to work as well as we should have with other agencies and professionals to ensure information was shared effectively."

In his report, Mr Smith said he had identified failures of communication, assessment, supervision and management across the 25 agencies involved in the case, and " ... most seriously it seems, failures to focus on the child's safety, welfare and protection".


Former ombudsman Mel Smith's 13 report points:All involved in child safety must ensure "child-centred perspective".

- Appoint experienced social workers to clusters of schools.

- Social workers to appropriately record information to CYF central data system.

- Urgently review memorandum of understanding on child abuse between ministries.

- Review information sharing between government and non-government agencies.

- Accept information-sharing law changes.

- Review legislation on mandatory child abuse reporting.

- Pass Crimes Act amendments to protect children.

- Advertise changes once they are passed.

- Research issues around care of vulnerable children by extended family.

- Establish a process for multi-agency case consultation.

- Establish a Child Protection Court.

- Lift the level of social work skills and practice at CYF.



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