9 Jul 2019

A life of abuse: Woman says everyone knew, but no one helped

From Checkpoint, 6:12 pm on 9 July 2019

Warning: This story includes graphic details that may be confronting

A woman who says she was abused and at age 15 became pregnant to her caregiver wants her case included in an inquiry into Oranga Tamariki.

She says the agency - then known as Child, Youth and Family (CYF) - failed her, and she wants her case included in the Chief Ombudsman's inquiry into the organisation.

The woman, now in her 30s - who will be called Claire to protect her and her childrens' identities - was just 14 when her parents left her to the care of a 21-year-old man.

That man was not a CYF-approved carer, but the agency's case notes indicated it was acutely aware the carer was having sex with Claire who was under the age of consent.

"Small things started happening from when I first went into his care, and then gradually he started going up from there," she says. "I was dealing with not just him doing the sexual stuff, I was dealing with physical abuse, mental abuse and emotional abuse from him."

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She became pregnant with their first child at age 15, and has had more of his children since - the youngest taken from her by CYF the day after it was born after she'd tried to conceal the baby's birth.

"He was grooming ... I knew it was wrong because I'd already been through it twice in my life before I'd even gone into foster care and I had just gotten to the point that 'this is all I'm good for'.

"Like ... my purpose on this earth is now to just be a slave or a body for guys or any male in my life to treat how they want to treat, like it doesn't belong to me. It belongs to everybody else."

Claire says it was rape, but the agency and others were passing it off as consensual - even though she was below the legal age of consent.

"I was constantly telling my family, my social workers, my mental health service worker for children. They can't even acknowledge it. They'd rather pass it off as something else."

The agency did little to help, she says, even though she was legally in its custody at the time. According to the file notes by late September that year - about two months after her parents left her - CYF was granted interim custody of Claire and it attempted to remove her from his care.

"There was this massive fight that had gone on between my carer and my social worker, and then my carer had knocked him out and that was it - that was the only attempt that was ever made to try and get me out of his care."

The carer was removed in handcuffs and Claire fled. Police searched unsuccessfully for her and she later returned to the man's place of her own accord.

The box filled with CYF's case notes show the agency has been part of her life since age two. It states both her parents were themselves allegedly abused as children, and have "serious parenting issues".

The notes show her father was also taken into state care as a child, and told the agency he was whipped and burned by his carer and had salt literally rubbed into his wounds.

Oranga Tamariki responds

Oranga Tamariki declined Checkpoint's invitation to come on the programme.

It said CYF at the time had applied for custody of Claire because of concerns about her mental health, her parents' ability to care for her and also the older man  - who displayed behaviours CYF considered to be a risk to Claire.

The agency made several attempts to arrange other accommodation and care for Claire, it said, but she always returned to the older man despite the agency's repeated efforts. It said Claire had refused to go to school and refused help from her parents and family friends after the birth of her first child.

Oranga Tamariki said it was now two years into a five-year process to completely transform the way it works.

It said things could not change overnight but it was committed to making the type of large-scale change to fundamentally improve the way it worked with whānau to keep kids safe.

Oranga Tamariki is offering a full review of Claire's time in care - if she wants it. She is considering that.