24 Jun 2015

Lack of follow-up for at risk children

10:29 am on 24 June 2015

Thousands of at-risk children in West Auckland are failing to get help they need and that could sow the seeds of another tragedy, a community agency says.

child poverty

Photo: 123RF

The trial of two boys who were accused of a fatal dairy robbery in Henderson revealed the pair had childhoods riddled with drugs and domestic violence.

Yesterday a jury cleared the 14-year-old of murdering dairy owner Arun Kumar, but found him guilty of manslaughter, while the 13-year-old was found not guilty of manslaughter.

The case shone a light on the support the boys - and thousands of others like them - were failing to get.

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During the trial, it emerged that Child Youth and Family had been notified about 20 times in relation to the 14-year-old's family, including 10 notifications for family violence.

The court was told his mother used heroin and methamphetamine in front of her children, and drugs were sold from the house.

The boy also suffered from a severe brain injury after being hit by a car as an 8-year-old, which led to behavioural and emotional problems.

The 13-year-old and his siblings witnessed a catalogue of family violence, learning to hide under the bed when they sensed there was trouble brewing.

His mother was in prison on drugs charges at the time of the stabbing, and his gang-affiliated father had spent time in and out of prison.

Child Youth and Family refused Radio New Zealand's requests to provide information about what care or help it provided to the boys or their families, saying it would not comment before the older boy was sentenced.

However, Waitakere Anti-Violence Essential Services manager Tiaria Fletcher said the service recently researched how many children mentioned in family violence police reports were actually followed up.

"There were [on] average, about 3500 children that we saw coming through annually.

"But coming back to that Child Youth and Family threshold, the threshold being so high, that in the end only about 500 children actually got any kind of intervention."

The children who did not receive state intervention were very hard to keep track of, Ms Fletcher said.

The service's research analyst Charlotte Moore said that very often meant they did not get the follow-up they needed.

"There is, I think, an over-reliance on what sits beneath that threshold, in terms of picking up the slack," she said.

"So that's largely community and non-government organisations that are expected to be working with these families, and we've got concerns around how well-resourced those organisations are."

That created the setting for more tragedies like Mr Kumar's death, Ms Moore said.

"You risk these kids drifting to the point where they become irreparably harmed and damaged... with really tragic outcomes."

The Auckland District Maori Council oversees 240 Maori wardens in west Auckland.

Chair Titewhai Harawira said wardens made referrals to Child Youth and Family, police and the courts all the time, but very often nothing came of it.

"Most times, when I follow up on things and I say, well, what happened to that family? 'Oh, it hasn't been picked up.' And then sometimes I'm grateful; it has been picked up - and we have a better outcome."