17 Mar 2016

CYF says it has addressed treatment of teen

9:51 pm on 17 March 2016

Child Youth and Family says its has addressed the concerns of the chief youth judge over its treatment of a 15-year-old boy from Auckland, who was kept in a Christchurch facility for seven weeks.

Judge Andrew Becroft said last year that the boy's family were unaware they could visit him, or support him, during his family group conference.

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Photo: 123rf

He described CYF's treatment of the teenager as totally unacceptable, wrong in principle and against the philosophy of the law.

CYF said today, it had since addressed the judge's concerns.

It said bed vacancies were managed nationally and they do work incredibly hard to make sure young people were sent to a residence near their family, though that was not always possible.

The boy was placed in the care of CYF after being arrested over the kidnapping and robbery of a 79-year-old man in his home in mid-2015.

His family live in Auckland but he was moved to a Christchurch facility and was unable to see them for seven weeks before going to court for a bail application hearing.

At his hearing, Judge Becroft criticised CYF for keeping the boy away from his family, and suggesting the family group conference could be done via telephone or video.

"I understand the pressures of placements for CYF may have meant you had to go to Christchurch to begin with. However, it seems to me you could have been considered for movement earlier on in your time there," he said.

He also criticised the agency for not telling the boy's family it could pay for them to fly to Christchurch.

The Youth Court decision revealed CYF had said it had left messages with the boy's mother, but she said she never received them.

Auckland youth advocate Helen Bowen represents many young people in similar situations and said the boy's treatment was symptomatic of a wider problem.

"You can be doing good work rather than separating them with their family... family in many ways are the ones who are going to be telling them that their behaviour isn't good enough, and telephone or video conferences aren't a good way of doing that," she said.

"If you're keeping young offenders alienated from their families, you're not helping them, and in these residences they're going to be forming associations with other offenders and you're entrenching these behaviours.

"If a new policy could be introduced telling CYF to return young people as soon as possible, the court system wouldn't get so blocked."

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley outlined a major overhaul of CYF last year, which she said would involve much better tracking of children in state care.

In August, Judge Becroft criticised the agency for a "staggering and profoundly concerning link" between children who have been in care and crime.

He had been in a Youth Court recently where a boy was not obeying his bail, he said.

"I said, 'why can't you, why can't you stay still in this place,' and he said, 'you know, I've been moved by the government through CYF over 50 times - 50 different homes - now you ask me to stay still?'."

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