14 Jun 2017

Apology offered for failures that led to toddler's death

8:37 am on 14 June 2017

The head of the Ministry for Vulnerable Children has apologised for multiple failings surrounding the death of a toddler in Southland.

Grainne Moss, CEO of The Ministry for Vulnerable Children

Ministry for Vulnerable Children - Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss: "We are apologising for those failings." Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Chief executive Grainne Moss has released an executive summary of what went on when the 17-month-old died in October 2015; his mother's boyfriend was charged with murder but was found dead in custody soon after.

"For the failings of Oranga Tamariki, or what was the previous Child Youth and Family, yes, we are being open and transparent and we are apologising for those failings."

When RNZ asked who decided to send the boy home from hospital with unexplained injuries, to a house where the boyfriend had just been bailed on violent crime charges, Mrs Moss said it was a joint decision.

She said "looking back and playing that kind of blame game" was not constructive.

"I have a great deal of empathy with the family," she said, adding she was open to meeting with them.

"I realise that can never bring that little boy back. But hopefully a level of comfort for them that actually as a new ministry we are taking what happened to their little boy incredibly seriously, we're taking it forward in a way we've never taken it forward before."

'Someone needs to be held accountable'

The sister of the boy's father said the summary was "a bloody joke".

"Nowhere in the review have they addressed their accountability for not consulting with the wider family, despite saying at the meetings with us that was one of their failings that needed to be addressed," she said.

"Someone needs to be held accountable."

Ms Moss said the ministry was making changes and being more transparent.

When asked why the ministry blanked out copies of the risk assessment and the safety plan released to RNZ under the Official Information Act, she asked to stop the interview and went to go out the door.

When the interview resumed, Mrs Moss said she wanted to talk about the future.

"These events happened a considerable length of time ago. I can't change the past, I can only change the future, but I can honour the past" by learning from what happened.

She said the social workers in the case were all registered.

She was not able to say why, in October 2015, a crucial meeting between social workers, police and other agencies did not happen, before the injured boy was discharged home, where five days later he was found dead.

She said there were already multiple avenues for people to complain about the ministry, so did not know how an independent watchdog would add to that.

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