20 May 2019

Father threatening to sue Oranga Tamariki over investigation

11:48 am on 20 May 2019

A father who social workers gave misleading information to a judge about is threatening to sue Oranga Tamariki over how it went on to investigate the issue.

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A man is threatening to sue Oranga Tamariki. Photo: Oranga Tamariki

His case triggered a ministerial rebuke and review of the child welfare agency in 2017, then called Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

CYF repeatedly and wrongly told the Family Court the father was violent, delaying him getting custody of his preschool daughter for five months.

The agency also told the minister the case had been fully investigated when it hadn't.

An MP questioned the agency's integrity in Parliament, and the minister, Anne Tolley, ordered a "full" review.

The case culminated in the father, who can't be identified under Family Court rules, recently going to Crown Law offices in Wellington for an appointment.

He emerged from a brief meeting with solicitors to tell RNZ: "It's been two years since a request to investigate the situation was asked for by minister Anne Tolley.

"I was hoping to come in and read the full reports, unredacted, to find out exactly what went wrong, who was responsible and what outcomes Oranga Tamariki have put in place to make sure it doesn't happen to any other kids," he said.

Later in the day, he went back in, and received a copy of the 10-page report, though all the names and two entire pages in it were blanked out.

Crown Law had sent him this same redacted copy a year ago, but he has been holding out for the independent public inquiry he believes the minister intended to take place.

In his latest exchange with Crown Law, the man eventually signed a non-disclosure agreement and read the full report, but remains profoundly dissatisfied.

Ms Tolley's intervention in 2017 sparked a review, but not an independent public inquiry. An external employment investigation was done, but this was a closed-door exercise which the agency has refused to release under the Official Information Act, citing three clauses in the law including the need to protect staff.

The 10-page review the father has seen was a practice review done by the office of the chief social worker.

It presented a single page of findings, including this one about how social workers kept saying the man was violent: "Reviewers found no evidence of any attempts to understand information either through checking ... records or discussion with the subject of the information."

The review had only two recommendations, both surprisingly basic, including that more effort be made to ensure "social workers stay focused on the needs of children especially when parents behaviours are complicated, demanding and challenging".

The second recommendation was that social workers be given "material" about how to record information accurately.

Oranga Tamariki has not responded to RNZ's request to explain why there was no reference to the minister's concerns about the agency misinforming her.

The agency pointed out the father signed a deed of settlement in 2017 agreeing all the issues were dealt with.

He said he only signed as he believed an independent report was on its way.

"I'd just to see that report in its entirety really .... to see what actions were taken to prevent this happening again," he said.

Mistrust and frustration are evident on both sides.

A Crown Law letter to the man a year ago said his pursuit of more information put him in breach of the deed of settlement.

"We are concerned that you continue to focus on these issues," a Crown counsel wrote.

"A key purpose of the mediation and the Deed of Settlement was to seek resolution to ensure you were free to focus on your child and her best interests, and to ensure the Ministry can focus on providing services to children in need of care and protection."

The man said he was now intent on paying back the settlement money and suing the agency.

As for the privacy breach complaint, that related to a 2017 online post the man has shown RNZ, that said in part: "This is what happens when you have children to people who are addicts".

It appeared to have come from a relative of a senior social worker who he had criticised online.

"From what I can gather she doesn't work at OT, she's not a social worker, she's not in any way, shape or form been involved in the case, but she's aware of details pertinent to the case," the man said, adding he had first raised it in 2017 but had seen no evidence it had been addressed.

Oranga Tamariki said it was looking into it.

"The event complained of occurred in June 2017 and predates settlement of his concerns. However, Oranga Tamariki will review this complaint and respond in due course," it said in a statement.