19 Jun 2020

Woman should have been allowed visits during lockdown - Ombudsman

5:22 pm on 19 June 2020

Oranga Tamariki has apologised to a mother who was prevented by the agency from seeing her son during lockdown level four.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

An investigation by the Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier found that Oranga Tamariki failed to consider the mother's individual circumstances when deciding if she could continue her weekly, unsupervised visits.

The woman had been advised, prior to the level 4 lockdown, that she would only be able to contact her son by telephone and other electronic means, as it was Oranga Tamariki's practice during the lockdown to only allow face-to-face meetings in critical or urgent cases.

The investigation found the complainant only had court-ordered access so the provision in the lockdown legislation, to allow a child to leave the home of one joint caregiver to stay with another, did not apply.

However, Boshier said the Health Act Notice allowed for a 'shared bubble' arrangement between two homes if one of the homes was a person living alone.

He said the woman's circumstances were "very relevant" to a share bubble arrangement, as she lived alone, did not have care of any other children, Oranga Tamariki staff did not need to be present during visits, and the meet-ups weren't taking place in public.

"Oranga Tamariki did not take these factors into account and had only considered whether there were critical or urgent circumstances," Boshier said.

He concluded that Oranga Tamariki "had acted unreasonably when it failed to consider the complainant's circumstances", and it should not have imposed a blanket rule.

He recommended that Oranga Tamariki apologise to the woman.

Oranga Tamariki general manager public ministerial and executive services, Steve Groom, said they accepted the findings but maintained that the agency's decision was consistence with level 4 rules.

However, he agreed that there could've been more flexibility in how they applied those rules, and they've apologised to the woman.

He said there have been no other complaints relating to suspension of access during lockdown.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs