Thursday, 20 December 2012

Double Standards?

Dr Russell Wills
Children's Commissioner

Dear Sir

We understand from media reports that Family Court judge, Dale Clarkson has referred to you a case of extreme dereliction of duty by the government agency, Child Youth and Family ("CYF").  According to said media reports, CYF left vulnerable four children with known abusive parents for nigh on ten years.  
A judge has slammed the reckless actions of Child, Youth and Family workers who allowed four children to stay with their violent, abusive parents for more than nine years.  Social workers failed to respond to 20 warnings that the children were being abused and neglected by their father, a convicted child rapist, and their mother, who left them alone in a South Auckland car park.
The judge particularly turned her attention to the prima facie dereliction by CYF in this case:

"Quite apart from the disappointing lack of protection of these four children, I am left wondering if this is indicative of CYF's practice."  She said despite police, family members and teachers repeatedly bringing the case to the attention of the government agency, the children were left with their parents.  "Because I consider that the deficiencies in CYF's performance in this case have been so serious, I propose to refer this decision to the Commissioner for Children for further investigation." .  . .

Judge Clarkson said there were 20 notifications to CYF over nine years.  In October 2004, a family member made an anonymous complaint after one of the children - then aged 5 - was found with a cut to her head.  CYF found that the mother had abused the child but because the youngster was still in the care of the mother, "she was unable to be interviewed", Judge Clarkson's ruling said.  A "whanau agreement" was entered into but there were no records to show the result. 

"This response by the Ministry (of Social Development, CYF's overseer) to what they recognised as established physical abuse on this child can only be described as reckless."  On one occasion, three of the children were inside their father's car when the mother smashed the windscreen and passenger window with a steel pipe.
As you investigate this case, Dr Wills we would ask you to concentrate upon one aspect in particular.  The media mentioned in its account a "whanau agreement", which implies that this was a Maori "family".  We  want to be assured that CYF has not fallen into a form of institutionalised racism, such that Maori parents are treated with a different standard when it comes to child abuse--in effect, a lower standard that is more tolerant and permissive than would otherwise be the case. 

We are not alleging that this is necessarily the case--but it is important that you investigate thoroughly and be satisfied that it is not the case, or that were it to be true, you would have the courage to report the matter. 

For decades certain sections of Maoridom have been arguing that Maori are different; they allegedly live by different conventions, rules, customs, social constructs, and culture.  Government departments, for their part, have bought into policy and practices that "respect the Treaty of Waitangi" and Maoris' status as tangata whenua--whatever these may mean.  In this context it would be very easy for double standards to become institutionalised in agencies such as CYF such that CYF is more permissive and tolerant of child abuse amongst Maori families. 

We, therefore, urge you to consider this risk as you investigate this horrendous case.  If it were to be true we are very confident that the vast majority of Maori people, along with the rest of the community, would be horrified and insist that it be addressed. 

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