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Te Whare Pounamu – Are Children Really Safe?

Written By: - Date published: 10:52 am, September 4th, 2019 - 7 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, child abuse, child welfare, culture, domestic violence, Ethics, Media, news, Social issues, violence against women - Tags:

It surprises me that mainstream media have not yet picked up on the concerning parallels between reported events that occurred at Te Whare Pounamu Dunedin Women’s Refuge and earlier events occurring at another Women’s Refuge in 2016. Events that ignored the needs of three year old Moko Rangitoheriri leading up to his death at the hands of his caregivers.

The headlines in August 2017 highlighted that a Women’s Refuge worker overlooked disclosures that Moko was being abused. The article claims that “[a] worker at the Maori Women’s Refuge was told “Aunty Tania would punch Moko” but did nothing about it”.  Women’s Refuge denied the disclosure was made, despite this being the social worker’s initial account to police.

As those concerns were hitting the headlines again in August 2017,  another social worker began working at the Dunedin Women’s Refuge (Te Whare Pounamu). Within weeks into her job she became concerned that disclosures of serious abuse were being ignored.

She heard about a child disclosing serious physical abuse happening to them in their home and that disclosure was not acted on, Miss Thomas said.

The appropriate procedure would be for an immediate report of concern to be made to Oranga Tamariki, she said. That did not happen.

“There were a lot of excuses made to me, so there were promises that this would be followed up on – constant promises that this would be followed up on. I was monitoring the situation, I couldn’t see there was any follow-up occurring, I kept pushing for information from the child advocate and from the manager. They kept saying they were going to follow up on this, I had to take them at their word, and then it became quickly apparent that they hadn’t followed through. They started stonewalling me.”

She sought advice from her colleagues and was told it was not the first time such concerns were ignored.

“I had been informed it wasn’t an isolated situation,” she said.

“One staff member said to me that similar concerns had been shut down in the past.”

Despite Women’s Refuge staff being implicated in ignoring abuse concerns in 2016 and being outed for it after the death of little Moko, it seems they’ve not learned from that tragedy. In fact it appears that Te Whare Pounamu have a habit of ignoring such concerns, including sexual abuse disclosures.

I would have thought after the tragic death of little Moko that Women’s Refuge would have cleaned up its act. Yet three years after his death, and during a time when these details were becoming public knowledge, a Women’s Refuge in Dunedin were flouting their responsibilities to vulnerable children and it appears this occurred on a number of occasions.

Meanwhile, in reference to Te Whare Pounamu the CE of Women’s Refuge Ang Jury states that Women’s Refuge “have no concerns around the safety of women and children accessing the service”. We are confident that there are significant safeguards put in place to deal with some of those issues”

Ang Jury’s statement appears to be at odds with what staff at the organisation reported to media.

In May 2016, after Moko’s death, Women’s Refuge stated that they have “a robust Child Abuse Reporting Protocol in place and if a disclosure of this kind had been made to us, it would have resulted in an immediate notification of concern to CYF…”

If that is the case then Ang Jury needs to explain to the public why Te Whare Pounamu have repeatedly ignored children’s disclosures of abuse and why they have not only failed to make ‘immediate’ notifications but also failed to adequately record the disclosures.

How can the public have any faith that children using the service are safe if those running the service actively ignore concerns about abuse and, it appears, actively evade their statutory responsibilities to vulnerable children?

Women’s Refuge have a lot of explaining to do.

7 comments on “Te Whare Pounamu – Are Children Really Safe? ”

  1. Rosemary McDonald 1

    My recollection is that Head Office were rather scathing of the work done by journalist Florence Kerr.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/79772891/sister-told-social-worker-moko-being-abused

    Despite the criticism from Jury, Kerr had the good grace and professionalism do do this follow up article…https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/83903798/moko-social-worker-has-high-hopes-for-new-look-cyf

    I also was waiting the other morning for the interview with Jury on Natrad. She did not disappoint.sad

    I know women who were involved at the birth of Women's Refuge who will weep at what it appears to have become.

    Thank you for this post.

    • koreropono 1.1

      Kia ora Rosemary, thank you for the comment, yes I agree re Ang Jury's comments on RNZ – those comments are worthy of a post on their own. There appears, based on commentary on a number of sites (see the FaceBook pages for Stuff and ODT for examples), that a number of former Refuge workers are speaking up, those comments would also be worthy of a post because they potentially show a pattern of behaviour across the entire organisation. Watch this space.

    • "I know women who were involved at the birth of Women's Refuge who will weep at what it appears to have become."

      Serious question

      Is it any different from other institutions where the valiant efforts of those that operate at the grass roots level are eventually managerialised and corporatised (e.g. CCS, or Victim Support). Not sure if it's reached Citizen's Advice Bureaux yet, but if not – it won't be long

      • Rosemary McDonald 1.2.1

        During what was a very fraught time in the disability sphere a 'CEO' of a leading advocacy organisation posted a major statement on their Faceache page.(In my defense, I joined said on -line cesspit for the sole purpose of finding out why, with all these government funded organisations 'working closely with Ministries', could things have become so shit-awful for so many. Within a fairly short space of time I managed to get myself evicted from these groupsdevil)

        However, said CEO pontificated for some column inches how it was now time to move on from activism and start working in partnership with 'our colleagues in Government'. There was a token nod to the activists of the past 'but today was about 'partnerships' and 'collaboration' and 'building relationships'. Considering this was in the middle of an annus horribilis for the MOH disability community when the government and its ministries had shat on those with the most highest needs, it was a major slap in the face.

        Long story short, a few years later the same person, now no longer the CEO, and trying to establish credibility as a 'consultant' made a statement about 'how difficult it was as the CEO to do proper advocacy when government funding was on the line'. There was more than a tone that readers should have sympathy for the stress they were under…

        I made the comment that had the advocacy been even barely adequate, and if only 30% of the disability community the organisation was purporting to represent paid $20 in subs per year, it would reduce the dependency on the government funding dramatically. This organisation could reclaim its soul. That went down like a cup of cold sick.

        " The survey results presented in this report depict widespread alarm among NGOs about their lack of ability to speak in support of those they represent without risking revenge in the form of personal abuse from Government representatives, public disparagement and withdrawal of funding. Nine out of ten NGOs surveyed do not believe that individuals and organisations that dissent from current government views are valued by the Government as part of a robust democracy. And nine out of ten believe that dissenting organisations risk having their funding cut."

        https://www.victoria.ac.nz/sacs/pdf-files/Fears-constraints-and-contracts-Grey-and-Sedgwick-2014.pdf

        That paper was published the same year…and when I stumbled across it I understood better how the voluntary sector had been seduced and corrupted by central government. I was still angry and bitterly disappointed that those who should have been at the frontline were instead hobnobbing with their Ministry mates and had had the gall to tell those of us who would advocate to back off and play nice with the enemy…but realising the problem was widespread in the NGO sector made me quite depressed. To my way of thinking, if you have a passion and a commitment for upholding the rights and protections of a particular group you should be sensitive enough to detect when you're being subverted and fight back.

        Having said that…I was told a wonderful tale today by someone who was a charity board member when a Particular Ministry deemed it appropriate to cut the funding for service provision by a third. The solution to making the requisite cuts to the budget was, according to the Bureaucrat, to 'discharge' from service these particular clients who were obviously never going to get any better…these incurables could be sent home, since they had rehabilitated as much as they were ever going to. According to someone who had never even seen these people. Boardmember listened to this, then thanked the Bureaucrat for the work they had put in to solving their funding shortfall problem and told him that his brown- shirted overlords would be proud of his work. The Boardmember had to explain the reference, whereupon the Bureaucrat took umbrage. Boardmember took his leave, saying he was going straight over the road to the local newspaper offices… Turned out the Bureaucrat's overlords had a few more brains as they did see the sense of not cutting the funding afterall. Cheered me up no end.

  2. zuszsa 2

    A refusal to admit to failings has been Refuge's position for some time.

    Refuge enjoys a great deal of public support and they seem to believe that this makes them immune to being challenged.

    My observations over many years lead me to believe a failure to make notifications to Oranga Tamariki is common practice and that the safety of women and children is secondary to 'brand management'.

    I too despair at what Refuge has become.

  3. Lucy 3

    Just a quick observation if Miss Thomas had been disclosed to and manager had not gone to police what was to stop Miss Thomas doing so? Part of the police work used to be around supporting the person disclosed to as they tend to need counselling. I am not blaming Miss Thomas as I can see she did most of what she could to try and get Refuge to act properly – actually went way beyond but there is still a child in need.

    • Bill 3.1

      Police? There should have been a "report of concern" made to Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children) – or at least that's what I'm reading from the post.

      The post doesn't say what Miss Thomas did or didn't do in terms of subverting the inaction of the child advocate and manager. And here's a thing I only became aware of recently. A social worker cannot talk about issues in any way whatsoever that might or will identify a client. Which, while generally understandable, is also a nice recipe that enables those who’d prefer to be forever sweeping things under the carpet, yes?

      “One staff member said to me that similar concerns had been shut down in the past”

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