Oranga Tamariki apologises after violent father repeatedly told where to find son, despite protection order

Oranga Tamariki has apologised after mistakes led to a violent man being able to find his young son, despite a protection order being in place specifically to stop him from doing so - at least twice. 

Southland mother Tina* told Newshub she fears if it keeps happening, "one day I'm going to see on the news someone's been killed because [Oranga Tamariki] have sent their address to an unsafe or violent person".

When her son Taylor was three, in 2008, Tina said Child Youth and Family - the forerunner to Oranga Tamariki - told her she'd need to get a protection order against the boy's father, or they'd have to take him into their custody, due to ongoing violence. 

She did that, but in the years following the Family Court at least twice gave the father their home addresses, after Oranga Tamariki handed it over but didn't tell them about the protection order. 

"They actually breached every single one of their own privacy policy codes," said Tina. "They sent our address to the person who made us put a protection order in place. There's a glitch in the system."

After a third alleged incident where the father was allowed to visit Taylor at Oranga Tamariki's Te Oranga facility in Christchurch, Tina put in a formal complaint with the agency - but wasn't happy with their response.

"We're sorry, it won't happen again, it won't happen again, it won't happen again.' What I can see the problem is, when they change from social worker to social worker, because my son's file is so big, they're just so busy and so overloaded they don't actually see that there's a protection order in place. 

"I have actually had to tell every single one of them, but they're so overloaded."

A letter from an Oranga Tamariki manager to Tina seen by Newshub showed they agreed a "very high level of security breach" had occurred, and solutions had been suggested - including adding a note on the front page of a file where it would be easily seen. 

Tina said she was told the change could only be made region by region, not nationwide at the same time.

"I said look, this is a nationwide problem. My concern is one day I'm going to see on the news someone's been killed because you guys have sent their address to an unsafe or violent person… I'm not worried about my safety at the moment, or my son's -  things have moved on since then... however what about all these other people?"

Oranga Tamariki confirmed two of the alleged breaches, in 2013 and 2020, saying it had provided information to the Family Court "without a note saying an individual’s address should not be forwarded on".

"Due to a mistake we made, a document that included a personal detail was mistakenly sent to another party," said head of public information and feedback Steve Groom. 

"For this we have already offered an unreserved apology. I would like to apologise again. I know that the impact on families and children as a result of an incident like this can be significant. 

"I appreciate the individual’s concern about making sure that this doesn’t happen again. We share this concern and are putting solutions in place to reduce the chances of an incident like this happening again. We are changing our internal recording system to ensure that the recording and reporting of protection or safety orders are accessible for all staff nationwide that may need to be aware of them.

"We also continue to raise awareness and restate the importance of checking records. As part of this work, we ensure that all relevant staff are reminded on a regular basis about our practice guidance and the need to ask family about protection orders, and if there is one present within the family that this information is captured and used correctly."

Taylor's father is back behind bars, Tina said, after further violent offending. She remains unconvinced by Oranga Tamariki's response, telling Newshub the apology she received was sent to the wrong address.

As for her son, he's now 16 and despite a tough start in life, in and out of institutions, is determined to make something of himself. He recently went back to school to catch up on NCEA credits he missed, and is a regular at the gym, getting into boxing and martial arts. 

"He is doing remarkably well - he's proving the system wrong," said Tina . "He's just out there to prove the world wrong, he's just winning. But this has been a hard, hard road." 

*The names of some people in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.