Malachi Subecz's family 'grateful' concerns 'finally taken seriously' after Ombudsman calls for large-scale change at Oranga Tamarki

The family of Malachi Subecz who died after being failed by Oranga Tamariki say their concerns have finally been taken seriously after the Ombudsman put the ministry on notice.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier delivered a comprehensive report on Wednesday after his office worked through more than 2000 complaints about the troubled agency over the past four years. 

He said change was needed by the agency at a scale rarely seen before and issued a call to action for the Government.

One of the bombshell cases that shone a light on the failures of Oranga Tamariki was that of five-year-old Malachi Subecz. The child was violently abused and murdered by his caregiver Michaela Barriball in Te Puna in November 2021.

Malachi was placed in Barriball's care after his mother was imprisoned for drug charges despite the family warning Oranga Tamariki that he was in danger in her care. In the months leading up to Malachi's death, the family reported to the agency concerns and a photograph of suspected abuse but no action was taken.

The family sent through a statement on Boshier's report that was read on AM.

"It's so wrong the Ombudsman was the only way that we could have been seen, we could be heard and taken seriously. We will be forever grateful that our concerns were finally taken seriously by the Ombudsman," they said.

The Chief Ombudsman is now calling OT's failures some of the worst he's ever seen.

"It's arguable that he would be [alive], isn't it, because there was evidence of concern," Boshier said.

The Ombudsman found OT never opened an investigation or followed the "bare minimum" legal requirement to notify the Police.

"The state failed Malachi."

"The state failed Malachi."
"The state failed Malachi." Photo credit: Supplied

During her time in Opposition and even before becoming an MP, Children Minister Karen Chhour has been calling for an overhaul of the system. She agreed with the Ombudsman's report.

"I don't think it is one person that is responsible, I think it is a system that's been lost for a long time and that's why one of my core priorities is around actually making sure that we are resourcing and training staff so that they can perform to the best of their abilities."

The ACT MP said she agreed with Boshier that it is a lottery system that needs to change so Oranga Tamariki can deliver wraparound support and care no matter where young people are in the country.

Chhour said Oranga Tamariki CEO Chappie Te Kani was on board with the changes she has put forward but said it was too early to give a time measure for the department to have inconsistencies ironed out. She said priorities will be set, regular check-ins will be had and there will be accountability on outcomes.

"I'm excited to see a new direction for Oranga Tamariki because for years I've been frustrated with this system and I'm determined to turn it around and get it right," she said.

Oranga Tamariki on Wednesday thanked the Ombudsman for his report and said it will continue to help shape the way the agency works.

"We acknowledge the distressing nature of some of the individual stories of those who have come forward to share their experiences, there are people who deserved a lot better from us," Oranga Tamariki deputy CE of quality practice and experiences Nicolette Dickson said.

Dickson said whilst Oranga Tamariki acknowledged the sentiments of the Ombudsman, it assured the public that "significant, positive change" is already underway.