Death of Malachi Subecz: Review reports and responses

Thu 15 Dec 2022

Government reports have shared findings from the reviews of the death of Malachi Subecz. Advocates have responded to the recommendations, calling for change.

photo of child sitting on a bench in a hallway

Reports from reviews of death of Malachi Subecz

Multiple recommendations have been made in reports looking at the death of Malachi Subecz. 5 year old Malachi was murdered by his caregiver in November 2021. At the time Malachi's mother was in prison, and family members raised concerns about Malachi's safety with Oranga Tamariki, but their concerns were dismissed.

Multiple government reviews looked at the events leading to the death of Malachi.

Reports from reviews

Independent review and individual agency reviews

Dame Karen Poutasi was commissioned by 6 government agencies to look at how these agencies were involved with Malachi, his whānau, and his caregiver in the months before his death. Dame Poutasi's final report, Ensuring strong and effective safety nets to prevent abuse of children (2022), identified 5 critical gaps in the system:

• "In identifying the needs of a dependent child when charging and prosecuting sole parents through the court system.

• In the process for assessing the risk of harm to a child, which is too narrow and one dimensional.

• In agencies and their services not proactively sharing information, despite enabling provisions.

• In a lack of reporting of risk of abuse by some professionals and services.

• In allowing a child to be invisible. The system’s settings enabled Malachi to be unseen at key moments when he needed to be visible."

Dame Poutasi also made 14 recommendations. In a media statement Dame Poutasi highlighted 4 of these recommendations: improving information sharing across agencies and authorities, mandatory reporting, vetting of proposed carers when a sole parent is arrested and/or taken into custody and greater priority to increasing multi-agency, iwi, and NGO partnerships in regions and communities.

For more information see the Q&A for Dame Poutasi's review. The individual government agencies who commissioned the independent review, also carried out reviews or reports of their processes. This includes:

Also see the Oranga Tamariki practice review from the Office of the Chief Social Worker.

Office of the Chief Social Worker review

The Chief Social Worker at Oranga Tamariki, Peter Whitcombe, completed a practice review. The report, Ko te huarahi pono, ka wātea, kia whakamarama, kia whakatika | The correct path in clearing, to understand and make right (2022) is the report from the review. The brief summary of the practice review lists key issues that were identified and changes to Oranga Tamariki practice that are being actioned.

The Oranga Tamariki Leadership Team - Te Riu, has also published the management response to the Chief Social Worker Practice Review (2022). Chappie Te Kani, Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki, issued a media statement about actions that Oranga Tamariki is taking in response to the practice review.

Ombudsman opinion in response to complaint from family

The Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, received a complaint from Malachi Subecz's family members about the actions of Oranga Tamariki in relation to Malachi's death. After investigating the complaint, Peter Boshier has issued an official opinion. In his report, Chief Ombudsman's opinion under the Ombudsmen Act - Malachi Subecz (2022), the Chief Ombudsman concludes:

"46. Oranga Tamariki has acted contrary to its own policies which require the well-being of children and their families to be central to decision-making. Oranga Tamariki does not appear to have fulfilled the bare minimum of the process required to ensure Malachi’s safety. For the reasons set out above I have formed the opinion that Oranga Tamariki has acted unreasonably and wrongly in addressing the report of concern made by Malachi’s cousin.

47. It is also my opinion that Oranga Tamariki has acted unreasonably in providing incorrect information to Malachi’s uncle."

The Chief Ombudsman has also provided a brief summary that highlights the key areas where Oranga Tamariki failed. In his media release, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said Oranga Tamariki failed to take the 'bare minimum" action and "I can only describe Oranga Tamariki’s response as a litany of failures."

Response from government

In a Beehive media release, Minister for Children Kelvin Davis, outlined the Government's response to the reviews. He noted of Dame Poutasi's 14 recommendations, the Government has fully accepted 9 and will look carefully at the remaining 5 recommendations. The media release states:

"Several recommendations have already, or will soon be actioned including addressing confusion around when information should be shared, multi-agency teams working with the community and the linking of medical records.

The report also highlighted other recommendations, including mandatory reporting and automatic vetting of caregivers when a solo parent is imprisoned. These will need to be looked at in depth by Ministers and Cabinet next year."

See further comments from Minister Davis in TV and radio interviews in the related media below.

The chief executives of the agencies that commissioned the independent review issued a joint chief executive media statement which notes:

"The Chief Executives say some of the report’s recommendations are operational and already being worked on; for example, a project is under way to join up medical records.

They have committed to taking forward other recommendations including ensuring proactive information-sharing across agencies.

Some recommendations would require legislative change before they could be implemented. Chief Executives have agreed to provide advice on these and will report to Ministers in the New Year.

And there are other recommendations – including the introduction of mandatory reporting where there is a high risk of abuse – that will require further consideration and Cabinet approval."

Responses from advocates and experts

Advocates and experts have commented on the recommendations from the reviews:

Legal academic Luke Fitzmaurice-Brown (Te Aupōuri) has written about specific concerns related to the recommendation for mandatory reporting. He notes that some of the recommendations would have significant impacts on Māori such as mandatory reporting, vetting caregivers when a sole parent enters the prison system and compulsory notification to Oranga Tamariki when a caregiver who is not a formal guardian requests a sole parent benefit. He writes "In my view, full implementation of the report’s recommendations would probably constitute a further treaty breach."

Social work academic Emily Keddell has also raised concerns about mandatory reporting and has called for both practice focused changes and a strategy to move towards devolution saying:

"What’s needed in this instance, in the short term, is a sharp focus on decision-making about specific types of cases and specific types of information, rather than a wholesale swing towards more intervention. A greater consensus between Oranga Tamariki and those who make reports to them about what kind of reports meet the Oranga Tamariki threshold needs urgent attention. Better communication between reporters and Oranga Tamariki that builds legitimacy and trust is needed. Questions about the balance between national consistency and local knowledge when reports are responded to needs careful deliberation. In the longterm, as we move away from a notify-investigate system towards poverty reduction, Māori control for Māori, and more resourcing for community-based systems of care, we need a clear strategy to manage the transition to community devolution that maintains safety while changing the responsibility for that safety."

Social work academic Ian Hyslop has also raised concerns with mandatory reporting and has cautioned that Child protection must not return to punitive, racist approaches writing:

"Over the past 30 years we have swung between these poles of intervention in child protection practice. We cannot afford a knee-jerk reaction to Malachi’s death - redesigning the system with only the tragedy of this case in mind - because there are too many negative consequences."

Voyce - Whakarongo Mai Chief Executive Tracie Shipton spoke to RNZ about the report saying she was 'underwhelmed' by Dame Poutasi's report. She highlighted that when reading the report, it stood out to her that "...nobody spoke to him [Malachi] and nobody took seriously the whānau's voice."

Pillars - Ka Pou Whakahou Senior Mentoring Coordinator Corrina Thompson calls for increased support for children of incarcerated parents, raised concern about mandatory reporting saying

“…however Oranga Tamariki have proven with the tragic case of Malachi that a mandatory report was not necessarily enough, it wasn't enough to protect Malachi. And what we are advocating for is a more wraparound approach that includes a wider village of organisations, preferably those who already know the whānau where there is trust already established. We think that Oranga Tamariki may be part of the answer, but we do not believe it's the full answer on it.”

In an article for E-Tangata, Fitzmaurice-Brown argues that "a narrow focus on individual children is causing more harm than good from a Māori perspective", and that a commitment to decolonisation is needed to shift the system:

“There remains a lack of understanding of things Māori, and an unwillingness to hand over power to hapū and iwi to make decisions under our own authority for the protection of our own children. Our tikanga gives us the authority and the guidance to do that, but those things have been suppressed.

This is a problem of colonisation, and I think it’s important we think about it that way. As Ani Mikaere reminds us, colonisation has always been about more than the theft of land, it has been about recreating the colonised in the image of the coloniser. It robbed Māori of many of our tikanga, including the tikanga of whānau and hapū.”

In relation to the immediate focus, he says

"In the meantime, the current child protection system needs to focus more on whānau. The Whānau Ora report, the Children’s Commissioner’s report and the Waitangi Tribunal inquiry all found that a narrow focus on individual children is causing more harm than good from a Māori perspective.

It’s exactly what John Rangihau and the others said 25 years ago in Pūao Te Ata Tū. Some of the answers have been there for a long time now."

E-Tangata has shared an extract from the Pūao Te Ata Tū report.

See further responses including responses from Malachi's family in the related media below.

More information

For more information see:

For statistics see:

Related news

The Oranga Tamariki Amendment Bill passed its third reading in Parliament on 13 December 2022. The legislation includes several of changes including the partial repeal of the subsequent child provisions. 

Related media

Coroner rules on violent death of Auckland toddler Malcolm Robert Bell, NZ Herald, 04.03.2023

Oranga Tamariki workers failed to listen to Hastings preschooler abused by parents, RNZ, 21.12.2022

Supreme Court dismisses 'Moana' appeal bid, Stuff, 21.21.2022

OT boss says asking for help OK, Waatea News, 21.12.2022

Aunt and uncle charged in connection with toddler's homicide, Stuff, 20.12.2022

The number of kids being taken from their parents has plummeted. History tells us the pendulum could swing back, Stuff, 17.12.2022

'Moana' decision appealed, may be heard in Supreme Court, Stuff, 07.12.2022

Educational groups at odds over mandatory reporting of child abuse, RNZ, 07.12.2022

Caution needed over mandatory abuse reporting, Otago Daily Times editorial, 05.12.2022

'Hell' at Oranga Tamariki Tauranga office a key factor in Malachi Subecz’s death, Stuff, 03.12.2022

Malachi Subecz's mother: 'All I hope to come from this is it doesn't happen to other parents', Stuff, 02.12.2022

Malachi's mum: 'Do not trust anyone with your kids who aren’t family’, Newstalk ZB, 02.12.2022

Lady Tureiti Moxon: 'Filling their pockets with our misery' after state childcare exposed, Te Ao Māori News, 02.12.2022

Malachi Subecz's death: Chief Ombudsman promises vigilance on Oranga Tamariki, RNZ, 02.12.2022

Kelvin Davis | Minister of Children, Corrections and Maori crown relations, Waatea News, 02.12.2022

Murder puts mandatory reporting under microscope, Waatea News, 02.12.2022

Malachi Subecz: Experts warn mandatory reporting system flawed, RNZ, 02.12.2022

ANZASW Response To Reviews Into Death Of Malachi Subecz, Press Release: Aotearoa NZ Association of Social Workers, 01.12.2022

Aunt, uncle of Malachi Subecz 'still in limbo' after his death, One News, 01.12.2022

Malachi Subecz's whānau say report confirms death of five-year-old was preventable, RNZ, 01.12.2022

“A change angel”: Malachi Subecz’s family say his death cannot be in vain, NZ Herald, 01.12.2022

Lived experienced needed to improve OT Oversight Bill, VOYCE-Whakarono Mai media statement, 12.10.2022

Malachi was never given a voice, VOYCE-Whakarono Mai media statement, 07.10.2022

Northland iwi collective regains decision-making powers over Māori children's care, RNZ, 17.08.2022

Image: Michal parzuchowski on Unsplash

More news articles about Government