Annual Report 2004-2005 Ombudsman 27th Report
Tabled paper 283
Tabled papers for 10th Assembly 2005 - 2008; Tabled papers; ParliamentNT
Tabled By Claire Martin
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___________________________________________________________ Ombudsmans Annual Report 2004/05 33 numerous allegations of poor practice and process, erroneous or unlawful determinations and unprofessional conduct. An investigation was commenced and the Department requested to respond to the complainants allegations. In its response, the Department acknowledged some isolated instances of deficient action. However its general view was that while this particular case had been challenging, it had been managed appropriately. It noted that the challenges arose from the difficulty in determining the perpetrator and from the anxious state of family members, which made communicating and working with them difficult at times. As the Ombudsmans investigation progressed, indications of some systemic defects in FACS administrative processes began to emerge, which contradicted the Departments view that there were no underlying problems. After careful consideration of all the available evidence, which included the FACS case file, Ministerials and interviews with the child protection officers, the Ombudsman put preliminary views to the Department for further consideration. On review of the matter, the Department agreed that some systemic issues were apparent. The Department had in fact already recognised some of these issues by this stage, both as a result of some internal reviews conducted and as a result of progress in the Caring for Our Children reform agenda. The Ombudsmans investigation identified that: There was an inadequate level of planning and management of the child protection investigation. Insufficient effort was put into considering strategies for proceeding with the investigation or for making contingency plans. There was inadequate case management when strategic decisions needed to be made. As a result, the focus of the investigation was not centred on the welfare of the child as clearly as it should have been and clear justification for decisions not always evident. It also resulted in the complainant feeling very much in the dark as staff felt unable to give her any indication of what the outcomes might be. There was a breakdown of defined roles and responsibilities by members of the child protection team, which impacted on the effectiveness of the investigation process. The causes of this appeared to relate to inadequate training, not entirely effective leadership and high workload. There was insufficient attention given to FACS responsibility to maintain a family service orientation, with the emphasis on gathering evidence and determining the perpetrator taking precedence over the need to support and assist the family. As a consequence the mothers rights were not fully acknowledged and her relationship with her child was affected. While the FACS determination of maltreatment was a decision open to it in the circumstances, the Ombudsman was critical of the subsequent decision making process which resulted in the child being taken interstate and away from any direct contact with the mother, who had previously been the childs only custodial parent. The evidence was that there had been insufficient consideration of all alternatives before FACS made a determination with such a significant impact on both child and family. There were multiple instances of FACS failing to maintain confidentiality, suggesting a lack of commitment by the Department toward confidentiality obligations.
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