The Northern Territory news Sat 23 Jan 2010
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Nationwide News Pty. Limited
34 Northern Territory News, Saturday, January 23, 2010 www.ntnews.com.au P U B : N T N E W S D A T E : 2 3 -J A N -2 0 1 0 P A G E : 3 4 C O L O R : C M Y K m g 3 0 0 6 2 3 Little girl lost NO RELIEF: Deborah Melville, 12, died while in foster care ByPAUL TOOHEY TRAGEDY: Deborah Melvilles mother, Lyn Melville Ive got fairy friends. Thereare a few on that tree over there. The witches are catching all the fairies and locking them up I T IS hard to imagine an animal, or a lunatic in the medieval Bedlam asylum, being treated as badly as 12-year-old foster child Deborah Melville. Even one of Deborahs last delusional moments, as she faded after three weeks in agony, gave her no relief. She told her brother: Ive got fairy friends. There are a few on that tree over there. The witches are catching all the fairies and locking them up. Family and Community Services departments across the country are on notice after the NT Coroner, Greg Cavanagh, delivered an excoriating attack on the Darwin-based agency. Mr Cavanaghs findings will become an immediate national benchmark for the worst possible care a government can give a child. The Coroner said FACS inaction and ineptitude had directly contributed to Deborahs death on July 12, 2007. As for Deborahs carer, her callousness is almost beyond words. Deborah was an indigenous girl who was placed, according to government policy, with indigenous kin. The Coroner was told that three weeks before she died, Deborah suffered a minor sporting injury to her upper thigh. Her carer, Denise Reynolds, who was a great aunt who had no relationship with Deborah, did not take her for medical treatment even though she was unable to walk. The inquest had further identified that Deborahs own parents were drug users. At the age of two and a half, Deborah was found wandering distressed and naked on the streets of Palmerston, out of Darwin. Deborah and her siblings eventually became refuge children. The coroner heard that the mother had disclosed to authorities that Deborah had allegedly been abused on by her father. By 2000, it became clear that Deborah and her siblings, scattered among various carers, were in need of a permanent care arrangement. Denise Reynolds initially protested that she would have trouble taking on the five kids she already had seven of her own. FACS was aware that Ms Reynolds had already too many children, but was driven by its guidelines for Aboriginal children. They did not at this time know that one of Ms Reynolds own children, Cassandra, had drowned in 1991, in WA, in a bucket of water. Cassandra was one. By the time she was found, rigor mortis had set in. All up, Ms Reynolds received $5941 per month in payments for caring for the Melville children, plus the benefits she earned from her own children. If Deborahs new home was dysfunctional, so was the FACS office which was supposed to regularly check up on the well-being of the Melville kids. The coroner said FACS routinely breached its obligations to the children. It was supposed to report every three months on each childs circumstances. At one point it let this slide for two and a half years. Deborahs little brother told the inquest that Ms Reynolds would hit the Melville children with a metrelong stick. The house was unclean, with cockroaches and rats and no doors on bedrooms. They had no sheets. Ms Reynolds was busy at the Darwin casino, spending the childrens entitlements. Police later learned Ms Reynolds had gambled more than $1.6 million in a little over four and half years. The Melville kids started turning up at school unwashed and stinking of urine. In late 2002, a senior FACS worker visited the home and found it was filthy and overcrowded with up to 19 people. Facing criticism from this worker, Ms Reynolds demanded FACS take the kids off her. This, said the coroner, caused FACS to back off and leave the kids to further wallow in their swill. Two months later, a FACS document reported the children were happy and healthy. Coroners recommendations RECOMMENDATIONSmade by Coroner Greg Cavanagh in relation to the deaths of twoNTChildren: That adequate resources be given to address problemswithin the Department of Families andChild Services (FACS) relating to staff recruitment, training and support. That anMoUbe signed between FACS andNTPolice. That theNTCare and Protection of Children Act 2008 be amended to include a requirement that all foster children be visited by an authorised caseworker at least once every twomonths. That the Act outlines certain basic standards of care, including a care plan, thatmust be provided to a child at the placement arrangement. The Act should be amended to require the caseworker conducting the six-monthly review to assess whether the carer ismeeting the basic standard of care requirements. Administration of the Act should be reviewed every two years and power should be given to the Childrens Commissioner to enable this to occur. The Act should be amended to include the definition of cumulative harm. FACS staff should be trained to identify and deal with issues of cumulative harm to children in foster care. FACS should develop awritten handover systemwhen one case worker takes over a new case. FACS should enhance its computerised information system to ensure caseworkers can easily identify red flag issues. FACS should notify NT police of the name and address of carers with whom theCEOhas entered a placement arrangement. Carer application forms should be amended to include information about all the childrenwho have ever been in the care of the applicant, and Administrative support should be provided to caseworkers to enable them to focus on their core responsibilities of protecting children in care.