Territory Stories

The Northern Territory news Sat 12 Dec 2009

Details:

Title

The Northern Territory news Sat 12 Dec 2009

Other title

NT news

Collection

The Northern Territory news; NewspaperNT

Date

2009-12-12

Description

This publication contains may contain links to external sites. These external sites may no longer be active.

Language

English

Subject

Community newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin; Australian newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin

Publisher name

Nationwide News Pty. Limited

Place of publication

Darwin

File type

application/pdf

Use

Copyright. Made available by the publisher under licence.

Copyright owner

Nationwide News Pty. Limited

License

https://www.legislation.gov.au/Series/C1968A00063

Parent handle

https://hdl.handle.net/10070/215569

Citation address

https://hdl.handle.net/10070/711569

Page content

28 Northern Territory News, Saturday, December 12, 2009 www.ntnews.com.au P U B : N T N E W S D A T E : 1 2 -D E C -2 0 0 9 P A G E : 2 8 C O L O R : C M Y K e r2 4 0 3 0 1 Children crying out SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS: The Northern Territorys child protection system is in chaos, with evidence pointing to consistent failures to protect the NTs children Problems withrecruiting staff to the profession are worldwide. Child protection work is poorly remunerated, poorly resourced and draining I N 2005, a seven-weekold baby who had been the subject of a number of FACS notifications starved to death after inexperienced welfare officers lost track of the family and his mother fled the Territory. More than two years later, a 12-year-old girl died in foster care from a sports injury left untreated. Both cases sparked inquiries and investigations, but evidence before the Coroner and parliamentary documents show resourcing issues remain a core issue, not just in the Territory, but across Australia. Counsel assisting the coroner in the 2005 case, Fiona Hardy, told Coroner Greg Cavanagh on Wednesday that the baby had slipped through the cracks because the mother had not been properly monitored. FACS records showed two of the babys siblings had been malnourished not long after their births. One such case prompted doctors to consult with a starvation specialist who had worked in thirdworld countries. But when the new baby appeared to be in a similar condition in April, 2005, notifications from reliable informers were improperly labelled and recorded by case workers. Up to eight notifications were not acted on until two months after the first was received just days before the last time FACS and police officers saw the baby alive. The mother fled the NT with the baby and three older children and drove to Melbourne to collect her oldest son from his father. She found the baby dead in the car on her way back through Port Wakefield, South Australia on June 1, 2005. An autopsy revealed he died from a low caloric intake. Deborah Melville was one month from her 13th birthday when she died in the dirt outside her foster carers Palmerston house, leaning against a trailer and seeing witches and fairies. An inquest was told she was living in an overcrowded, three-bedroom home with up to 18 others while her great-aunt, Denise Reynolds, worked full-time and went to the casino to gamble most evenings. An inquest also heard FACS reports in the year leading up to the death failed to record that Ms Reynolds Bees Creek home was burnt down and later sold, her husband had left her, she had started working full-time and there had been reports of a gambling problem. Ms Reynolds failed to notice that a sports injury got progressively worse over three weeks, turning septic, infecting Deborahs blood and bones and eventually her vital organs. SA and Victorian reports into their respective child protection systems were tendered to the coroner, revealing problems that have been echoed through every Australian jurisdiction. Resourcing was blamed from all quarters for failures to meet statutory requirements and mistakes or omissions by child protection staff. A report from the Victorian Ombudsman into its child protective service, tabled in the Victorian Parliament last month, says problems with recruiting staff to the profession are worldwide. It says child protection work is poorly remunerated, poorly resourced and draining. Former FACS director Jenny Scott told the Melville inquest the department had tried recruiting staff from interstate and overseas, but still struggled to meet targets. She said child protection was almost universally seen as a profession for social workers to cut their teeth after graduation, and often gave up when it did not meet their expectations. Ms Scott said all staff were stretched to the limit, and while she said she knew at the time her staff were struggling to keep up with their case loads, she had no data that told her statutory obligations were not being met. The case worker assigned to the babys case in 2005 was the most inexperienced in the office when she was assigned one of the Alice Springs offices most complex cases. Shortages of foster carers across the country as well is at odds with the increasing number of children needing care. A Parliamentary Select Committee in South Australia tabled its report last month, and says the lack of foster carers is having severe consequences for its children in need of care. One foster carer told the committee: We are at a point where the foster care system is collapsing before our eyes, and may well be extinct in the next 10 years. Ms Scott told the coroner the department was beginning to treat foster care as a profession by paying its carers, but was still having trouble finding them. In closing for the babys inquest, Health Department lawyer Kelvin Currie told Mr Cavanagh there was no point making recommendations to the department to increase staffing levels or resources if money wasnt allocated from higher up. NT coroner Greg Cavanagh has wound up two coronial inquests this week into the deaths of children who should have been under the careful watch of FACS. The deaths happened two years apart and at opposite ends of the Territory, but the evidence has revealed a child protection system still in chaos, blaming the system for consistent failures to perform their duty to protect the most vulnerable. EMILYWATKINS reports


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