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Care officials under fire over child deaths

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on Wed, 06/12/2013 - 10:29
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Care officials under fire over child deaths

Grieving mothers Shauna Adams, left, and Julie Kerr outside Parliament House yesterday.
Photo: Craig Abraham

Protection authorities failed to adequately assess the risks in more than a dozen cases, a report says.

Child protection authorities failed to adequately assess risks facing more than a dozen children who died after coming to their attention in the past three years, a report has found.

The report shows 16 children died who were known to authorities last year.

Produced by the Victorian Child Death Review Committee, and tabled in State Parliament yesterday, it comes as the Bracks Government prepares legislation to reform child protection.

Four children died of illness last year, three from accidents, two from sudden infant death syndrome and two from substance abuse. Five died from as yet unknown causes. Three of the children had little or no involvement with protection officials. There were about 37,800 notifications to authorities last year.

The committee, which includes Department of Human Services representatives and outside experts, reviewed three of last year's deaths and 15 cases from the two previous years. It found officials failed to adequately assess the risk to the child in 14 of the 18 cases. It found child protection services:

· Did not take into account previous notifications.

· Failed to reassess safety when new information was presented.

· Relied too heavily on other professionals to assess risks.

· Underestimated the degree of risk.

Deaths in 2004 rose slightly compared with 2003, when 12 children died. In 2002, 32 died.

Committee chairwoman Lisa Ward said troubled family backgrounds of those who died last year showed a need for services to work together. "The community needs to feel assured that when a child dies, a lot of questions are asked and answered and that lessons are learnt that will drive ongoing improvements to services to vulnerable kids and their families," she said.

Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Joe Tucci said "the department tolerates a higher level of risk and a higher level of abuse and violence towards children than the community does".

Opposition community services spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the report provided "further proof that there is a real crisis of child protection in Victoria".

Community Services Minister Sherryl Garbutt said some of the issues raised were being tackled and legislation to go before Parliament later this year would provide further change.

"The risk assessment process . . . is being strengthened to ensure that there's a more cautious approach," she said. "There's a big reform platform by the Government and (the Department of Human Services) to change the child protection system, particularly to move towards a more preventative and early intervention approach."

Two Melbourne mothers whose children died under state supervision called for an overhaul of the system.

Julie Kerr, whose daughter died of a heroin overdose, said there was a lack of communication between agencies, and carers in residential homes often had little control of the children.

". . . the carers had no control to be able to keep the kids in houses, and they're wandering the streets, getting drunk, chroming," she said.

Shauna Adams, whose 16-year-old daughter, Vanessa, hanged herself while in a home, rejected department suggestions that deaths in child protection were isolated. "These aren't isolated incidences, and I believe the department has failed their duty of care, absolutely," she said. "She was left at home alone, and she died there."

By Liz Gooch and Farrah Tomazin