Vulnerable teenagers placed in residential care under Victoria’s child protection service were subjected to violence in 2019-2020, with more than 700 suffering serious physical and sexual abuse.
The annual report by Victoria’s Commission for Children and Young Persons (pdf) also found that of the 7,300 incidents reported for that year, eighteen children died in residential care. At the same time, more than 2,000 teenagers ran away from residential units.
The report comes in the wake of concerning data that reveal 65 Victorian children and teenagers—who were known to child protection authorities—died in 2019-2020, reported The Australian.
“Incidents in residential care accounted for approximately three-quarters of the year’s total … incidents, even though this group of children make up approximately 5 percent of the out-of-home-care population,” the commission report states.
Additionally, significant flaws were found in the children protection service, such as premature closure of cases by authorities, the Australian reported.
Among the problems in residential care reported by the commission were the number of children who run away from residential units and the sexual exploitation of at-risk teenagers.
“In six of these cases, the risks to children were not adequately assessed due to poor information sharing or poor information gathering, including in one case evidence of sexual exploitation,” the report states.
In response, Victorian Labor minister Jacinta Allen acknowledged that more work was needed in this area.
“We know there’s always more to do in this really challenging area, which is why last November’s budget added significant resources to employ significant additional child protection practitioners into this area,” Allan said.
“We have added significant extra resources … to employ more child protection practitioners on the frontline, and additional support, administrative supports, to wrap around those child protection practitioners because they are doing really difficult work in really challenging circumstances, and it’s critical that they get every support they can,” she said.
A recent report published by The Australian highlighted how Victoria’s child protection system, which is managed by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, overlooked warning signs of neglect which led to a 15-month-old baby dying under the system.
“Baby M” was cared for by his maternal grandfather, a drug user who suffered from depression and who was prone to domestic violence and homelessness. Baby M died in his cot at 15-months old while suffering from suspected Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Baby M’s case was closed after his maternal grandfather tested positive for amphetamines, though the department did not discuss the positive test results with the grandfather.
“Child Protection minimised the maternal grandfather’s positive drug screen results for ice, only noting that one of the drug screens came back positive for drugs for managing his back pain.
“However, there is no evidence that Child Protection discussed the risk factors associated with SIDS, including smoking, with (his) maternal grandfather until September 2019.”
The commission’s report adds: “Premature case closures where there were several re-reports also pointed to a need to improve understanding of cumulative harm. Other issues that led to cases being closed prematurely included the ‘refer and close roundabout’ resulting from premature closure of cases and referrals to support services which are not followed up.”