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Abused Children Have Been Left To Die

CHILD-PROTECTION workers in Victoria have been slammed by the Bracks Government's child death watchdog for failing to properly investigate warnings of sexual abuse, chronic neglect and family violence against up to 20 children who subsequently died.
In two cases, child protection workers were told on 16 and 18 occasions respectively that children were suffering chronic neglect, but only got involved when the neglect was entrenched.
In four cases, child protection workers did not investigate despite being told of the abuse in its early stages. Allegations of physical and sexual abuse involving three children were not given proper attention by authorities.
Child protection workers also failed to properly investigate claims by children they were victims of family violence and prematurely closed cases after parents promised to go to support services but never did.
The damning findings - which follow strong criticism of child protection workers in other states - are made by the state Government's Child Death Review Committee, which investigated the deaths of 20 children known to the Department of Human Services.
The committee published new figures showing child protection workers received 37,242 reports of alleged abuse and neglect last year. Fewer than one third - 11,346 - were investigated and just 7250 were substantiated.
Joe Tucci, chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said the report was further evidence child protection workers across Australia were out of step with community attitudes.
"There is a difference ... between what the departments think child abuse is and what the community is willing to tolerate kids experiencing," he said.
"The departments will tolerate much more violence towards children before they intervene ... Most professionals want the departments to act more strongly and they are not. That is at the heart of why the system keeps failing a lot of these kids."
Influential Howard Government backbencher Bill Heffernan last week demanded changes to the way the states handle such cases, accusing them of protecting abusive or neglectful parents at the expense of children.
There have been similar revelations in Western Australia of hundreds of cases of suspected child abuse being left in queues for weeks because of a shortage of child protection caseworkers.
In an exclusive interview yesterday, West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter promised more money and more staff for the embattled Department for Community Development.
The Victorian committee spent 11 months investigating the deaths of 20 children from 2003 to 2005. Its report, tabled in state parliament in May, has received no media coverage.
Seven of the children were found to have been chronically neglected, but child protection workers deemed some of these cases were not of sufficient concern to warrant intervention. Chronic neglect includes not being given food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care.
"In four of the seven cases reviewed, early notifications of neglect were screened out of the system without investigation," the committee said.
"In two cases, the families were the subject of 16 and 18 notifications respectively. By the time child protection became actively involved, the child was already experiencing developmental delay and other long-term adverse effects."
Victorian Minister for Children Sherryl Garbutt said the Government had recently made changes to child protection backed by significant funding.
"Unlike other states, Victorian reforms were not sparked by crisis but by an ongoing assessment of the system based on reviews of case management practices ... and supported by the latest scientific research from Australia and overseas," she said.

The Australian (7-9-2006)
Ewin Hannan

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