Deaths highlight child protection flaws

Child protection services have again been criticised for failing to protect Victoria’s most vulnerable children following a review of 16 deaths on the state’s watch.

An annual report by the Victorian Child Death Review Committee shows 16 children known to protective services died in the 12 months to March 2010.

Three died of non-accidental trauma and four committed suicide.

Five died from illness and four from sudden infant death syndrome.

Eleven of the children were aged under three, including infants aged one month and six months and a two-year-old toddler, all of whom died from non-accidental injuries.

Domestic violence and substance use was a factor in most cases, while there were also high rates of parental mental illness and homelessness.

The report blamed staffing shortfalls and an inexperienced workforce for compromised care.

“Overall the case reviews paint a picture of the corrosive effect of chronic staffing shortages and workload pressures,” the report said.

It highlighted a breakdown in information gathering and sharing between agencies and failures in building a historical profile of problem families.

Too often direct contact between child protection workers and clients was insufficient and relied on “announced visits”.

The report said safety must be given greater weight in making decisions about a child’s welfare, warning that failure to do so “can have immediate and life threatening outcomes for children.”

“When responding to possible physical abuse, assessment and decision making are time critical and must clarify issues regarding the safety of the child as the most urgent priority,” the report said.

In 2009, 26 children known to protective services died.

The Victorian government last September announced a $77 million package to employ an extra 200 child protection staff, including 101 frontline workers.

But the crisis deepened two months later when an ombudsman’s report lifted the lid on a system in crisis, revealing more than 2000 at-risk children, or one in five, were without a case worker.

Community Services Minister Lisa Neville said that number had since been reduced from 24 per cent to 15 per cent.

“Since October last year we’ve recruited over 400 new child protection workers to the system, that has filled all the vacancies and is also filling the additional positions that we’ve funded,” she said.

“I think we can keep doing more and more and that’s what we’re focused on doing.”

Opposition community services spokeswoman Mary Wooldridge said the report was further evidence the government had failed to protect abused and neglected children.

“What we know is that more and more children are dying who are known to child protection,” Ms Wooldridge said.

July 29th, 2010
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