The Child Protection Department has been ordered to apologise after failing to help a vulnerable child in their care despite eight people reporting that the youth was exposed to domestic violence and drug use.
Despite the reports, the department ended the investigation, saying it was “unable” to help the child because it did not have “the capacity to respond to the concerns”.
In a scathing report on the department’s handling of the incident, Deputy Ombudsman Emily Strickland recommended the department immediately open an investigation into the child’s welfare if none was already under way.
Ms Strickland said the department had extensive records of notifications made over several years that the child was at risk. She said the child was particularly vulnerable because of an undisclosed disability. The notifications were centred around the child’s continual exposure to “domestic violence and drug use in the family home”.
Many of the notifications met the department’s criteria for a child protection response, but all were closed without action being taken.
The department responded to one person’s notification with a letter saying the child’s case had been reported to the Child Wellbeing Program, which requires participation from the child and their family.
Ms Strickland’s investigation found that the Child Wellbeing Program had not been engaged with the child and the department had not considered any alternatives to provide support.
As part of the report, the Deputy Ombudsman recommended the department immediately reopen their investigation into the child’s welfare and apologise to the notifier for the errors in the letter.
Child Protection Department chief executive Cathy Taylor said Ms Strickland’s recommendations had been accepted and were being implemented.
“The Department for Child Protection is currently working with the family to address child protection concerns,” she said.
“With all notifications received by the department, the service response priority remains focused on the most serious and critical cases of abuse and neglect.”
Ms Taylor said the introduction of new child safety laws, which came into effect on October 22, 2018, required a “whole of sector” response to child protection.
Ms Strickland found in her investigation that the child’s case had been closed without action in August 2019, more than a year after the new laws came into effect.
Almost three years ago Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland recommended the closure of cases without any action to be phased out by August 2021.