Queensland's child protection system let this teenager down so she's calling for a major overhaul

As a baby, Sarah* says she ended up in hospital after her father threw her on the ground repeatedly.

Key points:

  • Sarah* was taken from her mother at birth and spent over a decade being moved between homes
  • She says requests for basic essentials, like clothing, was ignored
  • Minister Di Farmer said drug use, specifically ice addition, had become a major problem within the system


Later, the man in his 20s, locked her and her 14-year-old mother in a room and tried to set it on fire.

As a result the Queensland Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women (CSYW) deemed her mother unable to care for her.

"I believe my Mum had a chance to prove herself even though she was young. If they gave her help, then I think I would still be with my Mum," Sarah said.

After leaving the child protection system, Sarah — now a young adult — feels she didn't get the support she needed.

"I needed counselling, because I was going through so much and I was refused counselling. I was also pulled out of schools. So I went without school for nearly a year," she said.

Some nights Sarah said she had to sleep on the streets because there weren't enough beds in residential care.

She also couldn't afford to buy new clothes.


"I ended up having to steal my own clothes," she said.

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Sarah said her mother faced the same challenges and needed greater help and support too.

"She really needed that support but she never got that and now, 18 years on, she still struggles because she was never given that opportunity to have her kids," Sarah said.

Sarah's story is just one of thousands in Queensland.

The Queensland Government said the child safety department gets more than 120,000 calls every year, which is about one every four minutes.

More than 10,000 children are currently in care in the state — removed from their families, for their protection.

Enormous case load plagued by drugs and violence

Queensland Minister for Child Safety Di Farmer said the situation is highly complicated and there are factors making it even more so.

"It's incredibly complicated and challenging," Ms Farmer said.


The Minister's comments come following the deaths of two toddlers who were known to the child safety department, last month.

The department said it would be carrying out a "thorough investigation".

Ms Farmer said not all of the 120,000 children the department is alerted about are at risk of abuse or neglect.

"But nevertheless our staff still have to be sure that they are safe, so in terms of sheer numbers, that's enormous," Ms Farmer said.

Then there's the growing challenge of domestic violence and drugs which is facing not just carers and children in care but also front-line workers — like police and social workers.


"Ice has taken a huge toll, so 38 per cent of our kids and who we've taken into care, one or both parents has been addicted to ice and the majority of those kids under five years of age and that increasing by about 30 per cent every year," Ms Farmer said.

"So they [ice and domestic violence] are probably two of the really biggest factors that we're facing and [it's] an enormous task to address that."

Current steps 'just not enough', experts say

University of Queensland Professor, Karen Healy, said there was not enough money being spent on the kind of early intervention and support Sarah says she desperately needed.

"What needs to be fixed is a move towards more early intervention," Professor Healy said.

"Just as in health we try to intervene early to prevent heart disease or diabetes, we should be intervening early to prevent child protection problems."

Instead, she said the bulk of funding for child protection is spent at the so-called "crisis" end of the system.

"Currently our child welfare expenditure is still heavily weighted to at home care and investigation services and these are more expensive parts of the service system," Professor Healy said.


Ms Farmer conceded her department had more to do in this space.

"Look I think there's always more to do, but we will have spent, by the end of next year, almost a billion dollars to reform in child safety," Ms Farmer said.

"A lot of what we've invested in over the last four or five years is that early intervention."

She said results are already being seen, for instance in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children whose families have been through early intervention programs.

"Only 6 per cent of those kids who've been through those programs and subsequently need to be taken into care compared to 33 per cent who haven't done those programs, now that's actually a really, really big impact," Ms Farmer said.

But Ms Farmer admits the system could always benefit from more funding and more staff.

Professor Healy said a major shift in focus was required, and quickly.

"It's just not enough. So the dial is switching back somewhat to early intervention but it needs to needs to switch a lot to early intervention," Professor Healy said.

*The names in this article have been changed to protect the individual's identity.


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