Shocking number of child suicides revealed in damning report

DOZENS of Victorian kids have taken their own lives after slipping through the cracks of the child protection system despite multiple reports of family violence, drug abuse and neglect in their lives.

The Commission for Children and Young People has released a damning report on the suicide deaths of 35 children aged 12 to 17 between 2007 and this year, all of whom were on the system's radar but were not placed into child protection homes.

There were an average of seven reports made for each child - in one case, formal reports were made 25 times - but none were taken away from their families and put into state care.

Instead, out of 229 reports made to the child protection system, 69 per cent were closed with no further action.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Liana Buchanan. Picture: Mark Stewart
Commissioner for Children and Young People Liana Buchanan. Picture: Mark Stewart

Only 52 reports were referred to the voluntary Child FIRST support system for families - and none of those "resulted in a successful engagement with a family service".

The commission is now calling for a massive overhaul of the system, complete with a much-needed funding boost to "prevent the suffering described in this report".

"These children's lives were marred by family violence, dysfunction and often chronic neglect. For many, their parents' capacity to care for them was impeded by mental illness and/or substance abuse. Half of the children were thought to have experienced sexual abuse," the report says.

"Despite repeated and often early reports to Child Protection, many cases were successively closed and critical opportunities for much-needed intervention and support missed."

"When Child Protection referred these children's families for further support, they were lost in a referral roundabout across a fragmented service system. This meant that despite multiple reports and often severe levels of harm, nothing changed for these children."

"We initiated this inquiry because these children's experiences are otherwise invisible. Yet, as a community, we need to confront how many children we fail."

The government has accepted "in principle" the commission's reform recommendations.

"Every suicide is a tragedy and with the latest data sadly showing more than 500 Victorians died by suicide in 2018, we know there's more to be done in its prevention, particularly for our young people," Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said.

"We've established Australia's first ever Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System because we know the current system isn't coping - and we'll implement every one of its recommendations."

Of the children who took their own lives, 94 per cent had experienced family violence at home, including kids who saw their mothers beaten, raped and strangled.

The commission's report, tabled in state parliament this morning, also found 89 per cent had experienced neglect, with reports of mouldy school lunches with "rancid meat", rabies, sores, loss of teeth and lice.

 

Of the children who took their own lives, 94 per cent had experienced family violence at home, including kids who saw their mothers beaten, raped and strangled.
Of the children who took their own lives, 94 per cent had experienced family violence at home, including kids who saw their mothers beaten, raped and strangled.

One child slept in a barn for two weeks and another was described as "hungry, filthy and had flea bites all over his body".

Half had been sexually abused by a family member or friend, including one girl who was abused by her father and her gymnastics coach.

Of the 35 children, 43 per cent had contact with police within six weeks of their death.

While 69 per cent had previously attempted suicide and 83 per cent had a mental illness, they received little formal support, and 59 per cent had suggested they were intending to take their own lives in the week before their death.

The commission said: "As children grow older and their trauma starts to manifest in challenging behaviour, disengagement from school, risk taking, violence or mental ill health, professionals lose empathy. The children become seen as the problem. Our reviews found these children referred to as 'difficult', 'needy', 'angry' and 'bad'."

It also found that Child FIRST had seen a 474 per cent increases in cases referred to its services in the last decade. Funding increased 176 per cent over that period.

The commission's report said that of the 35 children who died, only 12 had been subject to an application to put them into the child protection system.

On average, this application only came after seven reports about severe issues in their lives, with the average time between the first report and the application totalling more than six years.

"This report reinforces that more is needed; radical reform and investment to improve early intervention and better protect children is necessary if we are to prevent the suffering described in this report," the commission said.

"For these children, in almost every case nothing changed as a result of reports to Child Protection."

 

 

tom.minear@news.com.au

@tminear



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