By Tamara Glumac
The union representing Tasmania’s child protection workers says the state is still failing vulnerable children, six years after the deaths of two babies which the Coroner found could have been prevented.
Coroner Olivia McTaggart has released findings into the death of 24-day old Teegan Rose Hayes who was accidentally suffocated in her parent’s bed in Devonport on November 2011.
The Coroner said child protection did not adequately respond to numerous notifications regarding the family, prior to Teegan’s birth.
The Public Sector Union’s, Tom Lynch, said he believed the system was still ill-equipped.
“All Tasmanians need to look at this and understand that we are failing children in this state and we have been for a long period of time,” Mr Lynch said.
Mr Lynch acknowledged there had been a “great effort to try and improve things in child protection”.
“But what worries me today is there are still unallocated children in the north-west and in fact in all regions and there are still workers with caseloads well in excess of what they can professionally manage,” Mr Lynch said.
“What that means is there are still children at risk of falling through the gaps.
“We haven’t managed to repair a system that unfortunately failed this young child.”
Mr Lynch said some child protection workers had been so traumatised by failures in the system, they had left the profession.
‘Extensive failings’ of system in Teegan’s case: Coroner
Teegan’s parents, Robert William Hayes and Kim Maree Fox, had three other children who were put into foster care in 2014, after the family moved to New South Wales and came to the attention of child protection authorities there.
There were risk factors including violence, parental neglect, alcohol abuse and an incapacity of the parents to adequately care for the children due to their intellectual disabilities.
The Coroner found there were extensive failings within Tasmania’s child protection system, and said baby Teegan “should not have been in the care of her parents at the time of her death due to the high level of risk to her”.
The Coroner referred to similar issues in the 2012 case of baby Bjay Johnston who died from head trauma inflicted by his father.
In that case Coroner McTaggart described “entrenched systemic and cultural deficiencies in the context of inadequate resourcing”.
System ‘chronically under-resourced’
Greens Leader Cassy O’Connor was Human Services Minister at the time of both cases, but was not responsible for the children’s portfolio.
She said the child protection system was then — and still is — “chronically under-resourced” and “very little has changed”.
“The child protection system has been dysfunctional for many, many years, and over successive governments,” she said.
“The child safety system is essentially run on the smell of an oily rag.
“You’ve got child safety workers who are not supported, there is inadequate follow up and there is a failure at a policy level to assess the cumulative impacts on children.
“The ultimate concern here has to be the wellbeing of children.
“Right now there are children living in households in Tasmania that are highly at risk, they’re either neglected or they’re abused.”
Human Services Minister, Roger Jaensch, said the safety and wellbeing of children was a top priority and the Government would consider the Coroner’s recommendations.
Mr Jaensch said since 2014, the Government had announced a redesign of the child protection system, and invested $51.2 million to better support families and children at risk.