Govt accepts recommendations of ‘harrowing’ Coroner’s report

UPDATED: Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard says the state government has accepted all the recommendations of a Coroner’s report into the 2016 murder of two Adelaide children and will set up a review following strong criticism of department inaction.

Apr 22, 2022, updated Apr 22, 2022
Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard. Photo: InDaily

Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard. Photo: InDaily

Hildyard told reporters a short time ago that her “heart and love” went out to the family of Korey Lee Mitchell, five, and his six-year-old sister Amber Rose Rigney, who were murdered by their mother’s partner in 2016 in what Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel described as “preventable” deaths.

The state coroner said authorities should have acted to protect Korey Lee Mitchell, five, and his six-year-old sister Amber Rose Rigney, who were killed along with their mother in 2016. Photo supplied.

In findings handed down yesterday, Schapel said child protection officials should have at least conducted an investigation into the treatment of the children, following a number notifications expressing concern about their care.

He made several recommendations, which Hildyard said would be accepted and implemented by the Malinauskas Government.

“Reading this report last night was really, really harrowing and again, my thoughts are with the family,” she said.

“Myself, the Premier and Cathy Taylor – the chief executive of the Department for Child Protection – met early this morning and at that meeting we firmly resolved to accept and implement all of the recommendations that the Deputy Coroner has made in his report.”

Hildyard said the government would “expeditiously” appoint an independent reviewer to conduct a review of the coronial and other recommendations relating to child protection in South Australia.

She said the government would cast its mind to who it would appoint this afternoon and over the weekend.

“It’s been terrible to reflect on the failures of child protection over a number of years,” she said.

“We want this review to be expeditious, but thorough.

“We anticipate that the process of reviewing and then receiving any report and beginning a plan for any implementation of change would all happen this year.”

Hildyard did not directly answer repeated questions asking if she would sack any department heads, including Taylor, in light of Schapel’s findings, saying she instead accepted that there had been “failings from governments of all persuasions in child protection”.

“I will work to review systems, to review policies and procedures, to review staffing levels, to make sure they are as effective as possible in making the change that’s needed,” she said.

“What I’ve said is I’m focussed on change – on positive change.”

The Child Protection Minister said she would work with the department to address staffing gaps “as soon as we can”, but was unable to confirm how many extra staff would be recruited.

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“We certainly can speak with you about that in the coming weeks,” she said.

“We are wanting to identify first exactly where staff are needed most in terms of making sure that children who are already in care are safe and supported to physically, emotionally, mentally thrive.”

In his findings, Schapel said child protection authorities failed to conduct an investigation into the treatment of Mitchell and Rigney. 

At the opening of the inquest last year, counsel assisting Ahura Kalali said that before the murders, another child of Wilson-Rigney had been removed from her care after being deemed to be in a situation of serious danger.

Kalali outlined a long history of abuse, care and neglect notifications to authorities over the care of all three children.

There were also concerns related to the development of the children, their sporadic attendance at school and in relation to their mother’s drug abuse.

The inquest heard that Families SA had difficulties with continuing to intervene in the family’s case because of a lack of resources.

But Taylor told reporters this morning that systems had changed in the department since the children’s deaths.

“When the Coroner was looking at this matter it was under the old (Child and Young Person’s Safety) Act and under the new Act we’ve now got a lot more available to us,” she said.

“Our staff are working harder than ever to investigate matters, respond to more matters, but more importantly, to connect families,” she said.

“We have investigated more matters than ever before over the last five years and we are certainly making sure that we don’t leave children in unsafe environments.”

– with AAP

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