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Review to probe ‘ignored’ SA child protection recommendations

A New South Wales bureaucrat will conduct an overarching review of South Australia’s child protection system, following warnings from the state coroner that government “folly” led to the preventable deaths of two Adelaide children.

Jun 01, 2022, updated Jun 01, 2022
Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard. Photo: InDaily

Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard. Photo: InDaily

Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard will announce in parliament this afternoon the appointment of Kate Alexander as the independent reviewer in charge of scrutinising the government’s progress implementing recommendations of previous child protection inquests.

Alexander, who will start work immediately, is an executive director at the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and has previously served as an expert witness in coronial proceedings and Royal Commission hearings.

She has worked in the child protection and sexual assault services sectors for over 25 years and is about to undertake a PhD focussed on decision-making in children protection, particularly where domestic violence is involved.

Hildyard announced the review in April after South Australia’s deputy coroner Anthony Schapel handed down a scathing report into the “preventable deaths” of five-year-old Korey Lee Mitchell and his six-year-old sister Amber Rose Rigney, who were strangled to death in Adelaide in 2016 by their mother’s partner.

The coronial inquest found child protection officials should have at least conducted an investigation into the treatment of the children while they were alive, following a “cluster” of notifications expressing concern about their care.

Korey Lee Mitchell, five, and his six-year-old sister Amber Rose Rigney were killed along with their mother in 2016. Photo: Supplied

Schapel noted that coroners, the state’s Ombudsman and Royal Commissioner Margaret Nyland had conducted previous inquiries into the failures of child protection authorities to intervene before children’s deaths, but the government had ignored some of their recommendations.

He implored the government to conduct a “broad review” of all coronial and other child protection recommendations to prevent further deaths.

“What this inquest has highlighted… is the folly of governments ignoring coronial and other recommendations,” Schapel wrote in his report.

“I speak… of the continuation of unlawful practices within the child protection authority despite coronial findings… that identified those practices.”

Hildyard said today that she carried the state’s most vulnerable children in her heart and mind “every single day”.

“I welcome Ms Alexander’s appointment as she brings with her a wealth of in-depth knowledge and experience as a lead practitioner and child protection systems expert,” she said.

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“We were looking to appoint someone with extensive knowledge of child protection and who can navigate complex stakeholder relationships and positively engage with those who have experience of the child protection system, and I believe Ms Alexander to be that person.

“This Government will continue to do everything in its power to prevent tragedies like this occurring again.”

Alexander said she welcomed the approach taken by the government following the coronial inquest.

“I look forward to working with the child protection department to understand how it could be strengthened so it is best equipped to respond to children at risk,” she said.

“There is no more important work than that of child protection.

“I am keen to shine a light on it and its great potential for keeping children safe.”

A government spokesperson told InDaily that the review would begin immediately, with a final report due in October.

They said no extra funding had been provided to conduct the review, with the Department for Child Protection to meet the costs.

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