Child Protection Department’s culture needs reviewing: former top cop

The culture within the Child Protection Department should be “thoroughly examined” following the deaths of six-year-old Charlie and seven-year-old Makai, the state’s former Police Commissioner has recommended.

Nov 09, 2022, updated Nov 09, 2022
Former police commissioner Mal Hyde delivering his findings today. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Former police commissioner Mal Hyde delivering his findings today. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

A government-commissioned review by former SA Police Commissioner Mal Hyde makes 31 recommendations to improve the way in which government departments work with families at risk of coming into contact with the child protection system.

Hyde, who was SA Police Commissioner from 1997 to 2012, asked the government to “thoroughly” examine the culture within the Department for Child Protection, to examine the practices within a specific child protection office and to review legislation to ensure child neglect offences better align with community expectations.

He also asked the government to consider using court orders to require carers with a medical, emotional or psychological condition to undergo “suitable treatment”, and to set up a child neglect task force.

It comes as Premier Peter Malinauskas revealed an analysis of government data showed there are approximately 500 South Australian children that could be living in an “extremely vulnerable situation”.

“That is a big number,” he said.

“It causes a great degree of anxiety, contemplating that there might be other children in a similar situation.”

The state government has accepted all 31 of Hyde’s recommendations “in principle”.

But it has refused to publicly release Hyde’s full report until after SA Police have finished investigating Charlie and Makai’s deaths, following Crown law and police advice.

Charlie was found unresponsive in her home in the early hours of Friday, July 15. She was taken by ambulance to the Lyell McEwin Hospital but died shortly after.

A police investigation led by Task Force Prime was launched to determine whether Charlie and her five siblings, who have since been placed into the care of the Child Protection Department, were criminally neglected in the lead-up to her death.

That task force is also investigating whether Makai, who died on February 10 after he suffered a health complaint, was also subjected to neglect and abuse.

Makai’s father took him to the Lyell McEwin Hospital, but he was later transported to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital where he died.

A post-mortem found he died from several serious health issues, but police have refused to confirm his interim cause of death.

Makai’s siblings – aged between seven and 16 – were placed in state care following his death, with police suspecting they also may have been criminally neglected.

Both Charlie and Makai’s families had contact with multiple government departments in the lead-up to the children’s deaths, prompting Premier Peter Malinauskas to commission Hyde’s independent review.

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The government this morning also released a separate independent report by child protection expert Kate Alexander into the government’s progress in implementing recommendations of previous child protection inquests.

That report, called “Trust in Culture”, found the government needed to develop an “urgent strategy” to ensure more child protection spending is directed towards early intervention services to prevent children from entering state care.

“The system is struggling to meet mounting demand; the rate of children entering care is higher than most other Australian states and Aboriginal children are grossly over-represented,” Alexander wrote.

“The spending on early intervention and intensive family support is the lowest of all Australian states and territories.

“This imbalance is set against clear evidence that investing in quality early intervention and family preservation work stems the flow of children into the care system.”

Alexander made three recommendations, including that the state government merge the Department for Human Service’s child protection services with the Department for Child Protection.

The state government rejected that recommendation, claiming it would represent a “significant machinery of government change and will require further consideration”.

Malinauskas told reporters a short time ago that there had been 811 recommendations from previous child protection inquests and Royal Commissions.

He said 78 per cent of those recommendations had been completed.

“There is a lot of work that has been done, but… we acknowledge there is more work to be done.

“There are incredibly complex circumstances that people on the frontline of child protection are dealing with on a daily basis.

“But when tragedies take place, it is so confronting that it demands yet more effort and more endeavour.”

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