The suicides of 35 children and young people known to child protection are the subject of a disturbing new report tabled in the Parliament of Victoria today by the Commission for Children and Young People.
Lost, not forgotten examines these deaths in the context of the services provided to the children and young people, revealing a fatal pattern of ‘ineffective early intervention’ marked by ‘delays, fragmentation, unsuccessful engagement and shallow focus’ by statutory child protection and voluntary child and family services.
‘This report demonstrates that, despite repeated interactions with the child protection system, the risk to these children and young people was left to escalate as they fell into the gaps between services.
‘Time and again, we saw a roundabout of child protection reports, referrals between services, and case closures in which nothing changed except an increasing hopelessness and despair,’ said Liana Buchanan, Victoria’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, today.
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Justin Mohamed, also voiced strong concerns.
‘It is distressing but sadly unsurprising that the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in youth justice and out-of-home care is mirrored in their over-representation among children and young people known to child protection who commit suicide.
‘Six of the 35 deaths examined in this report are of Aboriginal children and young people, confirming that Victoria has a place in what is a national tragedy that requires urgent action,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.
Together, the 35 children and young people were the subject of 229 child protection reports – an average of seven reports each – 90 per cent of which were closed at intake or investigation, the earliest stages in the child protection process. Many children came to the attention of child protection at a very young age.
‘When they deserved the greatest care and services to address their experience of violence and neglect, they instead met with inaction,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
Nearly all of the children and young people were victims of family violence, 89 per cent suffered from some form of neglect, and 51 per cent were sexually abused. They were typically disengaged from education (83 per cent), and a large majority had contact with a mental health service (89 per cent).
‘Despite an array of often serious risks, there was a pattern of early case closure by child protection, and a failure to follow up with disengaged families who were not connected with the help they desperately needed,’ Commissioner Buchanan said.
She said the pressure to close cases or refer them off to other services despite apparent high risk reflected an under-resourced and pressured child protection system.
‘Disturbingly, we frequently see the themes in this inquiry present in a similar pattern across other child death inquiries,’ she said.
The report makes six recommendations, including more funding for early intervention service models to engage hard-to-reach families, tracking of families’ engagement with services, the development of specific guidance for child protection workers to make sure they ask children what’s happening to them, away from family members, and a prevention strategy to tackle suicide among children and young people known to child protection.
‘We urge the Victorian Government to implement a sustainable funding model that focuses on early intervention to stop families falling beyond reach. We know that can save lives,’ Commissioner Buchanan concluded.
Lost, not forgotten examined deaths by suicide of children and young people within 12 months of their involvement in child protection over the period 1 April 2007–1 April 2019.
Download Lost, not forgotten from the Commission’s website.
Commissioner for Children and Young People
0437 046 360