Tributes left for the infant who died on Surfers Paradise beach. Picture: Glenn Hampson
Tributes left for the infant who died on Surfers Paradise beach. Picture: Glenn Hampson

Insiders blame fatal flaw in child safety system

COULD a federal system of child protection have saved the little girl found dead on a Gold Coast beach this week?

It's a question being raised by former child safety officers who say part of the problem with the whole system is the way children being moved from region to region or state to state can fall through the cracks.

The Gold Coast Bulletin has revealed how the nine-month-old girl found dead at Surfers Paradise in the early hours of Monday spent her first months crying through this year's winter cold.

She slept on a wooden platform with her father, 48, her mother 23, and young brother.

"Why was the baby left with the parents - just why?,'' one resident asked.

It's a question being asked across Australia today, especially after revelations that authorities had been alerted to the family months ago.

Police officers wipe away tears as they bring toys and pay their respects near where the baby girl was found dead. Picture: Tali Eley.
Police officers wipe away tears as they bring toys and pay their respects near where the baby girl was found dead. Picture: Tali Eley.

Part of the problem, according to insiders, is the way the system works.

In cases where families are on the move, the case file is transferred to the new local office.

Case workers, already swamped with more complex family dramas than they can effectively deal with, are often forced to put the new case to the bottom of the pile.

To understand the magnitude of the problem, consider some of the latest official figures for Queensland for the 12 months to June 2018.

The Department of Child Safety reports there were almost 22,000 investigations commenced.

Just 8758 of those commenced on time - though the most urgent cases (24 hour priority) had a 100% on time rate - the first time since 2009.

Only 32.2 per cent of investigations requiring a 5 day response were commenced within that timeframe.

Less than a third (27.4 per cent) of those requiring a response in 10 days were dealt with.

Some of the most disturbing revelations, however, come when looking at the people involved.

Methamphetamine, including ice use, continues to be a major factor - although not in the case of the Surfers Paradise baby.

Tributes to the baby that was found dead on the beach in Surfers Paradise near Staghorn Ave. Photo: Tertius Pickard
Tributes to the baby that was found dead on the beach in Surfers Paradise near Staghorn Ave. Photo: Tertius Pickard

Close to one in three children who came into the care of the department during the 12 months to December 2017 had a parent with current or previous methamphetamine use recorded.

Almost one in two of those kids (42.3 per cent) are at risk of neglect or emotional harm (41.9 per cent).

"Of the 523 children, 152 were in ice corridors in southeast Queensland stretching from the Gold Coast north to Logan/Beenleigh and from Ipswich north to Caloundra," Child Safety Minister Di Farmer said at the time of the release of the figures.

The Minister says child safety officer caseloads remain below 18 following the investment of new frontline office staff.

A surfers stands at tribute to the baby that was found dead on the beach in Surfers Paradise near Staghorn Ave. Photo: Tertius Pickard
A surfers stands at tribute to the baby that was found dead on the beach in Surfers Paradise near Staghorn Ave. Photo: Tertius Pickard

But insiders say figures can be easily manipulated with some managers more focused on managing budgets and writing off cases than child welfare.

In the case of the young girl's death on the Gold Coast, police are still trying to determine where she died to find out whether it will be the responsibility of Queensland or NSW police.

What is for certain is despite the best efforts of child safety workers, our system is failing to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

But it goes well beyond child protection.

We require a licence to drive a car but what training and obligation is there for someone to parent a child?

Surely that should be a far greater focus for parents, teachers, and government departments than some of the nonsense we teach in our schools - or homes for that matter.



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