How red tape let vulnerable teens down

Eight vulnerable children might be alive today if ­bureaucrats had properly ­investigated their deteriorating mental health.

The Child Deaths 2019 ­Annual Report has taken a shot at the Department of Communities and Justice over multiple suicides of teenagers, all of whom were known to child protection services.

In half of those cases it was "only after their deaths did DCJ learn that their families had been worried about the child's mental health and risk-taking behaviour".

The report, tabled in NSW parliament this week, has prompted one former child protection worker to describe the system as "a nightmare where you are lucky more kids don't kill themselves".

Families, Communities and Disability Services Minister Gareth Ward. Picture: Supplied
Families, Communities and Disability Services Minister Gareth Ward. Picture: Supplied

It has also sparked renewed calls from Opposition leader Jodi McKay for a NSW royal commission into mental health and suicide.

"The Serious Case Review Unit found that DCJ did not seek to understand the children's full experiences in the care of their parents or authorised carers," the report said.

Three victims were aged 13-15 years while the others were 16-17. All had experienced mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviour. Three were ­female, three were Aboriginal, and two were living in out-of-home care.

"For the two children who died by suicide while in out of home care, both experienced a profound lack of connection to family and sense of belonging," the report said.

"Their mental health issues and complex trauma required an urgent ­response from DCJ."

Since 2016 there have been 31 youth suicides in NSW of children known to the department's child protection service.

"These kids often can't get into mental health care for six months or more," a former child protection worker said.

"I often found myself asking how much is a life worth? It's cheaper to suppress rather than fix it."

NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay has renewed calls for a NSW royal commission into mental health and suicide. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gaye Gerard
NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay has renewed calls for a NSW royal commission into mental health and suicide. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gaye Gerard

Opposition leader Jodi McKay said there are more kids being reported every year yet less than one-third ever see a caseworker.

"The budget failed to provide any additional funding for caseworkers, for young people in out-of-home care or to support foster carers who are crying out for additional mental health support for the kids in their care," she said.

Families, Communities and Disability Services Minister Gareth Ward said the review "highlights the need for DCJ to respond to information about children's mental health. The NSW Government continues to invest in evidence-based programs and early intervention services that work to address trauma and complex issues for vulnerable children and young people".

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