The twins tragedy — the inside story
THE twins are so small, it's frightening. Inside an incubator at the neonatal intensive care unit, the daughter's hand reaches out.
Her palm barely covers half of her father's index finger.
On December 9 last year, she and her brother, at just 24 weeks, begin their battle for life at the Gold Coast University Hospital. Outside a war rages about their future custody and safety.
Family keep vigil every day.
"Everyone panicked. She was so early (with the birth). We are all thinking - are the kids going to make it. The little girl - all her skin has fallen off," a family member says.
The stress peaked two days before the birth. Rumours about a foster network placing the twins with a carer got back to the mother. "She got into hysterics," the family member says.
Mum is 21. Dad, a tradie, is 26. Together for about 18 months, they are setting up in a home at Robina.
Dad refers to them as "my little miracles". A friend tells him: "They are just precious."
"We're okay, we have our moments," dad replies. "I'll have these little boofheads to keep me going."
But will he? The twins have an older sister born after mum had an earlier, separate relationship. The three-year-old is with a carer.
On December 19, family members meet with Child Safety management at Mermaid Beach to discuss "grievances" - the talk about foster care.
It is established a carer was asked if she could look after the twins if they came into care. The foster care employee agrees the conversation was "inappropriate" and will raise it with management.
Christmas Day and the family dinner is at the hospital.
The babies remain in incubators, feeding tubes to their noses, helmets with strapping around their tiny heads, monitors on their hearts. Up to four carers are around them.
Everyone knows the baby girl is at most risk, needs oxygen. They fear about lung disease.
But with the New Year, always in all families there is hope. "My world whether I do it myself or with someone they are going to be my team and that's all I need," dad writes.
After the first week of January, thoughts of a milestone - the boy could reach one kilogram. By April, brother and sister might be home from hospital.
By early May, Child Safety officers are preparing an exhaustive document. Reference is made to a much earlier incident, before the twins were born, where their older sister was physically injured.
"She had been left unattended and unsupervised for an extended period of time before being cared for and medical assistance was received," the report says.
"There is still continued uncertainty over who caused this physical injury to (her). However it has been assessed (she) was left unattended and unsupervised in order for these injuries to occur."
A family member explains how the head injuries were caused by an accidental fall. Police do not take action, view the evidence as inconclusive.
But Child Safety officers are concerned. What if the parents became stressed, upset or worried with the new borns? The twins could get sick, hurt or injured.
Everyone agrees to a "supervision plan" for the twins. It will involve three others - some family members and friends. Mum must meet with a specialised trauma psychologist.
Report notes refer to both parents having a history of "anxiety and depression". Caring for special needs infants might prevent them from sleeping, cause them to be "quick to anger". Questions are posed about their "physical or emotional strength".
On April 27, everyone signs off on the family agreement. The twins are finally home, at Robina.
On the agreement are nine boxes to be ticked. The Child Safety officer leaves several blank - accommodation, anger management, domestic violence or sexual harm.
Dad tells them there is no history of domestic violence. This is supported by police records.
But there are ticks on others - lifestyle, parenting ability/knowledge, substance misuse and mental health.
Departmental officers note their concerns about the couple's cannabis use.
"Child Safety are worried if (they) do not reduce their marijuana use, when they are under the influence they will not be able to provide for daily care and special needs of the twins such as supervision, medical needs and meaningful engagement and attachment to the twins."
Mum and dad must agree to "engage with community services" to address their drug use.
If they don't the twins "may be placed at an increased risk of harm".
By late May, dad prepares for his first day back at work at his trade. He's enjoyed being a stay-at-home father. "Gonna be a long one," he says.
Family members salute him. "He's devoted everything to his kids. Gave up his job. He was at the hospital all the time," a family member says.
In late June mum takes one of the twins back to the hospital. She is stressed. Child Safety remove her from the house.
"She had been crying and upset. They were born so early. Why wouldn't anyone be upset (going to the hospital every day)," the family member says.
"She was doing all the courses. All the reports said she was doing well. If they were so concerned about it (the drug use) why did they put the kids back there.
"The thing they did wrong was remove her. They cut their support in half."
Dad battles on. "I love these two like no other," he tells friends.
By early July the bottles are ready on the kitchen table with the formula. It is just before midnight. "I find myself up at this time a lot starts to become a blur," dad writes.
On July 11, a return to the hospital. Three medical staff gather around the daughter. She has serious head injuries. Her brother is brought in with less serious head injuries. Police begin investigating.
"She's worrying us all, pretty much dying in my arms, can say was the worst feeling I've ever experienced. I love you girl. I will not leave your side," the father says.
Her life is full circle, out of intensive care but again at hospital. Her brother is in foster care.