The South Australian child protection system faced renewed criticism after three people were charged over the deaths of three children in separate cases this week.
Three Recent Cases
On Tuesday, police arrested a 31-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman over the death of a six-year-old girl in Adelaide’s north in March.
The pair, who are not the biological parents of the girl, were charged with manslaughter and criminal neglect.
On Wednesday, police charged a 32-year-old woman with murder over the death of her seven-month-old son in Adelaide’s south in February.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was also charged with criminal neglect and failing to immediately report a death.
On Thursday, police charged a 29-year-old man with manslaughter over the death of his four-year-old daughter in Adelaide’s west in December.
The man, who also cannot be named for legal reasons, was also charged with criminal neglect and failing to immediately report a death.
Police said the three cases were “unprecedented” and “unrelated,” but they raised serious questions about the state’s child protection system.
Child Protection Minister
Child Protection Minister Katrine Hildyard said she was “deeply saddened” by the deaths and that the government was committed to improving the system.
She said the government had ordered a review of the system last year, headed by former police commissioner Mal Hyde, and had received his report and 31 recommendations in November.
Minister Hildyard said the government had accepted the recommendations in principle and was implementing some of them, such as hiring more social workers and Aboriginal consultants.
She also said the government had appointed a child protection expert group to advise on new approaches and strategies.
However, she did not reveal how many of the recommendations had been acted on or when they would be completed.
The minister also admitted that the government had not found a permanent replacement for the head of the Department for Child Protection, Cathy Taylor, who resigned in January. She said the government had conducted a global search for a new chief executive and expected to announce one in the next fortnight.
In the meantime, she said the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment, Erma Ranieri, would take over as acting chief executive.
Opposition Child Protection Spokesman
Opposition child protection spokesman Josh Teague said the government’s response was “inadequate” and “delayed.”
He said the government had failed to act swiftly on the review’s recommendations and to appoint a new leader for the department.
Mr. Teague also said the government had not addressed the underlying issues of poverty, homelessness and domestic violence that contributed to child abuse and neglect. He called for an urgent parliamentary inquiry into the child protection system and its failures.
Hyde Review Findings
A review of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 was conducted by former police commissioner Mal Hyde, who consulted with more than 900 people and organisations involved or affected by the child protection system.
The review found that while the Act had some positive aspects, such as its focus on children’s rights and best interests, it also had some significant shortcomings and gaps that needed to be addressed.
Some of the key findings of the review were:
• The Act did not adequately reflect or implement the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle, which aims to ensure that Aboriginal children are placed with their families or communities whenever possible.
• The Act did not provide clear guidance or direction on how to prevent or respond to child abuse and neglect, especially in relation to early intervention and family support services.
• The Act did not clearly define or distinguish between different types of orders or interventions that could be used to protect children at risk of harm.
• The Act did not provide sufficient oversight or accountability mechanisms for decision-making or service delivery within the child protection system.
• The Act did not align with or support other relevant legislation or frameworks, such as the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children or the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The review made 31 recommendations to improve the Act and its implementation, including:
• Developing a new Aboriginal Child Placement Principle that is consistent with national standards and reflects local cultural contexts and practices.
• Establishing a new statutory body to provide independent advice and advocacy on child protection matters, especially for children and young people in care.
• Creating a new prevention and early intervention framework that outlines how services should work