Tasmanian child safety head ‘not confident’ children in out-of-home care are safe from abuse

Children in out-of-home care in Tasmania today are not safe from abuse, Communities Department head Michael Pervan has told the state’s child sexual abuse commission of inquiry.

The commission on Friday heard the story of two children who were placed together in a home, despite risks that one could sexually harm the other — something that happened three times.

The commission heard that no action was taken by Child Safety Services until after the third assault.

“This is incredibly recent and it’s a repeated failure by Child Safety Services to intervene to protect a child from being raped,” counsel assisting the commission Rachel Elyard said.

“I get the sense from your evidence that you suggest there’d be a different response now because of improvements and I’m pushing back a little because of how little time ago these children’s experiences were.”

  A woman in a dark suit stands in front of a wall
Rachel Elyard said some of the incidents described were recent.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Mr Pervan, who is the guardian of children in out-of-home care in the state, said in response: “This is awful. I am not trying to justify this outcome in any way, but I don’t know what alternative placements were available, I don’t know what’s not written.”

He said the department was now better able to identify and respond to risks, and was continuing a process of reforms.

“As a parent, as I would with one of my own children, this would horrify me, but that’s an emotional reaction to this terrible outcome,” he said to Ms Elyard.

“And you’ve asked me the question, am I confident children are safe. No, I said they were safer.

Mr Pervan also said not being confidant meant he was vigilant.

During his evidence, Mr Pervan apologised to the witnesses who shared allegations of abuse that happened while they were under his department’s care.

The Communities Department is also responsible for the youth justice system, including the Ashley Youth Detention Center, and alternatives to incarceration programs.

Two years ago, the Tasmanian government committed to stop sending troubled youth to Many Colors One Direction (MC1D), a residential care program in the Northern Territory run by Allan Brahminy.

At that time, five Tasmanian children were in the program.

Children’s Commissioner Leanne McLean, who chaired the expert panel convened to review the program and which recommended it no longer be used for Tasmanian children, told the commission of inquiry on Friday that she understood no Tasmanian children were still residing in the MC1D program.

Leanne McLean looks at the camera.
Leanne McLean said she had “no immediate concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the children” who she met at the program.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“There are children remaining interstate but they are under different types of care arrangements,” she said.

“I believe a kinship arrangement exists for a child who may have been a resident of the Many Colors One Direction program.”

The expert panel’s recommendations — which the state government accepted in full — included the development of Tasmanian-based programs.

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