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.
- Communities Department head Michael Pervan told the commission of inquiry he was not confident children in out-of-home care were safe, but improvements have been made
- Children’s Commissioner Leanne McLean said she was concerned not enough funding had been allocated to develop a Tasmanian program for vulnerable children
- The commission has now adjourned hearings until later this month, when the focus will turn to the health system
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.”
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.
“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.
Ms McLean said she recently wrote to Human Services Minister Roger Jaensch outlining her concern about the amount of funding allocated to implement the recommendations.
“I don’t believe it is enough or consistent with the panel’s view that there is needed to be whole-of-government investment,” she said.
Ms McLean also told the commission she had been restricted in her ability to monitor children who were sent away to the program.
“My power, or my jurisdiction doesn’t extend beyond Tasmania, so I can’t seek information directly from Many Colors One Direction, but I did visit, I was invited to and I went, and I had no immediate concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the children who I met there — indeed, they did appear to be thriving at the time,” she said.
“There was some fairly, I think, tense moments between the department and me attempting to exercise my powers and seek information in relation to the safety and wellbeing of individual children.”
The Tasmanian Aboriginal Center (TAC) said a more individualized program would have a better chance of success.
“We are confident that we can tailor programs to each individual child,” TAC chief executive Heather Sculthorpe told the commission.
But Ms Sculthorpe said the Communities Department was not engaging with the TAC to develop its ideas.
“If they have concerns they need to talk to us about it.”
The commission of inquiry has adjourned public hearings until June 27, when the focus will move to the health system, particularly the Launceston General Hospital.