NT child protection fails to report abuse

The Northern Territory child protection agency failed to refer the alleged sexual abuse of an Indigenous child under its care to police, an inquiry has been told.

© Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS Some Indigenous children with disability are being taken from families amid a shortage of support.

The girl was under a Territory Families’ protection order for about nine and half years from the age of four in 2010 until she was 13-years-old in 2019.

During that time she was allegedly raped by a man and sexually touched by a woman, the royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with a disability heard on Monday.

Despite the child making serious allegations twice and her foster mother, who was also caring for the girl’s disabled younger brother, raising serious concerns, her caseworker failed to share the full details of the accusation with the NT Police.

“Territory Families was aware that serious allegation of sexual abuse of (the child) had occurred and yet that is not noted here at all,” Counsel Assisting Ben Power said referring to a 2013 police report.

“Because there was no investigation, the timing of it is unknown and TF certainly never returned this issue to Territory police … to say, ‘Look, there’s this allegation of sexual abuse by an adult’.”

TF central Australia director Martina O’Brien said the department did refer the child for a psychological assessment but the girl was too distressed to be interviewed.

She also agreed with Mr Power that TF’s inaction over the child’s alleged abuse had put other children at risk of abuse from the same alleged offenders.

Ms O’Brien said TF also failed to give the child recommended counselling and she received no further treatment for her childhood sexual abuse.

The 16th hearing of the royal commission has shifted its focus to the experiences of Indigenous children with disability in out-of-home care.

More than 20 per cent of Indigenous children have a disability, compared to eight per cent in the general population.

Out of the 45,996 children in out-of-home care in Australia in 2019 and 2020, 18,862 – more than 40 per cent – were Indigenous despite only making up six per cent of the total child population.

Unemployment and educational disadvantage are one of the big determinants of whether children do or don’t get removed from their parents.

The hearing aims to provide an insight into the life course of Indigenous children with disability and their experiences, including cumulative and systemic abuse and neglect by multiple systems over time.

Earlier, the inquiry heard that some Indigenous families were having their disabled children taken from them amid a shortage of specialised support programs.

The children often need constant care but a lack of services to help parents was leading to perceptions of neglect, health service the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress said.

“They can’t meet the care needs of that child because the care needs are higher,” chief executive Donna Ah Chee said.

“We need to have equitable access so that the ability to provide the appropriate level of care is not a consideration for children being removed.”

Ms Ah Chee called for more early intervention and child care programs, and trained carers to help struggling families, many of whom live in poverty.

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