A Queensland Australia coroner has called for an urgent overhaul of parts of the child safety network after a mother beat her eight-year-old daughter to death with a metal vacuum cleaner pole.
The girl named Faith died in 2011 after being beaten with the pole over the course of several days before being left to die alone and in pain, the coroner has found.
A year before her death, Faith was placed in foster care after her school raised concerns about bruises and welts on her body.
Nine days later, the state’s Child Safety agency allowed the girl to return home.
Faith did not return to school and when staff tried to find her, the girl’s extended family said she was moving overseas.
During the inquest, Child Safety lawyers said the mother went to extraordinary lengths to hide the abuse, making Faith wear wigs and long-sleeved clothes.
In handing down her findings, Coroner Jane Bentley said the decision by Child Safety to allow Faith to return home was incorrect and premature.
‘She became invisible’
Ms Bentley said communication breakdowns between state and federal departments, as well as external agencies, were a significant factor in the girl’s death.
She said an inadequate investigation into the girl’s case was a direct result of understaffing and untenable workloads rather than the fault of individual officers.
Gwen Murray, who led an independent review of child safety practices and systems following Faith’s death, said she was astounded that “this little girl literally went off the radar”.
“She became invisible,” she said.
“No-one advocated for that little girl before she died and I think it’s very important that these issues are brought to the attention of government and to the community.
“We can’t allow this kind of situation to ever happen again.”
Ms Bentley said it was also inexplicable that no-one in Faith’s extended family reported the abuse she was suffering.
She also found that Faith’s school, which was under the mistaken belief the girl had moved overseas, did all it could to help but was hampered by a lack of information.
In her findings, Ms Bentley recommended changes aimed at preventing other children from “slipping through the cracks”, including setting up an information-sharing system to give schools and other child agencies access to basic Centrelink data.
Premier Campbell Newman says he has had discussions with the Federal Government about better sharing of information between agencies to protect children who are being abused.
“We need to be able to share information so that we can better understand what’s going on, have a proper picture when protecting kids and also protecting families,” he said.
Last year the girl’s mother was jailed for seven years for manslaughter, while the girl’s stepfather was also convicted on manslaughter charges for turning a blind eye to the abuse.