An inquiry into the death of a child at the hands of her mother found failings within the child safety department in far north Queensland.
The death of an eight-year-old girl at the hands of her abusive mother in far north Queensland prompted a review that uncovered deep failings in the region’s child safety department, a coroner’s court has heard.
The person conducting the review called urgent meetings with top officials in a bid to prevent such a death occurring again, the coronial inquest into the girl’s death heard in Cairns on Tuesday.
The inquest is looking at what involvement government and private agencies had with the girl who was repeatedly bashed with a vacuum cleaner pipe in 2011.
Gwen Murray led an independent review of child safety practices and systems following the girl’s death.
The girl was taken into foster care in November 2010 over abuse claims but released back to her mother nine days later. She died a year later.
Ms Murray told the inquest that after interviewing child safety staff in Cairns she called an urgent meeting with the acting education minister and the acting child safety director-general to discuss “deeply concerning systemic issues”.
“I thought easily a situation like this could happen again,” she said.
“I knew from my experience that things were dire there (at Cairns child safety).”
Ms Murray reported a breakdown in communication within child safety and miscommunication between that agency and the Department of Education.
Far north Queensland’s child safety unit also had a backlog of 300 cases that hadn’t been assessed and staff numbers were “depleted”.
Child safety staff told Ms Murray that issues they had raised with superiors since 2009 had “fallen on deaf ears”.
Ms Murray said the minister and director-general immediately made changes.
What was of most concern, she said, was that the eight-year-old girl was absent from school for a year without child safety investigating.
“The fact she fell off the radar for a year was unacceptable,” she said.
“There were a number of gaps in the system and all together it led to a failure to her safety.”
Ms Murray added that since her investigation that gap may have been closed.
The court heard the girl’s school told child safety she wasn’t attending and staff from the school spoke to a family member who said she would be returning to New Zealand.
Ms Murray said her review revealed a number of failings in monitoring the child, particularly the reliance on external agencies and school staff by child safety.
She said the decision to return the girl to her mother was premature and more should have been done to protect her.
Ms Murray recommended more thorough monitoring of vulnerable children and better communication between agencies.
The fact no one in the community raised concerns about the child showed Australians “need to keep our eyes open” when it comes to spotting and reporting abuse.
The girl’s mother, a New Zealand citizen, is serving a seven-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter last year.
The inquest continues.