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HomeIssue 1Children at risk as department shuts down communications: insider

Children at risk as department shuts down communications: insider

The Office of Children and Families has shut down vital communications with agencies and people representing children under protection orders.
The children are exposed to inadequate care because the system is no longer open to the independent scrutiny provided for by law.
And Minister for Children and Families, Robyn Lambley (pictured), is either unaware of the turmoil in her department, or is condoning it: either way she is failing in her portfolio.
These are the views of an insider who spoke to the Alice Springs News Online on the condition of not being named.
Ms Lambley has not given an interview on these issues first requested by the News in November last year.
“When communication is cut between case workers and people representing kids at risk, easy options are likely to be taken, shortcuts are likely to be made, necessary expenditure may not be incurred, the work becomes slack,” says the insider.
“Former Minister Kon Vatskalis has described the department as a basket case.
“Case workers in such a chaotic system are very likely to say, ‘Why bother?’,” says the insider.
“Many good staff have already left, disenchanted that ticking boxes is more important than saving kids.”
Ms Lambley last week sacked Chief Executive Clare Gardiner-Barnes while describing her work in glowing terms: “She took charge of the agency during one of the lowest points for child protection in the Territory’s history … I thank her for her contribution and for her commitment to the protection of Territory children.”
This raises the question why Ms Gardiner-Barnes is no longer in her job.
Another insider says Ms Lambley, when she was the Shadow Minister, had been “at loggerheads for years” with Ms Gardiner-Barnes, and the Minister’s interference in the public service seems in conflict with the separation of powers.
The allegations come as Ms Lambley continues to dodge questions.
The proposal of a youth curfew has been raised again, but the key questions remain unanswered.
Correctional Services Minister John Elferink has made a start in the search for a solution, announcing that the government is thinking about a tough love camp.
But the real questions are: Are there enough facilities – including long term – to cater for uncared for and wayward kids? Are the responses to their (and hence the community’s) needs fast enough? Can kids be kept under supervision against their will?
Ms Lambley – on present indications – doesn’t have the bottle to make the necessary decisions.


  1. For reasons, I have elected not to write this under my real name.
    I have been a foster carer for a number of years and have seen this department go downhill. I have had a regular turnover of caseworkers, children reunited with family against our strong recommendations (after visiting family members with the child) only to have the reunification break down and the child return to care.
    I have taken the children on holidays, requesting that the department pay for the children’s airfares to a southern capital city (not accommodation, car hire or entry fees etc).
    The NT Government has a moral and ethical requirement (not to mention legal) to ensure that children who are put into care for any reason, receive the same opportunities and experiences as those who are not in the system.
    For foster children, this means having a family to call their own. Not just a bed in a room in a house, but as a significant part of the family which they have been placed with.
    For sure, let’s get a boot camp. Its better then them sitting inside a cell, however by the time the children reach this – juvenile detention – the horse has already bolted.
    Caring for these children needs to commence before they are born. Women who are pregnant should be charged with endangering life if they consistently drink whilst pregnant. For men who hit pregnant women, the same charge should apply. Do not send them to prison, however. Rather send them to classes about alcohol abuse and how it WILL affect their child. Push home the fact that its not the child’s fault that the parents drink. It’s not the child’s fault that the parents fight. Responsibility starts from day 1.
    Once the child is born, there needs to be strong supports in place – NGOs and Government Departments doing their thing – FACS/OCF (or whoever they want to call themselves this week), Education and Housing all need to lift their game.
    There is NO EXCUSE for any child in Australia in 2013 to not be going to school. Education need to realise this and have special classes in mainstream schools for children who have difficulties attending school. This should be par for the course for Alice Springs and indeed the Northern Territory. Additionally, there is no excuse for any indigenous child to be denied their own language. 1/2 day in language, 1/2 day in English.
    Housing need to lift there game also. There is no excuse for any child to be living rough in 2013. We are in the middle of the largest island on the planet – there is plenty of land around, so there is NO excuse for the fact that there is roughly a 12 year waiting list for people to get public housing. There is no excuse for a 5 year priority wait list! There is no excuse for a 11 week integrated wait list!
    This must not be misconstrued as a CLP bashing exercise. It is the result of many many years of failings of both sides of Parliament, including independents, to ensure that the people who are in need of the services the most – the next generation of unborn children – are given the same opportunities that everyone else in our community is entitled too. A safe home where they are loved regardless of who they are, an education to ensure that they are able to read, write and have life knowledge, and finally, a safe place to live.
    The current NT Government has the opportunity to ensure that this is the case, and were elected for this reason, however, sadly, if they do not take the opportunity, the result will be the construction of yet another prison to house those who have fallen through the gaps of society – gaps which a strong and progressive government could very easily patch up with long term integrated solutions.
    Sadly, I have to agree with Mr Chlanda when he says that Ms Lambley doesn’t have the bottle to make the necessary decisions – if this isn’t the case, let’s see things done correctly.
    Rather then stripping funding from those who can least afford to lose funding, how about stopping the waste of money on Darwin sports clubs, free Wi-Fi on buses, fighting Coca Cola in the Federal Court over 10c a can refund, relocating a whole Government department (Tourism NT) to Alice Springs, and several business class airfares to London to discuss supplying gas to Gove?
    The NT Government has a once in a lifetime opportunity to find a win-win solution to the issues which face indigenous people in the Northern Territory. Let’s see the right decisions made for the good of the population, not for the good of the money.

  2. So good to see “Tony Meman” speaking the truth (Posted February 12, 2013 at 9:19 pm). Let’s hope this inspires others with inside experience to contribute to this fundamentally important discussion, and hold the politicians and senior departmental managers to account.

  3. @ “Tony Meman.” I wholeheartedly agree that “caring for children needs to begin before they are born.”
    In terms of your comments about education, responsibility and pregnant women who misuse alcohol, the Federal government is from July 1st, mandating health warnings on alcohol products because the alcohol industry is recalcitrant in committing itself.
    The irresponsibility of the alcohol industry has finally been challenged by our Federal government and new laws are being brought to bear on the corporate culprits. It’s a start.
    The current seven day per week take-away alcohol regime, the lack of a floor price to rid the shelves of cheap alcohol and the removal of the Banned Drinkers Register by the NTG in a jurisdiction whereby the police, courts and prison system are overflowing with alcohol-related miscreants is evidence of a political ideology that aids and abets criminality, despite plans ($30m sidelined so far) to built rehabilitation centres.
    The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder(s) is further proof that the current system of alcohol supply is failing the community.
    By the time the rehab centres are up and running, how many more citizens will have fallen through the gap?
    By all reports, the mini-suite of alcohol restrictions put in place during the recent AFL weekend, provides evidence that turning down the alcohol tap works.
    It doesn’t cost a lot to do it, but it saves a heap in social costs to the taxpayer, so why isn’t it continued by the NTG before the Federal government steps in?

  4. That’s excellent, “Tony”… a cogent, well-articulated case that supports where we should be focusing the real challenges. You should be in The Chamber!!! The time-wasting manoeuvering to score cheap shot political points off each other gets in the road of actually achieving desired goals for individuals and the community in which they live. Wasted breath that could be better invested in getting on with the job that politicians are elected to do. Integration based on a whole-of-community model of service design, development and delivery is imperative. You’re so right. The dire circumstances around poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and poor numeracy have been evolved over decades of successive governments. We can’t change the past but we can impact on the present and the future.
    This is not an “us vs. them” scenario. It needs to be a “we” approach. Get over the petty “poly tics” and get on with creating poly-partisan approaches (there’s more than two players on the field) that will deliver what the community deserves. Politiciansdodging the hard questions’ is not good enough. You wanted the job … now earn the right to keep it! Being in government is not as easy as being in opposition, is it? Now is the time to deliver.


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