Alleged toddler rape: Why she hadn't been taken from her family


p2366-royal-commissionersBy ERWIN CHLANDA
When this week the horrendous story broke in Tennant Creek about the alleged rape of a two year old girl, in a household about which 21 notifications of violence had been made, Ken Davies, the CEO of Territory Families, was reported to have said that leaving the child with the mother was in line with recommendations of the report by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
The ABC reported: “He says the six notifications that were substantiated were not about the toddler but about domestic violence and alcohol misuse in the household.”
Then came this grab from Mr Davies: “[The notifications] were not substantial enough to take the child out of this household and away from the mother. What we did was where there are issues substantiated we responded and we put in family support services to support the family and the mother in that household.”
We emailed Mr Davies, asking which parts of the commission’s reports he was referring to.
His department provided the following detailed response and quotes, citing the volumes and page numbers, from the report.
This is the response in full:–
A common thread throughout the Royal Commission report … is the importance of intervening early, in the aim of exploring every option for a child to remain with his/her parents before being placed in out-of-home care.
This fundamental approach to child protection within the report endorses Territory Families’ commitment to preserving children’s connections to family and community networks, where it is safe to do so.
Please see below for a number of relevant excerpts from the Royal Commission’s final report:
• The Commission heard evidence demonstrating how important it is to have early interventions that fully explore all options for children to remain with their parents before the decision to remove them. Despite this, for some children prioritising their best interests means they should be removed from the care of their parents, but this should only happen where there is a clear need to safeguard their wellbeing and where there is no other course of action that can mitigate the risk of harm. This decision can be made at any time throughout the investigation and assessment process. (p.350, vol 3A)
• The Commission heard many stories of the trauma inflicted by removing a child from their family. Families shared their experience of being unsupported at the time of removal, or described their recollections of events. . . If removal is the only course of action to ensure that children are safe, Territory Families need to ensure that families know and understand what is happening and why, and ensure that all other options have been explored. (p.351, vol 3A)
• While statutory child protection agencies play a key role in protecting children, it is ultimately everyone’s responsibility – including families’ and communities’ – to afford children the right to grow up in safe environments. Family support services need to be involved in building the capacity of families and communities to care for their children, while expanding their understanding of where and how governments exercise statutory and support functions in relation to vulnerable families. (p.186, vol 3A)
• There is no doubt that the Northern Territory child protection system is working with many families experiencing high levels of dysfunction, and lacking the resources and capacity to adequately care for their children. During community visits, the Commission heard about families who are struggling to provide their children with a nurturing, safe environment in which they can grow up and thrive, due to their own problems with alcohol and substance misuse, poor mental health, gambling addiction, domestic violence and food security. These problems often co-occur. As child protection is fundamentally about adequate parenting and care, an effective child protection system must take steps to help parents deal with such issues and provide care for their children. (p.199, vol 3A)
• The expressed need for a shift towards a greater emphasis on early support for families is not new, but responding to that need requires a clear change in the approach to child protection in the Northern Territory. (p.206, vol 3B)
• Early support and prevention cannot be the sole responsibility of the statutory child protection agency. The responsibility for early support service provision is a whole of government responsibility involving programs and services across multiple government departments such as the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Health and the Department of Education. (p.167, vol 3B)
• It is the view of the Commission that effective early support and prevention in the Northern Territory should be the highest priority of programs targeting children and families. This requires a system that: identifies vulnerable children and families before any risk of harm escalates to the level of a notification assesses, on an early and ongoing basis, the type and degree of risk factors present in the life of a child with effective mechanisms for sharing relevant information and program and agency co-ordination to accurately match the child’s needs with the appropriate intervention and has the relevant support and services readily accessible and available for a sustained response.
An effective early support and prevention system must have capacity to identify and support families who have low to moderate risk factors present, at the earliest possible opportunity. It is important that a notification or subsequent investigation by the statutory agency is not the sole trigger for a service or support response and that agencies work in collaboration to provide early support and preventive services to families who require them. (p.168, vol 3B)
• The Commission proposes a model of a place-based approach that uses soft entry points to services, as opposed to a notification in the statutory system, to ensure a community level nexus between the assessment of risk or need and appropriate service provision. For example, the community relationships parents might have with a local doctor, nurse, teacher, social worker or sporting coach could be utilised as networks through which to encourage families to engage in relevant services or be referred to the most appropriate providers. This relies on these professionals having the training and skills to identify when a referral might be needed, the knowledge of where to make a referral and for some of them, the capacity to provide follow up. (p.168, vol 3B)
• A public health approach to child protection shifts the focus to a service system that provides early support to children and families to prevent entry into the statutory child protection system. This support includes core, universal services to all families and targeted support to vulnerable families. Additionally, such an approach must not only address the spectrum of supports and services needed to promote the safety and wellbeing of children, but also the differing levels of willingness and capacity of individuals to access and receive those supports and services. (p.173, vol 3B)
• Removing a child from their family and placing them in out of home care should be undertaken as a last resort. It should only be used to ensure the safety of the child, and justified by the expectation that statutory care for the child will lead to better outcomes than if the child remained with family. (p.369, vol 3A)
PHOTO: Commissioners, Margaret White AO and Mr Mick Gooda.


  1. A child seeing one episode of domestic abuse should not be tolerated, let alone six.
    Get the violator out of that environment as soon as possible so that the other family members can lead safe lives.
    Now we have another young life traumatised because of domestic violence and alcohol misuse.
    Is this a fail mark for the Royal Commission?

  2. Mick Gooda “agreeing to disagree” with the former children’s commissioner (?) on the need to remove kids demonstrates he was the wrong choice for this role from the start.
    His statements before it even commenced should have been reason enough for his disqualification.
    His insistence that kids stay with family no matter what, and his Blind Freddie approach in believing the populist version of the stolen generation myth is an example of why this problem will continue. Justice Martin would have been a far better choice.

  3. I just happened to be going in reverse order through newspapers published in the month of February 1982, so exactly 36 years ago. All the stories relate to events in Alice Springs.
    The front page headline for February 24 caught my attention: “GIRL, 3, IN SEX ATTACK – MUM CALLS ON GOVT. FOR ACTION.”
    I returned to the paper for February 26, and noted: “DEATH ON TODD” – the body of a young woman found 100m upstream from the Wills Terrace Causeway. This was on page 5.
    How about earlier? A front page headline on February 19 screams: “ROCK ATTACKS” and the events described were by gangs of men, not children.
    Well, the edition for February 17 was out of kilter – no crime reports!
    But then I move onto February 12, and the front page tells us: “Courts full – child crime on increase.” The editorial begins: “Juvenile crime is on the increase and nobody, it seems, really knows what to do about it.”
    OK, moving on to February 10 and this time there’s a long report on page 3: “CRIME WAVE WEEKEND.” Too many different incidents to mention here but no-one will be surprised by any of it.
    Right, moving onto the first two editions of the month, February 3 and 5.
    Aha, law and order features on both front pages but with a twist – Des Sturgess, assisting counsel at the second inquest into the death of Azaria Chamberlain, urges Coroner Gerry Galvin to commit Lindy Chamberlain for trial for the murder of her daughter, and Michael Chamberlain as an accessory to the fact.
    And this is exactly what Coroner Gerry Galvin does, despite the arguments by the Chamberlains’ lawyer Phil Rice QC arguing there was insufficient evidence shown to commit them to trial (Phil Rice, incidentally, had grown up in Alice Springs – he was a student at the old Hartley Street School – and in 1985 was appointed as a judge of the NT Supreme Court).
    And we all know how long it took just to resolve that one case, don’t we? Oh, and by the way, it was Des Sturgess who was the major contributor in drafting the NT Criminal Code a year later …

  4. @ Heather Wells. Yes Heather, [because of alleged events it appears] we have another young life traumatised because of domestic violence and alcohol misuse.
    Where to from now. How best can we overcome the felt helplessness most of us must be asking ourselves or feeling.
    The ranting, the raving and even the blaming will dissipate while the risk to another innocent child will remain evident if nothing is fixed.
    We certainly do not need to hear of another report.
    While we go about our every day lives giving thought to how best to grapple with the current crisis we may feel disillusioned at how desensitised violent abuses to children are becoming when faced with local and international news clips.
    As I battle with my own conscience and be witness to the media reports I read and see I despair as a human being and ponder how best I can be part of any solution.
    Although somewhat helpless to act I consider my only response is to simply put to script my input to an awful dilemma.
    Blaming child protection staff who we know are either greatly over-regulated or under resourced will only further exasperate the passion of many genuinely great staffers who may consider exiting from their much needed role of protection.
    We need good people to receive the best advice and not be restricted to returning to the basic principles of care and in the case of struggling Aboriginal families, not to mention non-Aboriginal families, let’s have the decency to follow through on what Ms Cummings, and others of her ilk, have to offer.
    It appears this woman has gained a wealth of experience in dealing with both child protection and domestic violence issues and her advice would go a long way to repairing the ills prevalent in the NT.
    I would therefore suggest, for the sake of a much safer future for children, that the lead from those with the experience and knowledge should be pursued and not ignored.


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