LETTER TO THE EDITOR
“The solutions to what needs to be done are largely contained in the Royal Commission report and we need to implement the recommendations with even more urgency in the light of this second tragic event.”
Following reports of a further tragic, alleged sexual assault of a 4 year old boy in a remote Aboriginal community in the Barkly region, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT) has called for re-doubled efforts to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the care and protection of children in partnership with NT Aboriginal leaders.
This requires a real and urgent commitment to the funds that are required for early childhood programs, family support services, multidisciplinary assessment clinics, a new out of home care system and other key initiatives. Priority needs to be given for urgent investment into the Barkly region for enhanced family support services and programs and to consider regional frameworks.
Right: Donna Ah Chee (right) with Olga Havnen. Photo from our archives.
In particular, high needs families known to the child protection system need to be able to access high quality, evidence based family support services. Unfortunately, the evidence-based model developed by the Aboriginal community controlled health sector, requiring a qualified social worker, working with a local Aboriginal Family Support Worker, was rejected by the former CLP government.
As a result, the intensive family preservation services that were funded are based on workers without university qualifications who on their own are incapable of doing the complex work that is required, and are delivered by a range of non-Aboriginal NGOs. Our sector was ruled out of providing appropriate services.
We have to ask, what family support services, if any, exist in remote communities like Ali Curung?
This case further highlights the need to work to improve the child protection system and to ensure that young people who have repeated interactions with the youth justice system have had the necessary multidisciplinary assessment required to diagnose and manage neurodevelopmental disorders including FASD. Has the 16 year old who has apparently confessed to a crime been assessed and what are the implications of any such assessment? These are vital questions that need to be answered now.
Sexual offences are abhorrent and need to be addressed with the full force of the law, however, AMSANT is very concerned at the level of misinformation that has been yet again used to sensationalise the issue. Why was this story leaked to the media before anything has been substantiated and to what end?
We are advised that the 4 year old boy has suffered no physical injuries and the report in The Australian newspaper that he was transferred to Alice Springs Hospital because of severe injuries is untrue. He was transferred to enable a proper forensic assessment even though there were no signs of injuries on examination. This does not mean he has not been harmed in some way but that the level of harm is as yet not proven and is not what has been reported in The Australian.
This follows on from the misinformation in the case of the 2 year old girl where it was widely reported that her injuries was so severe that she was in an induced coma in intensive care in an Adelaide hospital. This was not true and the girl did not have life threatening injuries, but was transferred to Adelaide for a specialist procedure and discharged into the care of her mother on the same day she was admitted to the hospital.
What is the agenda in the continued misreporting of these tragic, preventable incidents?
Misrepresentation of the existence and extent of physical injuries in these cases takes away from the very real and urgent needs of victims, families and the community to have in place the services and supports that we know will make a difference.
This is also counterproductive in an environment where we are trying to encourage Aboriginal people to come forward with any concerns they might have about possible sexual abuse in children.
At an AMSANT workshop this week we discussed better ways to encourage children to report potential abuse using a free call 1800 number based on successful models in other countries. We also discussed the possibility of introducing “safe houses” specifically designed to support disclosure from children. Adverse media publicity with so many factual errors from a voluntary report made by the mother and grandmother out of genuine concern has the potential to significantly deter others from coming forward. Misreporting has to stop.
The solutions to what needs to be done are largely contained in the Royal Commission report and we need to implement the recommendations with even more urgency in the light of this second tragic event.
In response to the latest reported cases of abuse AMSANT is calling for:
1. The first meeting of the new tripartite forum recommended by the Royal Commission, to include the NT and Commonwealth governments and Aboriginal leaders from APO NT.
2. The immediate funding of a network of evidence based, family support services across the NT capable of providing services in all communities across the NT. This will cost between $30 to $40 million and needs to be based on the original evidence based, Targeted Family Support Service model using the differential response framework.
3. The immediate re-introduction of full lockdown by police on all take-away outlets in regional centres coupled with the removal of take-away alcohol sales from roadhouses up and down the Stuart highway.
4. The urgent funding of the multidisciplinary specialist teams in Darwin and Alice Springs that can ensure that all young people in detention are assessed for neurodevelopmental disorders including FASD. This includes the urgent assessment of the 16 year old young person that has been charged with the latest offence and the 24 year old charged with the earlier offence.
5. The introduction of a free-call 1800 number to enable confidential, easy reporting of possible sexual abuse by children at risk.
Donna Ah Chee,
Chairperson of AMSANT (Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance – NT)