How do two children end up being placed in the home of a convicted sex offender, namely the man who molested their mother?
This is the question it took the ABC weeks and a series of emails and phone calls to get the Department for Child Protection to answer, and still the details are sketchy.
The situation is this.
An eight-year-old boy and his three-year-old sister are unable to be cared for by their mother. So they are placed in their grandparents home.
In 2007, the grandfather is denied a Working with Children Check card because he has a conviction of sexually abusing his daughter.
The Department for Child Protection moves in and removes the children… but just two months later, the Children’s Court overrules the move and awards the grandparents a Parenting Order.
The opposition child protection spokeswoman Sue Ellery says it appears the Department was working against itself.
“It’s completely inconsistent to me that one part of the child protection system deems this man unfit to either work in a paid position or to volunteer with children and the other part of the child protection system deems it appropriate for these children to have daily access and supervision from this man,” Ms Ellery said.
The Department says the only avenue it had was to request a protection order from the court, so it could conduct regular visits to monitor their safety.
It maintains the children were never at any risk and that the grandfather was considered low risk.
But the National Chairwoman of Adults Surviving Child Abuse Cathy Kezelman says regular checks are not enough.
“As we know, the crime of child sexual abuse is a silent crime that occurs in secrecy and in private,” she said.
“So doing checks that come and go can not actually know what’s going on in that household from moment to moment.”
Ms Ellery says under no circumstances should the children have been placed in the home of a sex offender in the first place.
“A man who committed incest with his own daughter ought not be in a position where he has close household access to his grandchildren,” Ms Ellery said.
When the ABC first contacted the Department about the issue in late March, we were told that the children were safe and were being monitored.
After further questioning, the Department, in a statement, said it was “currently reviewing the case to determine whether it needs to return to the Children’s Court to seek care and protection orders for the children which would bring them under the guardianship of the Department”.
Ms Ellery says the process had taken far too long. She says she raised concerns about it when she was the minister in 2007.
“I certainly had concerns that I discussed with the director general of the department and with various staff including local staff that a man who had a conviction of child abuse against his own daughter was to be given close, domestic access to his own grandchildren, one of whom was a girl.”
The Department has refused to be interviewed over the matter and insisted on responding to questions via email.
The minister Robyn McSweeney declined twice to be interviewed, but after the story ran on ABC radio and television, she broke her silence.
“I won’t defend the indefensible. There is no way that I would condone any child being placed with a known sex offender,” Ms McSweeney said.
And she was quick to point the blame on the opposition.
“I am the first minister to take the children away from this situation.”
And the court also copped some of the blame.
“The department applied for a care and protection order and the courts decided to put the children back with the grandparents.”
“I’m not very impressed with a court system that puts children back in the home of a known sex offender.”
But, the Department won’t confirm it’s role in the court cases and whether its officers representing the children were supporting or opposing their placement into their grandparents home.
Ms Ellery says those questions must be answered.
Questions were asked as to what the government had been doing to rectify the situation since the children were returned to the home in 2007.
While the initial responses from the Department said the children were safe, the minister later said they’d been busy compiling evidence.
“I had to make damn sure that we had enough ironclad evidence that the department had enough ironclad evidence to go back to court,” Ms McSweeney said.
“And it’s ludicrous that you have to gather evidence to go back to court.”
But Ms Ellery claims the Department was handed evidence in November last year from a community member concerned about the treatment the children were receiving.
A letter from the community members dated November 17, 2009, states they were “horrified with the screaming and shouting from (the grandfather) directed at at the children… and constant crying from the girl.”
It also raised concerns that the children were often left alone in the home with their grandfather, a known paedophile.
The Department responded on November 26, advising them the grandfather “had been assessed as low risk by multiple qualified and experienced professionals, including clinical psychologists and forensic clinical psychologist.”
The letter goes on to say “that there is no further action required from DCP in regards to their concerns… and the DCP will continue to monitor the children…”
The children were removed from the home last week.
In a statement the Department said: “While in no immediate danger, it was clear that the placement was unsustainable due to the level of care being received by the children and the future risk as the children aged, evidenced by (the grandfather’s) previous convictions.”
The children are now in temporary foster care and the Department must go back to court to get permanent custody of them… but the minister can’t guarantee the court won’t return them to the home again.
Ms McSweeney told a news conference she would look into the circumstances, but the Opposition has called for something much tougher.
“There must be an external, independent inquiry into the circumstances that led the department to reach the conclusion, it now appears on numerous occasions, that this was a safe placement,” Ms Ellery said.
“The minister needs to satisfy the West Australian public that the Department argued strongly that this man should not have the kind of access that he had to his grandchildren and that the department has subsequently taken every every possible legal action to ensure that this man does not have ongoing, close household access to these children.”