Toowoomba's missing children, more than any district in QLD

CHILDREN are among the most vulnerable members of our society, and across the region, they are on the run.

Almost 1000 missing persons files were created for young people aged 0-17 in the southern police region - the highest of any district in Queensland in a single year.

In the past 12 months alone, 22 missing children alerts have been made public, often accompanied by an unsmiling photo and a brief description of the runaway.

The youngest child reported missing was an 11-year-old boy who spent five days on the run.

In the 12 months to September 30 last year, 1822 children had been placed in out of home care - either in foster families or in kinship care with extended relatives.

Under questioning from The Chronicle, the State Government's Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disabilities Services said it was unable to "established a statistical link" between the number of children placed in out of home care, and missing children rates.

But every missing persons report is actioned by police, particularly with police whose officers have been tasked with investigating the most instances of any district in Queensland.

Latest available police statistics reveal the southern police region has the highest number of reported missing persons aged 0-17.

In the 2015-2016 reporting period, police received 965 missing children reports, with 327 in the Darling Downs region alone.

Police received 3473 missing persons reports for the same period across the state, with 702 of those received from the heavily populated Brisbane district.

The south-east district, which encompasses the Gold Coast and Logan areas, had 675 missing young people, followed closely by the northern district (Far North, Mount Isa and Townsville) reporting 661.

The children reported missing and time they were missing.
The children reported missing and time they were missing.

Despite the high number, every child reported missing in the southern district was located.

Government figures reveal there were 1822 children in out of home care in the South-West region, which aligns with the southern police district, as of September 30 last year.

Police figures also reveal kids in care - either in foster families or kinship care arrangements - made up more than 28 per cent of all missing children reports.

The official Queensland Police policy states a child's whereabouts can be kept confidential if there is a risk to their personal safety.

"If you are under 18 years of age, your whereabouts will not be disclosed if it will endanger you," the policy states.

"Police are anxious to ensure your safety before this information is released."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability services said the government had taken "strong action" to reform and inform missing children protocols.

"Last year, the Queensland Government took strong action to make sure everyone involved from schools to police to child safety officers knows exactly what they need to do if a child in care goes missing," the spokeswoman said.

"These changes give foster carers and staff the power to take immediate action."

Child Safety Minister Shannon Fentiman.
Child Safety Minister Shannon Fentiman. Contributed

The protocols for reporting missing kids in care were thrust into the spotlight in the wake of Logan schoolgirl Tiahleigh Palmer's alleged murder.

The 12-year-old girl who was in foster care was reported missing on October 30, 2015.

Six days later police issued a missing persons alert to media and on the official Queensland Police Service social media channels.

That afternoon, on November 5, a separate report was released informing a badly decomposed body had been found on the banks of the Pimpana River by fishermen.

Police confirmed the next day it was Tiahleigh, and a murder investigation was launched.

Heavy scrutiny of the internal police and Department of Child Safety protocols followed including why it took six days before the public was told.

It resulted in reforms to the internal processes which led to faster public releases of information.

"We also introduced a new school alerts system so if a child doesn't turn up at school, parents are immediately notified," the department spokeswoman said.

"The number of children in care who go missing changes daily, and thankfully most are found the same day."

The department maintained there was no "statistical link" between a rise in foster or kinship care placements and reduction in missing children.

Once a child in care is located, it is government policy for child safety officers to meet with the child and discuss why they went missing, determine their wellbeing and to "jointly identify any actions to support the child's ongoing safety and wellbeing and reduce the likelihood of the child going missing in the future".

"This meeting may be undertaken jointly with police," the policy reads.

"This should occur within 48 hours of the child being located."

The child's care team is also consulted and actions may include revising placement agreements.

Further strategies will be formed if a child is considered "frequently missing".

Shadow Child Safety Minister Ros Bates last year seized on leaked government documents which revealed about 55% of children in care in the South West region were found to have invalid or out-of-date placement agreements.

A placement agreement contains information relating to the child's background and other data including health and education backgrounds, behavioural factors that may impact their living situation and suggested support services.

The data was roundly rejected by Child Safety Minister Shannon Fentiman at the time as out-dated.
 


Youngsters shine in political spotlight

Youngsters shine in political spotlight

Pupils participated in the 2018 Emerald Youth Parliament last week.

Maternity unit safe

Maternity unit safe

Promising future for Emerald maternity services

Gemfest a 'huge party'

Gemfest a 'huge party'

Heart of event hasn't changed.

Local Partners