It’s time Child Safety workers were held accountable

Public servants whose incompetence allows children to be killed should be charged with criminal neglect and face jail time.

Staggeringly, not one person on the public purse has been held accountable for the death of Mason Jet Lee.

His mother and stepfather are behind bars for manslaughter - but the 21 Child Safety workers involved in the case have not even been sacked, let alone brought to justice.

It is painfully inadequate for the department responsible to have "taken a good, hard look at themselves", as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said this week, amid growing public outrage over her government's failure to protect this little child, and others.

As Coroner Jane Bentley revealed last week, the extent of the bungling demands more than contemplation. So much more.

For three years the Palaszczuk Government has known just how miserably Child Safety officers failed in their duty of care.

Not one person on the public purse has been held accountable for the death of Mason Jet Lee. Picture: supplied
Not one person on the public purse has been held accountable for the death of Mason Jet Lee. Picture: supplied

It has known they did not even sight Mason at "crucial times", thanks to an internal Child Death Case Review Panel report it received in 2017 and promised to make public but only did so this week, after intense media pressure.

Eight of the 21 staff have been somewhat sanctioned - one had their pay cut, five were "reprimanded" (whatever that means), and another was referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission for professional misconduct.

Three have quit (which doesn't lessen their culpability).

What about the others?

The Public Service Commissioner is looking into what disciplinary action was taken - in yet another taxpayer-funded investigation - and neither the Premier nor Child Safety Minister Di Farmer is prepared to comment in the interim.

Meanwhile, the internal report the Government wanted to keep secret has concluded that comprehensive and repeated failures by staff were not properly recorded, and deemed "systemic", therefore no individuals can be held accountable.

None of this is good enough.

Not for Mason or the countless others, including Cannon Hill four-year-old Willow Dunn, who have fallen through the cracks - make that chasms - of a fractured system, and who will continue to do so.

Queensland Child Safety Minister Di Farmer. Picture: supplied
Queensland Child Safety Minister Di Farmer. Picture: supplied

Under Queensland law, any person who "omits to do any act which is a person's duty to do, by which act or omission bodily harm is actually caused to any person is guilty of a misdemeanour".

The maximum penalty for the offence of Negligent Acts Causing Harm is two years' imprisonment.

If Child Safety officers who, as both the Coroner and the Government's own report has found, monumentally failed to do their professional duty, surely they should be charged.

Not only did they not sight Mason, despite his significant medical issues that required hospitalisation, but they didn't record proper file notes about home visits in the days leading up to Mason's death.

They didn't devise a plan that considered the cumulative effect of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and medical neglect.

In fact, they didn't do anything right.

"It is difficult to find any step taken in this case that was carried out in accordance with policies and procedures and correctly documented," Coroner Bentley wrote in her findings.

Following my two previous Saturday columns, many people have come forward to express their disgust at the Government's mishandling of kids in crisis.

Willow Dunn’s father Mark Dunn has been charged with murder. Picture: Facebook
Willow Dunn’s father Mark Dunn has been charged with murder. Picture: Facebook

One woman was abused and neglected herself as a child.

"I never felt safe in my own home or my own bed, and if it weren't for a couple of very special teachers I would probably not be here to tell the story," she said.

"I consequently became a teacher, to pay it forward, and then moved into public policy and research roles in the State Government, thinking I could achieve a greater impact there than in the classroom. I was wrong.

"The system is too concerned with protecting its own interests to effectively protect the interests of vulnerable and at-risk children."

Disillusioned and burned out, she left.

"The stress of championing the interests of young children in the face of pervasive political interference and counter-productive public policy became unbearable," she said.

Children should never be collateral damage.

How many innocents must die - or live in danger and in pain - before adults charged with their protection do their jobs properly and are decisively and swiftly held to account when they don't?

Kylie Lang is an associate editor for The Courier-Mail.

kylie.lang@news.com.au

Originally published as It's time Child Safety workers were held accountable


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