TWO children who died in a Rockhampton house fire over two years ago were poorly supervised and lived in filthy conditions at the time of the tragedy, a police officer says.
A coroner’s inquest into the deaths of the children in August, 2008 began at Rockhampton’s Coroners Court yesterday.
The inquest examined the circumstances surrounding the fire, adequacy of supervision, involvement by Child and Safety Services and whether there was evidence the department should have been monitoring the children at the time of the fire.
A three-year-old boy and his 18-month-old sister were trapped inside the burning house after one of the children used a cigarette lighter to set a mattress alight.
Despite desperate attempts by the children’s mother and grandmother as well as neighbours to extinguish the blaze, they were unable to save the children.
A suppression order prevents The Morning Bulletin from identifying the mother or the children.
Detective Sergeant Kelly Hanlen, of the Rockhampton CIB, investigated the fire and found the children were living in filthy conditions prior to the fire with rubbish piled in the kitchen as well as clothing strewn all over the bathroom floor and lounge.
She said when she talked to the mother’s ex-partner soon after the fire, he immediately voiced concerns about the conditions the children lived in.
He told her that the mother was depressed and unable to cope with looking after the children.
Ms Hanlen said if she had gone to the house prior to the fire she would have notified the department.
She told the court that there was poor supervision of the children which may have contributed to the tragedy but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the mother under duty of care laws.
The mother gave evidence that her depression made her lethargic and that she had no motivation to do housework.
She said on the afternoon of the fire she had gone to sleep, leaving her youngest child in her parent’s bedroom, and her two other children watching a movie in the lounge.
She asked her mother, who was in the computer room, to watch the children and woke to her cries after her mother discovered two of the children in a bedroom engulfed by flames.
The woman said CSS became involved in her family in 2004 after a doctor reported swelling and bruising on her eldest son’s left hip.
Department staff made a number of visits but their involvement ceased after less than a year when she began coping better.
But she said she did not think she had improved enough and wanted their support to continue.
In 2007 she received help from a social worker but that involvement ceased after two months when she shifted to Rockhampton from Bundaberg after splitting from her partner.
Autopsies on both children found no evidence of abuse.
The hearing in front of Magistrate Annette Hennessy continues today.
This month is “Anxiety and Depression Awareness” month
An initiative by “Beyond Blue”, it aims to raise awareness and reduce the stigma
Over a million people in Australia live with depression
Over two million have an anxiety disorder
More information can be found at www.beyondblue.org.au
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