Mason Lee won’t be the last if system remains broken mess

 

FOR the best part of 20 years, Queensland has been regularly pulling apart and piecing back together its system for protecting the state's most vulnerable children.

I wonder sometimes whether it's achieved a goddamn thing.

Deputy Coroner Jane Bentley's excoriating assessment this week of Caboolture toddler Mason Jet Lee's death in 2016 certainly indicates little has changed for the better.

And the Palaszczuk Government is demonstrating the same moral bankruptcy as its predecessors by trying to engage in cover-up and earn kudos for belatedly promising to fix its own failings.

A coroner has ruled that Mason Lee, who was found dead in his Caboolture home in 2016, was failed by the Department of Child Safety.
A coroner has ruled that Mason Lee, who was found dead in his Caboolture home in 2016, was failed by the Department of Child Safety.

Like so many Queenslanders, I am disgusted at what Ms Bentley exposed about the Department of Child Safety's handling of poor little Mason's case.

She detailed a litany of examples where officers failed to follow all those policies and procedures that have been introduced as part of successive reforms.

A dozen times they were required under their own guidelines to check on him in the three months before he succumbed to the horrific wounds inflicted on him by his stepfather.

Just once the officers managed to achieve this, through a doorway, and even though 22-month-old was walking awkwardly at the time they deemed that he was safe.

Ms Bentley identified 21 department officers with line of sight over Mason's case who at one stage or another failed to follow proper procedures.

"Had anyone from the department seen Mason in the weeks before his death they could have saved his life," she said.

The Government's response so far has been to laud what it's done since Mason's death and tub-thump about potential action against staff.

 

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has refused to release a report into Mason Lee’s death despite promising three years ago to do so. Picture: Matt Taylor
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has refused to release a report into Mason Lee’s death despite promising three years ago to do so. Picture: Matt Taylor

Annastacia Palaszczuk says she now wants the Public Service Commission to do yet another review into whether the staff erred.

For Heaven's sake, this is four years after Mason's death and three years after Child Safety's own review found they did not perform their statutory duties.

It is downright insulting for the Government to now say it will conduct another review into whether it should do something.

Its inaction has gone on longer than Mason lived.

Meanwhile, the Government tried to backflip on a promise to release the Child Death Panel Review into Mason's death, which contains even more details about the department's failures.

"Let me make it clear, the report will be released in full following the trials," Ms Palaszczuk said in 2017.

 

Mason Lee was not seen by Child Safety officers in the weeks before his death.
Mason Lee was not seen by Child Safety officers in the weeks before his death.

 

Fast-forward three years and the Government initially tried to renege on this commitment for no apparent reason but has relented and will release a redacted version.

How appalling.

Mason's death, the routine ignoring of protocols that proceeded it and the lack of accountability that followed all have echoes of the sickening case that kickstarted these years of supposed reform that politicians like to tell us about.

It involved children who were sexually and physically abused over many years while in the care of a foster family.

 

 

 

Complaint after complaint was logged with the old Department of Families and successive ministers but as soon as children were moved out of the home, more would be moved in.

The father and his friends abused the children and they were made to perform indecent acts on each other.

When the Department was told three of the young children were suffering from gonorrhoea, it left them in the home after accepting the family's claim that they contracted the disease from a contaminated face washer.

The case was the focal point of the then Crime and Misconduct Commission's landmark 2003 inquiry which recommended the creation of a stand-alone Department of Child Safety that would be wholly focused on the protection of vulnerable kids.

Now another inquiry has exposed evidence that officers of this very department don't even know that their purpose is child safety, as if the name didn't give it away.

 

 

 

One of Mason's caseworkers "had no idea of her basic role or even that her job was the protection of children", Ms Bentley found, and she thought her role was to make sure his mum was home and OK.

The figures bare out evidence of a crisis. For the past four years, the number of kids in need of protection has outpaced the growth in carers by a rate of three to one.

And that doesn't include children, like Mason, that the department leaves behind because they're supposedly safe.

Once again the Government has promised new processes.

But it's skittish about the more frequent use of adoption and no-one dares mention any model that appears like an institution.

Additional procedures, however, won't help if there aren't consequences for not following them.

And kids like Mason will continue to be killed if they're left in harm's way.

 

Originally published as Mason Lee won't be the last if system remains broken mess


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