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Child protection failed to act after alleged abuser lives in trailer on same property with children

In March 2020, Ashley* received a call from her mother saying she had something “very terrible” to tell her.

Warning: This article contains content that some readers may find distressing.

This conversation derailed his life.

It all started about 12 years ago when Ashley fell into a coma. Upon waking, she was unable to walk and speak properly – and unable to provide for her children.

Ashley has agreed to have her children stay with her mother.

“I basically signed them because child protection came in and said, ‘If you don’t, we’re going to have to place them in foster care,'” she said.

“I thought I was doing the right thing with child protection and signing my kids. Turns out I didn’t do the right thing.”

Ashley’s health isn’t her only battle.

His personal life has been marked by trauma. She suffered domestic abuse at the hands of the father of her children in the early 2000s.

She took the children and left, but continued to struggle with her sanity, eventually attempting suicide.

It was then that his family became known to the Tasmanian child safety authorities.

When in addition to her mental health issues, she was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Ashley said she even found it easier to have her children live with her mother.

For years, the arrangement seemed to work. Ashley was able to regularly spend time with her children, who lived nearby.

Until late in the evening, her mother called to make a disturbing admission – she had observed the eldest daughter perform a sexual act on her younger brother.

“He raped her when she was eight. It lasted 10 years. And then [she] began to abuse his brother. It went down the chain.”

Ashley said her mother begged her not to tell anyone.

“She had not informed the children’s school, the children’s safety or any of the children’s doctors. I informed those organizations of what had happened,” Ashley said.

She said Tasmania Police took her daughter’s statement, but because her daughter did not want to testify in court, the case was not pursued.

Suspected abuser living in a trailer on the property

Ashley said that because her mother had “evicted” her husband, the Tasmanian Communities Department felt there was no need to intervene.

Months later, Ashley saw her car pull up in her mom’s driveway.

“I called child protection again, then the police again, then the kids also confirmed he was living in a trailer at the back of the house,” she said.

“Child protection came out and did another assessment and said again, ‘he’s not home, there’s no risk’.”

In an affidavit provided to police, Ashley wrote:

“I don’t consider that [my mother] has taken steps to protect the best interests of the children and has in fact taken active steps to conceal this abuse. [He] remains living on the property.

“The kids have all had mental health issues and behavioral issues and I don’t think those issues are well managed.”

Thanks to the court, Ashley has regained parental rights to several of her children and will fight for the return of another once she is able to afford legal representation.

She said a Department of Communities child safety officer admitted to her that they had “abandoned these children”.

“Children, they need justice, and they need someone to really look into the child welfare field and make change,” Ashley said.

The Department for Communities did not respond to questions about Ashley’s case, but said in a statement it had processes in place to “ensure those authorized to look after children are safe people”.

“This includes requiring all caregivers, household members and frequent visitors to the home to have a record while working with vulnerable people,” the department said.

“The department has processes in place to respond to allegations relating to the safety of children in out-of-care. These responses include working alongside Tasmania Police in relation to allegations of child abuse .”

Investigation reveals ‘broken’ child protection system

The ABC revealed yesterday that child protection departments across the country have failed children and families for years.

More than 700 people across the country have come forward as part of the investigation. More than 200 of them were current and former workers with intimate knowledge of how the system works.

Federal Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said he was concerned about the findings.

Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said she would join Attorney General and National Children’s Commissioner Ann Hollonds in a meeting to ‘make sure all children in care are safe and protected”.

Ms Hollonds said the system was ‘broken’ and ‘desperately in need of reform’.

“Really, this system, many, many people would say it’s broken and really needs urgent attention,” she said.

“We need national leadership for child welfare so that children are a national political priority.”

*The name has been changed for legal reasons.

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