‘The law has been broken. A crime has been committed and nobody is interested.’
Ron and his daughter Ellen came to speak to the Commissioner about Ellen’s teenage years in South Australia. Ron and Ellen’s mother divorced when Ellen was about five or six years old. She lived with her mother for some time but their relationship became acrimonious. Then, when Ellen was about 12 years old, she was placed into foster care, because she and Ron’s new wife came into conflict. By the time she was 13 years old Ellen was using drugs, including amphetamines, and drinking alcohol.
In the 1990s, when still 13 years old, Ellen had to appear before the Youth Court for a number of offences. A two-year court order was made which formally placed Ellen under the control of the Minister for Families and Communities and required Ellen to live with Ron, abstain from drug use and attend counselling. Ellen ran away from her father’s house and began living with an older man. She also continued taking drugs.
Ron told the Commissioner that, ‘I reported the matter numerous [times] to the Crime Stoppers and in the end they told me you have reported the matter don’t call us anymore’.
Ron reported Ellen’s situation directly to police by reporting sexual activity between Ellen and one of the men also living at her house. He also repeatedly notified child welfare frontline staff and the department, and the court, of his daughter’s situation. He was regularly told that neither the minister, nor the department, nor the police had duty of care over the child and that they wouldn’t act without Ellen’s compliance.
‘They were allowing my child not to comply with the orders of the court, not to go to school, use illegal drugs and associate with adults including criminals … it was just a complete unwillingness to implement the orders of the court. I was very disappointed in that respect.’
Ellen’s welfare records note that she was receiving drugs in exchange for sex. She told the Commissioner that the man she was living with was not a department carer and had no relationship to the department. Still, ‘they knew I was living there … [it was] no issue for them’.
She also said that at the time, her friends, other teenagers in similar circumstances, were known to her social worker. ‘He said he knows what goes on with them all and where they’re at and what they’re doing – they [the authorities] just don’t do anything.'
Ron also knew that other children were in the same predicament.
‘The concern is just that it wasn’t just happening to one child; it was just chaotic for other children, vulnerable children, allowing to live with adult men and using drugs and corrupt adults taking advantage of them.’
The situation continued for some time and Ron kept trying, unsuccessfully, to have his daughter protected. Ellen became pregnant when she was 14.
Ron said, ‘The department, the minister, the police and the ombudsman, they knew the child was under the care of the minister and was having a relationship with an adult man. Even after the child was pregnant … no action was taken by the state to remove my daughter … that is unacceptable, should be unacceptable. That is wrong.’
Ellen understands that she experienced statutory rape and, on one occasion when she was not yet a teenager, forced rape. She now wants to pursue her abuser through the criminal justice system.
Ron continued to petition the South Australian government, relevant ministers and welfare departments to find justice for his daughter over many years. ‘The information we have provided [is] 10 years of our lives. It’s very hard for us.'
‘When you report all these sort of things and you’ve been ignored by everybody … to them it was acceptable because they see these things every day but to me it was totally unacceptable and I was isolated.’
Ron has been told that a civil claim will probably be unsuccessful despite legal advice that supports his feeling that the state had a duty of care for Ellen.
‘The lawyer is of the view, and he was always of the view, that the child was under the guardianship of the minister. They knew the child was having a relationship. It’s nonsense if they say that’s consensual because it is under the age of consent … And they did absolutely nothing to intervene to protect the child and that criminal act was continued.’
Ron and Ellen are determined that ‘the same thing doesn’t happen to other children’. Ron would like to see harsh penalties apply to people who work for child welfare authorities who don’t fulfill their responsibilities to children in their care.
‘Maybe that’s why the government, or the department, continue to behave that way because they know it will not succeed. That was my view. If they felt that they would be held to account they would change their faulty practice.’