One hundred children and teenagers on the radar of Victoria’s child protection services have died in just two years, a toll sparking new concerns about gaps in the state’s youth safety net.  Victorian Coroners Court data, reveals SIDS, suicide, car crashes, strangulation or suffocation, drowning and assault claimed most of the vulnerable lives. The court data reveals 51 children,  aged from infants to 18, known to child protection services died in 2020-21 and another 49 lost their lives in 2021-22. The opposition has described the toll as “horrifying and saddening”, and claimed the welfare of vulnerable and traumatised children was not a priority for the Andrews government. A source familiar with child protection services linked the toll to staff shortages, inexperienced case workers and a surging workload that has overwhelmed the Department of Fairness, Family and Housing (DFFH).

“The service is struggling to recruit, and there are multiple vacancies in child protection across the state,” one source said. “We have an inexperienced workforce, plus the workload is causing issues in terms of completing robust risk assessments.” The most alarming Coroners Court figures is that in 71 of the 100 deaths contact with child protection services was “inactive” at the time of death, suggesting authorities erred in closing the children’s files. The source said the high number of deaths in this category could be, linked to busy and inexperienced staff conducting flawed risk assessments of vulnerable children. 29 of the 100 children were under “active” care of the child protection services when they died. In 65 cases the Coroners Court found evidence that the DFFH had been involved with the victims in the 12 months before their deaths. Of the 100 deaths, SIDS and SUDI was the most common cause of death, accounting for 24 of the cases.

Previously 65 children and teenagers known to child protection services died in 2019-20. While the death toll of 51 and 49 over the subsequent two years represents a decline, the fresh scrutiny places more pressure on the government over its health system amid deadly ambulance delays and emergency department problems less than two months before the November 26 state election. Opposition child protection spokesman Matt Bach described the toll as “horrifying and saddening”, and said caring for vulnerable children was not a priority for the government. “It’s shocking that so many young people known to child protection services have died in the past two years,” he said. “It’s the clearest indication yet the state’s child protection system has failed and shows we are funnelling the most traumatised and disadvantaged children into state care, which is actually making them less safe.”

Child Protection Minister Colin Brooks’s office said “any child death is tragic and we offer our sympathy to all families who have lost a child”, but pointed to a coronial report in May saying it made no adverse findings against the department. “The majority of deaths are attributed to natural causes, SIDS/SUDI and accidents,” a spokesperson said. The Andrews government says it has invested $2.8bn in children and families services in the past three state budgets but has conceded it is facing staffing shortages because of global labour shortages. Mr Bach said one of the most concerning aspects of the coronial data was that 71 children died after their involvement with child protection was inactive.  “The system is meant to protect these children, but every step of the way it fails them and compounds their trauma,” he said.

“The fact so many have died after their files have been closed shows how the system has cut these children adrift when they are clearly still vulnerable.” Victoria’s child protection system has also suffered a churn of political leadership with the government appointing four ministers – Luke Donnellan, Richard Wynne, Anthony Carbines and Mr Brooks – in the past year. “A government should have no higher responsibility than the care of vulnerable children, yet this government has had four ministers in just one year, including a couple of junior ministers,” Mr Bach said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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