The « complexity » and « volume » of child abuse cases in one state led authorities to abandon two siblings in a house where they would eventually be murdered.
Families SA succumbed to the complexity and scale of the case as it received reports of two young children later murdered by their mother’s partner, a court has heard.
Steven Graham Peet murdered his partner Adeline Yvette Wilson-Rigney and her two children, Amber Rose Rigney, 6, and her brother Korey Lee Mitchell, 5, on May 20, 2016.
Peet pleaded guilty to the triple murder and was given a mandatory life sentence with a 36-year non-parole period while serving.
Amber and Korey were living with their mother, 28, and Peet in a home in Hillier, north of Adelaide, at the time of the murders.
An autopsy revealed that the children had been strangled.
A coroner’s investigation began earlier this week to investigate the circumstances surrounding Amber and Korey’s deaths and the involvement of the Department of Child Protection, formerly known as Families SA.
The inquest – before deputy coroner Anthony Schapel – was told on Thursday that the complexity of the cases and the workload were the reason behind the limited staffing at Families SA’s Elizabeth office; where notices regarding Ms. Wilson-Rigney have been received.
“(The Elizabeth office) had a lot of the work flowing to them because of the demographics,” said Sue McDonald, the executive director of the Department for Child Protection and the practice.
“It was difficult to retain staff.”
For example, Ms. McDonald pointed out that in just one week, the office received 20 « tier 1 » categories, which was a « significant » amount.
« The effect of the flow for the coming months is significant, » she said.
« A high percentage of tier 1 cases would involve legal proceedings, so there is legal preparation, access, working with children and working with parents. »
She also said Families SA had spoken to Amber and Korey, who were not concerned about their mother.
“We also need to remember that they were five and six and talking to a stranger about their parent… we need to remember their development and what could be stopping them.
“We would never expect a child to be responsible for their own protection, so we talk to children and get an overall picture of their world, but they weren’t worried.
« We would never have relied solely on what Amber and Korey said. »
Ms McDonald said staff also spoke to Ms Wilson-Rigney, who was described as « difficult to deal with ».
“That was a pattern throughout her life and when I think back to the trauma she experienced, especially with the child protection system and other government systems, I’m not sure if that was necessarily unusual for her.
« When we spoke to her, the concerns outlined in the study (about her drug use) were not immediately apparent. »
During the investigation, problems with the resources were continuously discussed.
On the second day of the inquest, Avril Hale, former acting supervisor and support officer for the Department for Child Protection, spoke of the department’s limited resources at the time and said it was « responding only to tier 1 cases. »
She admitted that Amber and Korey’s « tier 2 » reports could have been classified as « tier 1 » or immediate removal of a child if the department had « the legs » to investigate.
“Had we had the resources, we would have acted… the problem was the resources to do that,” Ms. Hale said.
« The amount of reports coming into the system… it meant there were children in even more dangerous situations and in even worse situations that we had to use those resources to deal with. »
The investigation continues.
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