Teens caught up in drugs, car thefts and regular police run-ins don’t often stumble into that lifestyle by accident, writes Jessica Marszalek.
Teens caught up in drugs, car thefts and regular police run-ins don’t often stumble into that lifestyle by accident, writes Jessica Marszalek.

'Sometimes you just have to blame bad parents'

OPINION

The horrific deaths of Kate Leadbetter, Matty Field and their unborn child has carved a deep wound in the community and started an urgent debate about the state's youth justice system.

But no discussion can take place without considering the Child Safety system.

That's because, in so many cases, they are the same kids.

The deaths of Matty Field and Kate Leadbetter have kicked off a debate around youth justice failures.
The deaths of Matty Field and Kate Leadbetter have kicked off a debate around youth justice failures.

It's not that often that kids on a diet of drugs, car theft and police indifference by their teens stumbled there by accident.

Put simply, some of them have crap parents.

Before I get a flood of hate mail, this is not a bleeding-heart column, nor is it about blaming the downtrodden.

I'm not advocating that teenagers aren't punished, locked up and put through appropriate rehabilitation programs when they are a danger to the community and they won't change.

Nor am I arguing no kid can be saved and shouldn't see a bit of kindness when they take a wrong turn.

But it would be better to stop these kids climbing through kitchen windows and into stolen cars to start with by helping them when they need help.

Half the kids in Australian youth detention centres are known to child protection services, delivered there through what is known as the "care-to-custody pipeline".

Children brought to the attention of Child Safety staff due to abuse, neglect or parental incapacity are at least nine times more likely than other young people to offend, according to The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

So while Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is right to look at whether changes are needed to youth justice laws, it's clear she should be looking at the state's vexed Child Safety system too.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Queensland Police Service Commissioner Katarina Carroll lay flowers for Kate Leadbetter and Matty Field at the intersection of Vienna and Finucane Roads at Alexandra Hills. Picture: Richard Walker
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Queensland Police Service Commissioner Katarina Carroll lay flowers for Kate Leadbetter and Matty Field at the intersection of Vienna and Finucane Roads at Alexandra Hills. Picture: Richard Walker

The workings of the department have not escaped scrutiny in recent years, with the spotlight shining brightly on its grave failures in cases like Mason Jet Lee's and Tiahleigh Palmer's.

But despite the tinkering, things don't seem to be improving.

The Child Safety figures in the Report on Government Services is an annual confirmation of the disturbing status quo.

The numbers of children reported to the system continue to grow.

There were 23,266 notifications in 2019-20, with 6537 substantiated and 11,570 young people on new or continuing protection orders.

Investigations continue to be slow, investigators continue to miss signs of harm until later and children continue to be harmed, even once they're in state care.

Workers talk about turning up to check on families only to be screamed at, with doors slammed in their faces.

Homes are disgusting, with methamphetamine caked on the walls. Domestic violence is horrific.

Children known to the Child Safety system are more likely to offend.
Children known to the Child Safety system are more likely to offend.

A 30-year veteran described the animal and human faeces throughout homes visited by staff.

There's dishes and filth piled at the walls, no bedding for children, drug paraphernalia within easy reach of children, no food or mouldy food in the kitchen and a pervading, vile odour, he said.

In recent months, a drug-addicted couple had two children taken from them after the father accidentally ran over one of them while fighting with the mother.

Their response?

Days later, they were selling off the children's furniture in a yard sale.

While there's no suggestion that bad parenting was a factor in the specific case of the 17-year-old now charged with double murder, Police Minister Mark Ryan appealed to parents generally to take responsibility for their kids, and for us all to take notice when they're not.

Despite the systems in place though, there would always be bad people who did bad things, Ryan said.

But there are people who do bad things who are being given too many chances.

In a notable shake-up to the Child Safety system, legislation is before the parliament that aims to increase the number of adoptions for non-indigenous children.

Tragic toddler Mason Jett Lee
Tragic toddler Mason Jett Lee

Mason's coronial inquest - a heartbreaking journey through the abject failures of that poor boy's carers and the system meant to protect him - recommended it be routinely and genuinely considered where reunification was unlikely, particularly for children under the age of three.

Although legally allowed now, there's been just 64 in the past two years.

The department has been considering whether reporting on the numbers of adoptions and permanency orders (when a child is permanently settled with a new family) might encourage departmental staff to take these avenues more often and give more kids a stable path forward.

Some advocates support the measures and others are vehemently opposed to stripping children of their family links.

It's not a perfect plan by any means.

But we don't live in a perfect world. These kids certainly don't.

Perhaps sometimes it's about picking the least worst option.

Originally published as Sometimes you just have to blame bad parents


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