• An NT family says the system has failed in its duty of care after their child was hospitalised following an incident in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre (NITV News)Source: NITV News
EXCLUSIVE: A Northern Territory family says the system has failed in its duty of care after their child was hospitalised and held for more than three weeks following an incident in Darwin's Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
Elliana Lawford

13 Feb 2017 - 4:25 PM  UPDATED 13 Feb 2017 - 4:42 PM

Family Concern:

The girl’s family, who cannot be identified, are extremely concerned and have told NITV News they aren’t being told what happened to her.

“Nothing, even though I asked, and when I rang Don Dale I asked about it. They couldn't give me an answer, or they didn't want to,” the girl’s grandmother said. 

“They said ‘oh we’re not at liberty to say because we have to speak to our supervisor’, and that’s been the standard answer.”

On the 14 January, the girl - who is not yet in her teens - was flown from Darwin's Don Dale Detention Centre to a Melbourne hospital.

After almost a week in Melbourne, she was transferred to Royal Darwin Hospital and remained there for two more weeks.

The family says she was kept sedated for up to 10 days, and the department has given them conflicting stories about the ‘incident’ that led to the hospitalisation.

Mental Health Issues:

They say they were told she ate glass, and that it was an attempted suicide. They say they were also told it was an ‘accident’. 

“You don’t just go around swallowing glass, is it self harm? We need to know,” the girl’s uncle said.

“Because to me that indicates the next steps that have to be taken in [her] care and it’s either not being looked at or it’s not politically correct to answer us. If the incident was self-harm...to fix it we’d have to progress differently as to if it was an accident, and yet we still don’t know.

“And we need to know that if she did try and harm herself - is this being addressed or how long will it be till she tries again?”

“They’ve actually forgotten about the word care."

The family says their concerns were heightened when they found out the young girl had absconded from hospital on at least one occasion.

“They’ve actually forgotten about the word care, it’s Family and Children Services and she is under their 'care',” her uncle said.

Two years ago the girl’s family sought help from the Department of Territory Families to address some of her mental health issues, after being unable to source adequate mental health services in their hometown. They say their pleas for help were ignored, and she was instead taken into care.

“They just said ‘oh well it must have been her upbringing’, and I said ‘I don’t see where that comes into it, she’s had care’,” her grandmother said while sitting in her living room surrounded by photos of the young girl and several awards the girl’s won.

Systematic Failure:

The family claims since being taken into care she’s been in and out of several different foster homes, has spent weeks on the street, has been taken out of school, and has gone from having a clean record to being locked up in Don Dale.

“Before [going into] care she never had any incidents, nothing…she never even went out after dark,” the girl’s uncle said.

“We’re going to have to get her back, like it’s going to take a long time to get her back to just being able to just be a normal kid again.”

“But she was taken into care and was just allowed to wander. [In care] she had a 15 year old boy sitting on the end of her bed at 2 o’clock in the morning and turning the light on and off…is that care? That wouldn’t happen in this house.

“We’re going to have to get her back, like it’s going to take a long time to get her back to just being able to just be a normal kid again.”

At a young age, this girl endured a very public and controversial arrest in her remote Northern Territory hometown. Her family says that’s one of many examples of where the system has failed her.

“To handcuff this kid in front of everyone [like that], what are you doing to that child? To me that’s wrong, that’s public humiliation,” her uncle said.

“I’ve never heard of it ever happening before, not a relative was present. I thought then that we are in a police state, if you can do that to a kid.”

“Do we have to wait for a Coroner’s report before we know what actually happened in this latest incident?” 

The family says they’ve been informed the girl has now been released from hospital into a residential care home, but aren’t confident she’s safe because she’s run away from several different foster homes in the past.

“There was a time when she rang and so we knew she was at a house that wasn’t Department of Children and Families (DCF), we knew she’d run away…so the next day we rang them and they said ‘oh she can’t talk she’s just gone for a drive’ – a blatant lie, she’d been missing for twenty-four hours,” the grandmother and uncle both explained.

“How wrong is that? A [young girl] just wandering around Darwin.”

The family claim the department has “wiped their hands” of the girl.

The uncle then posed a damning question. 

“Do we have to wait for a Coroner’s report before we know what actually happened in this latest incident?” 

Youth Justice Failure:

A youth diversion program that was operating in the region was defunded by the former Country Liberal Party government and has now closed its doors. Its founder, Peter Cain, says the story of this young girl echoes that of many others in the area.

“The system that’s failed her has failed not hundreds, but thousands in the past. Not just in [this region] but right across the Territory,” Peter Cain said.

“[The kids] are flicked from foster home to foster home, into detention and out of detention, we’re talking about young kids. And very few of these young people are born bad.”

Over the years, Mr Cain’s organisation provided services for 700-800 children in the region.

When it was defunded, the service was dealing with almost 300 severely at-risk kids.

“Over the course of the last couple of years there was 275 kids that we focused on, and we assessed 89 per cent as needing mental health assessments and probable treatment around that. We got an assessment on just seven on them, and every one of them we had to fight for,” he said.

“When it all fell apart, the official reason that we were given sometime later was that ‘there’s simply not enough funding for you’.”

This week, the government announced a record spend on youth diversion in the Territory. 

“The youth justice system is broken…this is the first big step towards fixing it,” Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.

Looking forward:

As part of the $18.2 million dollar spend, 52 new youth diversion workers will be based in major centres across the Territory.

But the region that this family lives in is one of many remote areas not included in the plan.

“Very little money ever hits the ground here…so these kids are just treated as the ones who fall through the cracks,” Peter Cain said.

"One of the biggest issues with [these kids] is they really need to be here with family. But there is nothing here, there aren’t the services that are needed, you can’t get mental health services for people under 18, there aren’t the specialist services in the health department here that are needed,” he said.

“And in the remote communities we need a level of engagement and involvement that simply cant happen in a city. We need [a child’s] whole community onboard,” Cain said.

In relation to the medical emergency at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre Territory Families made the following statements.

"The young person involved in a medical emergency at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in January has been recovering in hospital in Darwin."

"Territory Families has ensured that there are appropriate supports in place for the young person and the young person’s family. The young person will not be returning to Don Dale Youth Detention Centre."

Territory Families says the circumstances surrounding the medical emergency are being investigated.

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