NT girl placed in care 50 times in six years was denied school and medical treatment

A Northern Territory woman who was placed into child protection more than 50 times over six years has told a royal commission she feels let down by the system.

A Northern Territory girl was placed in child protection more than 50 times over six years, during which she missed years of school, went to the dentist just once and wasn't treated for scabies, the royal commission has been told.

NT children's commissioner calls for residential foster care homes to be shut down

TPhoto: Northern Territory Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne says resi homes are a flawed model. (ABC News)he NT Children's Commissioner wants residential foster care services to be shut down in the Northern Territory, saying many providers fail to give the support children need.

Colleen Gwynne says residential foster care, which houses children who cannot be placed with families, is not the best model and an alternative should be found.

The system came under heavy criticism after the ABC's Four Corners program revealed claims in other states that private foster care companies repeatedly failed to support staff and children.

NT Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne said similar stories existed in the Northern Territory.

"I would say it's not a good model," Ms Gwynne said. "We often let young people down."

NT child abuse reports skyrocketing, children's commissioner report shows

 Photo: Northern Territory children's commissioner Colleen Gwynne. (Supplied: Royal Commission into youth detention in NT) Almost 1,800 children have been abused or neglected in just one year in the Northern Territory, and Territory Families failed to protect almost a quarter of them from more abuse, a new report has revealed.

The NT children's commissioner has released her annual report, finding that the number of notifications potential harm to children has more than doubled in the past five years.

Last year alone, there was a 20 per cent spike in reports, with 20,465 notifications received by the department for 10,851 children, or almost two reports per child.

Almost half of all notifications related to neglect, and almost of third of cases related to emotional abuse.

NT DCF is toxic and repressive, say staff

The death on August 6 of a work mate, believed to have been suicide, prompted several staff members of the Department of Children and Families (DCF, image from their website at right) to tell the Alice Springs News Online about serious conflicts in the local office.

They also refer to the suicide of an ex-staffer about two years ago.

The comments coincide with the Prime Minister’s appointment of a Royal Commission into detention of young people in the NT which will also examine the child protection system.

DCF said about the death on August 6 that it “extends its condolences to the family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time. As this is a personal matter, the Department has no further comment.”

The suspected suicide occurred a few days after the staff member was seen crying in the office.

One of our sources says that the CEO from Darwin flew to Alice to address the staff about the tragic event, and managers have told staff that talking amongst each other, or to outsiders about the death would be “disrespectful”.

“The department in Alice Springs is toxic, retributive, and unless you’re part of that repressive gang you’re in trouble,” says that source.

There is a massive turnover and “destruction” of staff: To survive, “they keep their heads down, their mouth shut and work as hard as they can to get out of this place.”

“Leaders” have strategies which put staff into no-win situations: They are given case management deadlines which are unrealistic and unachievable and the inevitable failure to meet these deadlines is recorded in the staff files.

If a staff member then wants to apply for transfer to another department, this information can be given to the interview panel, which can also obtain references from members of the “inner circle”  –the DCF team leaders who are in a position to put damaging information before the panel.

“This hugely constrains getting work elsewhere,” says the source. That in turn binds the lower level staff to the DCF and increases their vulnerability to bullying and exploitation.

The fact that few complaints are lodged – almost exclusively because of fear of retribution, say our sources – is commonly cited by the upper echelons as proof that there are no problems.

DCF says it “has a cultural organisational framework that outlines the core values of respect, courage, integrity and trust that underpin behaviour in the workplace.

“The department values and invests in its staff and any complaint is taken seriously and investigated.

“The Department encourages staff that may be experiencing difficulties to report their concerns and utilise the support services offered.

“If you are aware of any staff that may have a complaint or concern, please direct them to any manager or Department of Children and Families complaints.”

But our source says use of ‘divide and conquer’ methods are standard in this “very punitive organisation”, isolating people and groups: “Different groups are called together and given bits of information and then are being told not to talk about it to other staff,” says the contact.

“Yelling at staff, imposing unreasonable workloads, isolating staff, spreading rumours, encouraging them not to engage with particular workers who are a ‘bad influence,’ putting people down, talking to them like to a school-child, rolling eyes, dressing someone down in a public forum, wagging finger, eye glaring” are all in the arsenal of the “oppressive clique,” says the source.

“Stifling debate amongst the staff by declaring matters confidential, discouraging workers from having support people with them when they are in a performance management meeting, or pretending it is a case management meeting in which a support person would not be needed” are among of the strategies.

While the massive staff turnover is expensive in financial terms, the costs to the clients – the children – is inestimable. While it is vital that the case workers build up a relationship of trust and understanding, the 400-odd children in The Centre who have been taken away from their families are faced with three or four different case workers in a year.

Payments of up to $1000 a week per child are being made to carers, says our source, money that could be spent on helping parents to set up a functioning household.

Foster carer blames Department of Children and Families for teenagers’ predicament

TWO children who were removed from the care of their foster mother over a “minor incident” are now living on the streets, using drugs and committing property crimes.

The foster carer, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told the NT News that in the space of two years the two teenage girls she had cared for for 13 years had gone “completely off the rails”.

“(The older girl) has been in 15 different placements, has been in Don Dale, she abuses drugs and alcohol and has a 25-year-old boyfriend ... nobody even knows where she is,” the woman said.