Murdered woman's family blame government department for her horrific death
- Category: Mothers who died because of Child Protection
- Created: Monday, 09 September 2019 00:00
- Written by Daile Cross - WA Today
The family of a young West Australian woman killed by her ex-partner says decisions made by officers of a government department contributed to her tragic death.
Charlotte was a 19-year-old woman caught in a vicious cycle of abuse at the hands of her partner.
Her family had seen the black eyes. Heard the slaps over the phone. Taken her to hospital when she was unrecognisable even to her mother after she was bashed and left with injuries to her face, hand, ribs, chest and ear.
Her brutal murder by her ex-partner at his home south of Perth happened in December, 2017. He has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next month.
But it is a series of decisions made by officers from the Department of Communities before Charlotte's death that now haunt her family.
They believe the department, charged with child protection and family support, failed in its duty of care, resulting in Charlotte being killed.
They have requested the WA Coroner investigate the events leading up to Charlotte's death and the family are writing to the WA Ombudsman, who has the power to review domestic violence deaths and make recommendations to government departments about ways to prevent such deaths.
For legal reasons – a child in care cannot be identified – and in order to tell the whole story, WAtoday has decided to change the names of everyone involved.
A violent relationship – and the worst nightmare that came true
Domestic violence advocate Charles de Gois has been doing his work for close to 20 years. And he says this is the most shocking case he has ever heard of.
Charlotte lived with Chris in a dilapidated house in a suburb south of Perth. They were behind on the rent. Her family told her to leave him, but, as her sister Louise describes it, she became stuck in a cycle of violence.
Charlotte gave birth to a baby girl in November, 2017.
Her family were concerned about the continuing violence in the household and decided to call the Department of Child Protection, part of the Department of Communities.
Charlotte and her daughter were given a placement in a Perth domestic violence refuge and the family thought this might be the circuit-breaker Charlotte needed.
Mother and child lived there for less than one week, Mr de Gois said.
Louise says during this time Charlotte decided that she wanted to make something of herself. She wanted to go to TAFE. She was going to move in with her aunty.
“She got that wake-up call, she didn’t want to have that life for her daughter. She wanted to raise her kid herself, be the mum she wanted to be,” Louise says.
But one day, when Charlotte returned to the refuge after going out, she was told by staff that she was not allowed to stay there anymore. The family say that at the time, Charlotte was not given a reason why. They learned later it was suspected she had continued contact with Chris.
Her baby girl, only four weeks old, who she had left at the refuge while she went out, was now in the care of the department.
Charlotte was devastated. Frightened, she told her mother and sisters that baby Daphne was being kept from her.
"When Charlotte got Daphne taken off her, I've never seen her like that before," Louise says, breaking down in tears.
“We don’t know why they separated mother and daughter.
“She was only a mum for four weeks before this all happened. She would have been the best mother, I know she would have been.”
With help from family Charlotte went to court for a Violence Restraining Order. It was granted on December 15.
A few days after being told she could no longer live at the refuge, Charlotte was shocked to find out that her baby had been placed in foster care with a family in the southern suburb she had fled, and where Chris still lived.
To visit her child she would have to take the train to the offices of the DCP in that suburb. There are four minor cross-roads between the offices and the street Chris lived on. The drive from his house to the offices is a mere three minutes.
And so Charlotte visited her baby.
On her last visit with her daughter, Charlotte arrived at the offices to find Chris there. It was one day before her death.
The family say Charlotte ran into the offices, with Chris following, hurling verbal abuse, causing a commotion.
She was taken inside, and he was told to leave, according to her family.
They question why nobody called the police.
The family claim Charlotte was told to leave on her own later that day. Her family say she was frightened, and left reluctantly.
She went back to Perth to one of her sister's homes.
They saw a news report on TV on the 31st. It was New Years Eve. There had been a death on the street where Chris lived.
“That’s Charlotte's house.”
Serious questions: The family punished twice
Charlotte's mother applied to have custody of her granddaughter days after her daughter's death.
But it's taken 18 months for the department to advise her that the parent capacity assessment showed she was not suitable.
“It’s been a year and a half since we lost Charlotte ... Daphne should have been placed with immediate family straight away,” sister Louise says.
“But instead she was placed in foster care, kept in foster care and she is still not with close immediate family. We’re still waiting for her to come home.”
The family is appalled it took so long for a decision.
“Daphne is always saying she’s ready to go home,” Louise says.
“It breaks our heart that we have to leave her there, we can’t bring her home.”
Louise, who is raising two children of her own, applied in October last year to take in her niece. She says the worker who came to her home for the assessment told her she hoped Louise and her husband got her.
But Louise has just received a letter from the department stating that she had failed in her application to be approved as a family carer for Daphne. She did not meet enough of the legislated carer competencies to be approved and therefore could not provide primary care for her niece.
The letter states the assessment was finalised on April 29. The letter is dated July 30. She received it August 27. Louise questions why it took so long to be advised of the decision and why she has not been given the reasons why she was deemed unsuitable.
She asked why if she is a fit mother to her two biological children, one of whom is the same age as Daphne, she could not care for her niece.
Members of Charlotte's family have been travelling to the DCP offices every week to visit with the little girl, although they have just been told that visitation is being cut back to once every fortnight. The family say they have not been told why this is happening.
Meanwhile, they say they have been told the little girl who lost her mother in the most horrific of circumstances, has been moved between foster families three times in her short life.
Mr de Gois has put his concerns in writing to the Department of Communities and is helping the family navigate the system.
“How could the DCP expose Charlotte to danger by relocating the child?” he said.
“How could they take the child from her at only four weeks old?
“How is this in the best interests of the child?
“If they relocated the mother and child to a refuge in Perth from the location where Chris lived, they knew she was in danger there. Why ask her to come all the way to that suburb to visit the child?
“What is foreseeable here? On top of this, the sister applied to have custody of the child. The mother applied to have custody of the child.
“They punished the family again for 18 months".
He said if the Department believed living with Charlotte’s sister was not in the child’s best interests, the family deserved to know why.
Department of Communities assistant director general service delivery metropolitan communities Jackie Tang did not address detailed questions on the case.
She said the Department did not comment on individual cases.
"Many of the cases that the Department is involved with are complex and at times distressing
for all concerned," she said.
"The safety, wellbeing and best interests of children is paramount and as such there is a requirement that all decisions related to children are based upon this principle."
The department's primary goal is to keep children with family. Reunification with biological family for children in care is the priority, whenever safe.
Rigorous assessments are undertaken to decide whether a child can be placed with extended family members, a spokesman said.
If there were concerns about the suitability of a person to be the primary carer, this was a decision made after a thorough assessment.
But Charlotte's family have no faith in the decisions made by the case workers involved.
Kept in the dark
Charlotte’s family claim they have been told that her killer has got photos of the little girl up in his prison cell and demand to know how they got there.
They believe he signed documentation giving the department guardianship of the child until age 18, and say the department did not inform them of this.
Under the Children and Community Services Act 2004, as soon as is practicable after the department lodges a protection application for a child, the CEO must give a copy of it to the child, a parent of the child and "any other person considered by the CEO to have a direct and significant interest in the wellbeing of the child".
A protection application must be lodged with the court.
Charlotte's family says they should have been notified and would have liked to put their case for custody to the court at the time.
“This is about an innocent little girl that’s got a family that’s fighting for her, love her and want her, yet we can’t get her because DCP is favouring the father,” Louise said.
“That’s how we see it.”
Mr de Gois is appalled.
“How does a killer in prison have more rights than the sister of the deceased?” he said. “Or the mother of the deceased?
Louise says the way the Department has treated her family is disgusting.
"At the end of the day they're there to protect the children, and not just the children, the mother.
"They didn't do any of that with Charlotte. And they're not protecting Daphne still. They're keeping her away from her immediate family."
The Minister for Child Protection this week announced a review into the foster care system in Western Australia, following a series of stories by WAtoday exposing serious failures within the system.
Source : https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/murdered-woman-s-family-blame-government-department-for-her-horrific-death-20190829-p52m1p.html