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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17140


Ms GAMBARO (1:27 PM) —Yesterday in Brisbane's Courier-Mail I was horrified to read the tragic story of a 25-year-old woman who had experienced sexual and physical abuse while in the `care' of a foster family. Not only had this woman been raped, tied up in her room and asked to perform a sexual act at a pool party but all of this occurred before she had even finished primary school.

Child abuse devastates the lives of many. It haunts its victims and deprives them of a quality of life that is the right of every child. It robs them of their innocence and their childhood. It teaches them fear and physical hurt and corrupts the meaning of the word `trust'. It causes mental trauma that leaves them scarred for life. It is an evil act.

Some weeks ago I spoke in the House of the tragic circumstances of child sexual abuse. I spoke of the increasing number of cases in Queensland and of the state government's need to be more positive about the situation. Yesterday's report in the Courier-Mail told of one Queensland foster family that had care of dozens of children since August 1988 and the harrowing saga of some of the children in their care. However, last night, it was revealed that the family had been given permission to act as a foster family as far back as 1979. Documents from the Queensland Department of Families demonstrate that officers knew of abuse associated with this family as far back as 1990, but they did absolutely nothing about it. I will read the list as it appeared in the Courier-Mail yesterday:

In December 1992, a girl in the care of the family is alleged to have been sexually assaulted—she remained with the family in care;

In August 1994, two girls complain that a male living in the house has sexually assaulted them—they remained in care with the family;

In October 1994, two girls aged under 10 are diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease—they remained in care with the family;

In September 2000, four children remained in the care with the family despite documentation stating concern about high level sexual abuse;

And in May this year, 16 children were removed from this family's care.

The family is now under investigation and it is thought that there may be as many as 50 victims of child abuse over the lifetime of care of this family. This situation is unbelievable because of the documentation that demonstrates that concerns were raised over the years about the care provided by this family in question. According to the report in the Courier-Mail, not only did the family have little or no respect for the Department of Families or for the schooling system; they raised the children as Indigenous, encouraged secrecy and permitted strangers to bathe the children.

Last night, the state government admitted that known child abusers could still be working in the state's foster care system. While carers with more than 12 months experience are supposed to undergo criminal and domestic violence checks every two years, the reality is that some children went for years without a visit. Of the 171 reported cases of substantiated harm by foster carers in 2001-02, only three carers had been removed by the Department of Families in Queensland.

In January last year, an article in the Courier-Mail, entitled `A Costly Culture', commented on the inadequacies of the child protection system then in Queensland. The report noted that the same comments had featured in the At what cost report by the Churches Community Services Forum into child protection services in Queensland. It read:

... that the practices and culture of the department are not in line with the early intervention and prevention and family preservation focus of the Child Protection Act 1999... there are occasions when seriously at-risk children are remaining at home when intervention was required ...

This morning a telephone hotline was opened for people who believed they had experienced abuse or neglect while in foster care. An audit into child protection notices against foster carers has also been announced—and I must say that that is very welcome. It is a start, but it is sadly too late for possibly hundreds of children who have suffered abuse while in care. On 7 March this year, the Queensland Premier told AAP that when it came to child abuse `individuals had a role in making all forms of abuse socially unacceptable'. It appears, however, that there is a long way to go before those sentiments are a feature of child protection in Queensland. I hope that it is now the start of more positive action.

Main Committee adjourned at 1.32 p.m.