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Abused teen too old for child protection -

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Abused teen too old for child protection

Rachael Brown reported this story on Monday, September 28, 2009 12:22:00

ELEANOR HALL: Sexual assault specialists in Melbourne are accusing Victoria's child protection
authorities of failing a 17 year old girl, who says she was being abused by her father.

The treatment centre that the young girl turned to says she's a victim of a system that only
intervenes if the child at risk is under the age of 17.

In Melbourne, Rachael Brown reports.

RACHAEL BROWN: A sexual assault centre at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital is worried
responsibility is falling on it to organise crisis care for certain teenagers at risk. The
Gatehouse Centre says a 17 year old girl presented, claiming she'd been sexually assaulted by her
father.

But when a doctor tried to report the allegation to the Department of Human Services, they were
told the child protection unit couldn't be involved, because the girl was 17.

The Community Services Minister, Lisa Neville, says 17 year olds aren't included in the scope of
child protection.

LISA NEVILLE: Because at 17 a young person does not require the consent of their parents to leave
home.

RACHAEL BROWN: The manager of the Gatehouse Centre has told The Age newspaper it made sure the girl
had a safe place to stay that night with a friend, and says it's unfair to expect abused 17 year
olds to manage on their own

But Ms Neville says just because child protection can't be involved, doesn't mean the teenagers are
abandoned.

LISA NEVILLE: For example housing support. We fund also sexual assault services and in fact, you
know the Royal Children's Hospital is perhaps one of the leading health services in Victoria that
provides these sort of supports to young people and has the expertise through the Gateway service
and also through the Centre for Adolescent Health.

RACHAEL BROWN: The hospital says it fell on it that night that she presented to refer her to an
adolescent mental health service and make sure she had a safe place to stay that night. Should it
have been the hospital's responsibility or was this just an anomaly?

LISA NEVILLE: Oh absolutely, all our services have a responsibility to protect and support young
people in this situation and it's very clear in the guidelines that exist for health services that
they are required to follow those procedures - that they need to contact the police, they need to
look for housing and protected environments for a young person in this situation.

RACHAEL BROWN: So it should be the hospital's responsibility and not...

LISA NEVILLE: I think it's a shared responsibility of all of us, wherever a young person presents.

RACHAEL BROWN: But Victoria's child safety commissioner Bernie Geary says the state should review
the mandate prohibiting government involvement for teenagers aged over 16.

BERNIE GEARY: It can be argued that young people can leave home when they're 17 but I don't think
that that is a strong enough argument but I think the general feeling of the community would be
that already we would be looking after those 17 year olds as we do in some other states and
obviously as is proclaimed by the United Nations. In many cases in the system that I know, these 17
year olds are responded to anyway but I think that that needs to be supported by legislation.

RACHAEL BROWN: Today's story is the fourth time in a fortnight the Department of Human Service's
performance has been called to account.

First it was revealed a Victorian man had been raping his daughter for more than 30 years, and
fathered her four children. This followed an Ombudsman's report detailing a litany of failures
within Victoria's child protection system, including two cases where children were placed with
convicted sex offenders.

And last week, the State's public advocate raised concerns that pensioners in supported
accommodation were also being left vulnerable, and forced to offer sexual favours for daily
necessities.

But Lisa Neville denies any suggestion of systemic failures.

LISA NEVILLE: Look I think that, you know, day to day as I've said, we've got thousands of workers
who are doing, overwhelmingly a great job working with, you know, vulnerable children and
vulnerable members of our community but you know, there are lots of complex issues that often are
associated with people who might be in a SRS (supported residential service) or a young person or a
child in the child protection system.

Part of the decision recently to split the Department of Human Services was about trying to ensure
that we had a renewed focus on very vulnerable Victorians.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Victoria's Community Services Minister, Lisa Neville, ending that report by
Rachael Brown.