Goward goes quiet over reporting child deaths

Made an election promise that the public would be made aware of the deaths of children: Pru Goward. Photo: Kate GeraghtyThe O’Farrell government has failed to deliver on its promise to publicly report every child death immediately after it occurs and has been criticised for leaving the public to rely on ”leaks” from government departments for information.

In opposition, Pru Goward repeatedly called for greater transparency in the reporting of community services data, particularly the number of child deaths. In May 2010, she told Parliament that ”governments will only ever be as good as their accountability, and their accountability is always preceded by transparency”.

Shortly after she became a minister, Ms Goward promised to report each child death to the public in Parliament.

But this was not to eventuate. In February this year, Fairfax Media was first to publicly report the death of a Wollongong toddler in August last year who had been reported to the Department of Community Services three times in the five weeks before his death for extensive bruising and human bite marks.

Ms Goward told Parliament in August last year that she was constrained by the law and the need to protect the privacy of children. Rather than report individual deaths as they occur to Parliament, she now reports annually. Last year, 110 children and young people known to Community Services died.

In April 2011, Ms Goward was reported as saying she did not want to wait for weeks for a written report to learn of the death of a child known to her department.

In September 2010, when in opposition, Ms Goward told Fairfax Media it was ”outrageous” she had to request information about child deaths under freedom-of-information laws. ”Every child that is known to DOCs and that dies, there is a child death review team report that’s done internally by DOCs. I’ve had to FOI them. I think that’s outrageous,” she said.

”Now, [the media] will make hay with it, because obviously there will be criticisms of the way the department’s managed some of it, or the NGOs. But it’s a very good discipline on a department in terms of reform, because that gives you upfront scrutiny.”

Assuming privacy considerations were addressed, Ms Goward said the department should ”have released that report at the time as they should after every death when they’ve done it so the NGO sector, everybody who is interested in this, knows what went wrong and what needs to change.”

Her media adviser said legal and privacy reasons prevent the minister reporting individual cases. Ms Goward told Parliament in August last year that she ”made a promise that the public was made aware of the deaths of children”. ”That is why we publish an annual deaths report in which we closely examine the practices of the department and look for opportunities to improve,” she said.

Opposition Leader John Robertson said the public is having to rely on leaks from within the department to find out about ”terrible cases where children are dying or being put at serious and completely unnecessary risk”. ”This is completely at odds with the standards minister Goward promised prior to the election. It has taken leaks from minister Goward’s department for the community to even find out the deaths of children known to the department and her decision to put a freeze on the hiring of new caseworkers.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.