This inquiry headed by Principal Commissioner, Bernie Geary OAM, addresses the issue of sexual abuse, exploitation and the adequacy of the provision of residential care services to Victorian children and young people in care.
The Commission’s Inquiry into the adequacy of the provision of residential care services to children and young people who have been subject to reports of alleged sexual abuse or sexual exploitation whilst residing in residential care (the Inquiry) was established by the Principal Commissioner, Mr Bernie Geary, in March 2014, pursuant to section 39 of the CCYP Act 2012.
Concerns about the adequacy of the Victorian residential care system are not new. There have been many previous independent inquiries and reports. Despite the awareness of deficits in the system, children continue to be at risk of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation when they are in residential care. Action is urgently needed, particularly because the number of children living in out-of-home care continues to grow and there is vast over-representation of Aboriginal children.
Society is measured by how we treat our most vulnerable members and there are few more vulnerable than children in out-of-home care. These children are particularly vulnerable to a range of human rights violations and, as a corollary, those in charge of their care should be more acutely focused on protecting their human rights. At the most fundamental level, these children have the right to protection and to feel safe - and they have the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In Victoria, through instruments such as the Charter and the Rights of the Child, we have the tools to demand public authorities and those exercising public functions to guard and protect the human rights of these vulnerable children and provide a far higher standard of care.
This Inquiry has called for an urgent redevelopment of residential care services in Victoria and the development of specialised care options for children. Nine key recommendations have been made. The recommendations are interlinked and should not be read in isolation. The recommendations have been formulated through findings from this Inquiry, learnings from other inquiries, contemporary research and sector consultations.
The decision to undertake the Inquiry resulted from our grave concern at the ongoing inadequacies of systemic responses to preventing and responding to the occurrence of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children in residential care. We have read and confirmed reports of alleged sexual abuse and sexual exploitation in residential care of children as young as seven.
We sought advice and information from the sector, the broader community and invited people with personal experience to make a submission to the Inquiry.
We analysed the Department’s CIRs from 1 March 2013 to 28 February 2014 (the Inquiry period). This involved 189 reports of alleged incidents of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation relating to 166 children in residential care. Forty-two of these children were subject to multiple reports. Of major concern, we discovered this data is flawed.
The true extent of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children living in residential care is not yet known. This is due to the Department’s inadequate and inconsistent record keeping, which has resulted in poor data availability. The data is unreliable and this is made even worse by current reporting systems. The Commission witnessed inconsistencies in the way that serious allegations of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation in residential care are defined, reported and investigated.
In April 2015, the Department advised the Commission that 402 CIRs relating to incidents occurring between January 2013 to April 2015, therefore falling within the Inquiry period, had not been provided to the Commission due to an ‘oversight’. Of these 402 CIRs, 69 related to allegations of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation. These 69CIRs were unable to be included in this report. We must therefore assume that the data presented in this report significantly underestimates the extent of the problem.