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Published: 25 August 2015
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas

Children placed in care of under-resourced and over-worked staff

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard today in its public hearing into Victorian Youth Training Centres from Dr Allan Borowski, Professor to Social Work, who gave evidence on the basis of his research and personal experience. He told of how easy it was to have a child admitted to Wardship from 1906 until 1980s. Mr Borowski worked with the Youth Welfare Division of the Department between 1973 and 1975. He experienced the youth justice and wardship system first hand.

Dr Borowski told the Royal Commission that a lot of children from poor families were institutionalised, based on a risk of future behaviour rather than because they had committed any crimes.

According to Dr Borowski, child welfare and criminal matters were conflated by legislation. Children were charged with ‘offences’ such as being ‘exposed to moral danger’ or ‘likely to lapse into a career of vice and crime’ based on an expectation that they may engage in criminal conduct in the future.

Dr Borowski told the Commission that not only was this was grossly unfair and inappropriate but also constituted a form of punishment being loss of freedom, separation from family and loss of relationships.

Karen Hodkinson, a former resident of Winlaton, and Norman Latham, who was placed in Turana, are examples of this injustice. Karen was admitted to wardship following a suicide attempt, on the charge of being ‘exposed to moral danger’. Norman was admitted to care after it was discovered he had been sexually assaulted, on the ground of ‘likely to lapse into a career of vice and crime’.

These charges were very easy to prove. In Karen’s case, it was revealed she was admitted to wardship without any formal evidence being presented to the Children’s Court. 

Dr Borowksi also said that once admitted to the care of the State, children did not receive the necessary care and attention from social workers. Social workers employed with the Social Welfare Branch of the Department had an extremely high case load and were under resourced and under trained. As a social worker with the Department Mr Borowksi was responsible for between 80 and 90 cases. He stated he could not provide practical assistance to more than 20.

Prior to the 1960s Dr Borowski told the Commission the Department did not employ trained social workers but rather only administrative staff.

The Commission heard that once admitted for non-criminal charges, children were placed together with juvenile offenders. They were labeled and stigamitised as wards and over time began to see themselves in the way that others saw them.

Dr Lloyd Owen, who worked as a Superintendent at Turana, Winlaton and Allambie, gave evidence that he was aware of aggression between residents. Dr Owen denied being aware of sexual abuse between residents and by staff. He told the Commission that staff at Winlaton were more concerned with promiscuity and prostitution than sexual abuse. He admitted there was insufficient awareness of these issues.

Dr Owen told the Commission that if a child was being sexually abused by a family member, this was seen as a moral issue rather than a crime. Therefore, upon becoming aware that a former resident identified by the Commission as BDG was being raped by her father on weekend leave from Winlaton, the staff did not report the abuse to police. Instead BDG was administered Depo-Provera birth control injections.

Dr Owen also acknowledged that children may have been discouraged from reporting abuse because of the reception they received from staff. 

Dr Owen denied being aware of the existence of routine strip searches and internal examinations at Winlaton.

Dr Owen acknowledged there was not enough done in Winlaton to protect children from sexual abuse.

The Royal Commission continues its second week of hearings into Victorian Youth Training Centres tomorrow. The pattern emerging from the hearings to date has been of staff inadequately equipped to deal with the traumas of the children placed in their charge and with their disclosures of abuse.

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