South Australia’s Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson has been accused of failing in her responsibility to find out about offences against children under guardianship.

Key points:

  • The review was ordered following revelations the Child Protection Minister only learned of the sexual abuse through media reports.
  • Judge Paul Rice handed down the review to the government last week.
  • The state opposition is calling for the government to publicly release the full report.

Ms Sanderson ordered a review into the Department of Child Protection’s reporting practices after she was last year blindsided by news that two teenagers had fallen pregnant while in state care.

Two paedophiles were sentenced within months of each other for offences against a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl.

On both occasions Ms Sanderson admitted she had not been informed of the incidents.

In his review, former District Court Judge Paul Rice condemned the minister for not being proactive with her department.

“This is an important and significant area of ministerial responsibility and the minister cannot hope to be in a position to fulfil that responsibility unless she is expressly told about it,” the report stated.

“It was crucial for the minister to tell the department that she wanted to know about the serious sexual abuse of children under guardianship.

“This was a significant failure on the minister’s part.”

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, Premier Steven Marshall and Child Protection Minister Rachel Sanderson addressed the media to discuss the report.(ABC News: Bension Siebert)

Judge Rice concluded it was not sufficient for Ms Sanderson to have “unarticulated expectations”.

“The minister had certain expectations upon taking office about the information she should receive from the department,” the report found.

“Nothing was put in writing. Clearly more should have been done.”

Ms Sanderson said it was clear that reporting procedures within the Department of Child Protection were “overly complex”, and that policy had been rewritten to be “clear and concise”.

“I meet regularly with my chief executive, and I do now receive reports of all incidents as they occur,” she said.

Judge Rice said he was told there were currently five children under guardianship who were pregnant.

“None of these [pregnancies] has been the subject of an incident management procedure report,” the report stated.

Judge Rice also sought figures on the number of pregnancies involving young girls under guardianship in the past five years.

“I was informed the department does not have those statistics,” the report states.

“I was told that normally pregnancy would not be reported because ” … children in care are no different to … other children”.”

Government accepts all recommendations

In his review, Judge Rice also drew comparisons to the 2013 Debelle Inquiry into an assault case involving a student and an after-school carer in Adelaide’s west.

“Although the primary facts of that inquiry are different from those of this inquiry, there are some striking similarities and parallels between the two,” Judge Rice found.

“There is nothing new in some aspects of what has happened here. In some respects it is history repeating itself.”

The review found the department had no central file of incident reports and senior staff were relying on memory alone to assert significant incidents had been reported.

It also stated that it was unclear whether the department’s existing incident management procedure had ever been used.

The State Government has accepted all six recommendations, among them, the establishment of reporting guidelines, and a ‘comprehensive education program’ for staff.

Premier Steven Marshall said it would also introduce “additional measures”.

“We will be setting up a ‘Significant Incident Reporting Unit’ which will sit within the Department of Child Protection, and work with the chief executive of that department, but ultimately report to the chief executive of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.”

Deputy Premier Vickie Chapman said legislation to implement the changes would be introduced to Parliament within 30 days.

“Accepting the recommendations of Mr Rice QC’s review is only the start,” Ms Chapman said.

“We must have the mechanisms in place to ensure those recommendations are implemented efficiently.”

Labor calls for resignation

Opposition child protection spokeswoman Katrine Hildyard said Ms Sanderson had failed in her role, and should resign.

“The Rice Review has made it abundantly clear that it is the minister’s failure that led to the situation where she had no knowledge of these horrific cases,” she said.

“It’s also shocking and deeply unacceptable that today, the minister has refused, still, to take any responsibility for these failures.”

Katrine Hildyard has called for Ms Sanderson’s resignation.(ABC News: Chris McLoughlin)

The Premier admitted the incidents were ‘critical’ and were not dealt with appropriately.

“I am satisfied this is a department that has worked very hard over the past three years, there have been significant improvements,” Mr Marshall said.

“But this report highlights there’s still significant work to be done.”

Ms Hildyard also called for the State Government to release Judge Rice’s report in full.

The Premier said that wouldn’t be possible due to concerns for the privacy of the two teenagers involved.