media release

Assessing cumulative harm to children

“One important policy lesson to take from the tragedy of Chloe Valentine’s life is that the longer a child is left in a situation of neglect or abuse the greater the danger that child is in,” said Shadow Minister for Families and Child Protection Rachel Sanderson.

“The Coroner’s inquest into the death of Chloe Valentine found that for most of her life Chloe suffered chronic neglect but Families SA didn’t pay adequate heed to the cumulative impact of that neglect.

“Critically while the threshold for Chloe’s removal was reached several times due to an imminent danger of harm, by the time Families SA investigated, the risk had been temporarily alleviated and Chloe was left with her mother.

“The problem was Families SA approached each notification about Chloe without reference to preceding notifications and the ongoing neglect across her short life. As a consequence chronic neglect was allowed to continue and ultimately resulted in Chloe’s death.

“State Coroner Mark Johns made it clear that the question should not just be whether a child is safe at a given point in time but also the impact of the history of the child’s care.”

Coroner Johns recommended that the Children's Protection Act 1993 be amended to clearly state that cumulative harm is a relevant factor in making decisions about the care of a child and noted that the inclusion of the words ‘cumulative harm’ in the Act must be acted on and not simply included to aid the illusion that something is being done in response to Chloe’s death.

As a consequence I have had drafted two changes to the Children’s Protection:
requiring not just the current circumstances to be taken into account when assessing “risk, harm, neglect or abuse” but also the history of the child’s care and the likely cumulative effect on the child of that history; and
that the history of the child's care and the likely cumulative effect on the child of that history be taken into account when an order is applied for.”

“These amendments will ensure social workers take into account the cumulative harm ongoing repeated neglect and abuse produce to minimise the risk to children like Chloe,” Ms Sanderson said.