Shock reason for troubled teen’s train trips
AN in-care youth costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars was allowed to hop on trains to the Gold Coast "every day" so he could "score" drugs off his mother.
Explosive recordings, case notes and interviews from a child care whistleblower reveal the boy, 14, would be dropped off at a Brisbane train station by carers and return home "high" on marijuana because "that's the best time to work with them".
The Gold Coast Bulletin can reveal the youth, being cared for by employees of State Government contractor ProCare Australia, received supervised support 24 hours a day while staying in a Brisbane motel. He is one of dozens of in-care teens in southeast Queensland each costing taxpayers thousands of dollars every week.
Audio from a meeting on September 17 between three ProCare Australia employees - including a supervisor and youth worker - and the whistleblower, a new recruit at ProCare himself, reveals the youth would organise hits with his mother "about 1am or something", travel down on his own "about 3pm" and then return to Brisbane. "The latest he's got back is 7pm from the Coast. He's always reasonably good."
The whistleblower says he was sacked by ProCare Australia days later after noting the boy's behaviour in case notes, which he also emailed to the Department of Child Safety (DOCS).
He later sent a recording of the September 17 meeting to both ProCare Australia and DOCS. (See their responses right.)
During the meeting, the child's needs, behaviours and background is discussed. It is then revealed the teenager knowingly travels to the Gold Coast from Roma Street Station every day to "score" drugs off his mother.
The ProCare superior and the youth worker who had been looking after the child even joke about how easy he is to deal with when he is high.
"He does tend to go down the Coast every day and that will, ah, to be to, um, we believe that he probably, ah, probably goes down there to, ah, ah, um," the youth worker says.
A senior member of ProCare then says to "score off his mum".
The youth worker continues: "Yeah, exactly. OK, because he is obsessive … what (name of caseworker) had said, the child safety officer, has said he has got so obsessive about thinking that he needs it, that it has become quite a thing for him."
The whistleblower can be heard in the background asking the processes of allowing the youth to get drugs off his mother. His question is not answered.
"So if he doesn't get his little bit of smoke every day, which he says himself he needs to self-medicate, he gets very, very irritable and so he has been getting on a train, and I've actually dropped him down a couple of times recently, because he has been sick," the youth worker says.
"But he's getting better now, so that won't be happening. He's not that crook at the moment. It's really a matter of meeting his needs as consistently as we can and that's provided him a sense of security."
The conversation then turns to more of the behaviours the teenager has displayed, before shifting to whether the teen is allowed to see his mother. The more senior staff member says: "Just for transparency, (child's name) is allowed to go see his mum, so (child's name) is on a reunification order, which means that the department has no evidence that's actually a toxic relationship for him. We can't prevent him and we shouldn't prevent him from going there.
"The deal, or the compromise, because mum lives on the Coast and (child's name) asked specifically to stay away from the Coast, because he feels like he is in a lot of danger, with the people that he is maybe now starting to get in touch with again.
"The compromise, rather than driving him to the Coast and picking him up every day, is that we drop him at the train station, to give him some of that control."
The whistleblower then asks whether the child has a Go Card and if it has money on it. "As far as we know," the youth worker says. "I've been told he has a Go Card. He tells me he jumps trains, and I asked (caseworker) twice and apparently he has got a Go Card."
When the whistleblower asks when the youth goes to the Coast, he is told it could be any time.
"He's starting to get later and later with his sleep pattern at nights," the youth worker says. "He won't emerge from his cave until about 11am, he'll wake up and he would have organised on the phone the night before about 1am or something, the time when his mother is able to meet him. That will be something like about 3pm. The latest he's got back is 7pm from the Coast. He's always reasonably good."
The more senior staff member chips in: "Well, he's high, that's the best time to work with them. They just want to chill out and watch movies and eat whatever's in the fridge."
The youth worker goes on to explain the child is difficult when he is coming off the drugs.
"It's when he's coming down that he gets a bit irritable, and, ah, and he gets it into his head that he can't handle that, uh, that irritability and he goes off his head. We only had that on the second or third night, he's been pretty good and reasonably stable."
Under the impression this was normal and tolerated by the ProCare Australia and DOCS, the whistleblower told the Bulletin he took the boy into his care after the meeting on September 17 and travelled with him to the Gold Coast to see his mother.
"Honestly, on the way down there, I was thinking 'what am I doing, why are we doing this?'. I totally disagreed with what was happening.
"When I first heard them talking about it, my jaw dropped, I couldn't believe it. It was ridiculous.
"Then I thought about what I had dealt with in the prior four weeks and I thought, maybe it's not too much of a stretch that they (DOCS) were okaying this.
"But at the end of the day, I trusted the guy, I trusted him that this was OK. I got fired because of it.
"I just want to help kids. I come from a bad background myself. I was never in the system, but I know what it's like, I grew up and matured and recovered, but that's why I've got the heart to work with people that are in these sort of situations.
"To think that my name is in question, it makes me sick. It's not who I am. It's not something I would do knowing it was wrong, I just trusted these people."
He said after the shift ended he wrote up his case notes from the night. They included him travelling to the Gold Coast with the teen to visit his mother and that the youth got marijuana.
Two days later, on September 19, while he was with another child, the whistleblower says he received a phone call from a team leader at ProCare Australia. He says he was told that he would be replaced on that shift and would be told why the following Monday.
He was fired.
That afternoon he says he sent an email to his team leader at ProCare Australia and to the DOCS caseworker with the recording of the meeting of the September 17. He says he tried to explain that what he had done had been okayed.
"I was struggling to realise why it would come up now, because they had been looking after this kid for four weeks.
"This (going to see his mother on the Coast) was common practice for this kid. I trusted that what these people were telling me was OK. I sent the recording to people at Procare Australia and DOCS.
"I got off the phone to (the ProCare team leader) when she told me that I'd lost my job. I was trying to tell her the day that I had met her (September 17), the recording was taking place, they were telling me all of this information, so I just went and did what was already happening.
"So on the Monday afternoon, when I realised I had it recorded, I rang the team leader back and told her I had the recording of what was said. I emailed it to the DOCS worker and the team leader.
"The only conclusion I can come to is that this has been going on for the weeks beforehand and I was the only one who reported it. If they had reported it before I wrote it in those notes, it would have already been found out and dealt with otherwise."
* If you know more about kids in residential care, contact Chris McMahon at email@example.com
PROCARE AUSTRALIA RESPONSE TO BULLETIN QUESTIONS
1. Has Procare Australia investigated the handling of the 14-year-old boy who is the topic of the recording?
2. If so, what were the findings?
PROCARE: Questions 1 and 2 are not valid as ProCare Australia do not hold decision making powers in relation to the young person.
3. Is Procare Australia concerned about the handling of this child?
PROCARE: Question 3 is also not valid as ProCare Australia do not hold decision making powers in relation to the young people serviced.
4. Has Procare Australia reviewed the other children that youth workers have been in contact with to ensure nothing of this nature has happened to another child?
PROCARE: Question 4 is not valid as Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women's Services hold responsibility for the young people and ProCare Australia hold no decision making powers.
5. The employee who made the recording and was subsequently fired over this incident, has said he was only doing what he considered regular behaviour, as recorded, and made sure to make note of it in the case notes he sent to the DOCS case worker to show what was going on. Was it fair for him to be fired for doing what, someone he considered a superior and another youth worker, joked about and made out was OK behaviour?
PROCARE: Question 5 The actions taken i.e. assisting a minor to obtain drugs is a criminal offence and a full breach of the Candidate Employment Contract with ProCare Australia, which clearly states, "This Agreement may be terminated by ProCare Australia without notice where the Candidate: (b) Is guilty of any serious or wilful misconduct or wilful neglect when discharging the candidates duties to ProCare Australia or its clients for whom the candidate performs any work."
6. Has Procare Australia been in contact with DOCS about this incident, if so are they investigating?
PROCARE: The Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women's Services contacted ProCare Australia initially requesting further information about the incident. This was followed up immediately and no further correspondence relating to this matter has been received to date.
7. What oversight is there of youth workers employed by Procare Australia, to ensure things like this don't happen?
PROCARE: In Queensland, ProCare Australia abides by the Minimum Qualification Standards for all residential care staff as directed by the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women. Additionally registration with ProCare Australia requires sector related experience and the support of two current references, first aid and CPR qualifications.
ProCare Australia will not be making any further comment and will take legal advice if this is taken further.
THE TRUE COST OF KIDS IN CARE
TAXPAYERS are being slugged thousands upon thousands of dollars every week, for each children in care, as profit-hungry agencies chase highly sort after contracts under the watch of Child Safety.
The Bulletin has previously reported the resi-care racket, in which providers are charging the Government up to $1.4 million a year to look after one child.
At the time, we reported it was costing anywhere from $450,000 to $600,000 every year for each of the hundreds of southeast Queensland children deemed too vulnerable to be placed in foster care.
It is believed the cost of those staying in motels, with 24-hour supervision, is much higher as agencies grapple to win the lucrative contracts.
Bulletin investigations into the industry revealed Gold Coast teenagers complained they were physically and sexually abused and going without food. Their carers said they were underpaid and working marathon shifts.
Police said they were dealing with increasing call-outs, as "resi-care" kids shifted from Logan to the Coast go missing or steal money to feed themselves. Some in frustration retaliate by smashing homes and the cars of carers.
A police source knew of an agency worker who boasted about how to fleece the system.
"There's no reconciliation. You submit you have 100 kids and cost it out - that's where your money goes. The carer will get funding per month. Then they will look at getting two-for-one pizzas and pocket the rest," the source said.
The Bulletin investigation also uncovered:
• A Logan girl is costing $1.4 million a year in care; another on the Coast $1.2 million.
• Child Safety is investigating a complaint from teenage boys alleging one of them was thrown against a wall by a carer during a dispute.
• A teenager wanted to "end it all" after 28 placements since the age of two and faces life on the streets after a dispute with carers.
• Photographs show empty shelves in fridges, and texts from carers tell children to go get a job to feed themselves.
• Carers are working a 128-hour fortnight as agencies cut staff.
The Opposition has called for an overhaul of the system and an investigation into this latest case.
"I am appalled that Labor is effectively sanctioning the taking of illegal drugs by our most vulnerable kids," Gold Coast LNP MP Ros Bates.
"I call on Child Safety Minister Di Farmer to ensure her department fully reviews this case.
"Annastacia Palaszczuk needs to explain why her child safety department is turning a blind eye to kids in care taking drugs.
"The child safety system should be helping these kids get off drugs and clean up their lives, not facilitating it.
"It's another sign of a child safety system in crisis under Labor."
Minister Di Farmer referred the Bulletin's questions to DOCS.
BULLETIN QUESTIONS TO DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SAFETY, YOUTH AND WOMEN (DOCS) AND MINISTER DI FARMER
1. Has DOCS launched an investigation into Procare Australia, after a child was allowed to, over a period of approximately five weeks, go and "score drugs" off his mother on the Gold Coast while he was under the watch of ProCare Australia employees?
2. Has management listened to a recording sent to DOCS by an employee from ProCare after he was fired because of his involvement in the above mentioned incidents?
3. The employee wrote in case notes, given to a Mermaid Beach DOCS caseworker, about the child and how he was going down to score drugs off his mother. Have DOCS reviewed those case notes?
4. In this recording, the new employee is being briefed on the child, when senior staff joke about the child going to score drugs off his mother, and say that it is fine for the child to have contact with his mother. After the shift ended the employee wrote in the case notes about the child's meeting with his mother, as he felt uneasy about the incident. It is understood it had been an ongoing thing before this new employee worked his first shift with this child. Did DOCS report the case notes to ProCare Australia and reveal the whistleblower's identity?
5. Does ProCare Australia currently have any children in their care?
6. Is there a review underway into all the children ProCare Australia have had in their care to make sure this hasn't happened previously or is currently happening?
7. Is the 14-year-old child still in care of ProCare Australia or has he been placed into a residential care service?
8. Has the Minister been briefed about this incident?
9. Are there any other cases of a similar nature under investigation?
WHAT DOCS SAID
Under the Child Protection Act 1999, the department cannot comment on individual cases.
The safety and wellbeing of all children in care is our highest priority.
Any concerns raised with us are taken seriously and looked into, and appropriate action is taken.
The vast majority of youth workers work hard to keep children known to the department safe.
The department expects organisations we contract to undertake activities to meet high standards.
If we receive concerns that any contracted organisations are not meeting those high standards, the department works with those organisations to ensure appropriate action is taken.
Minister Farmer referred questions to DOCS.