Sunday, July 01, 2007

A "forgotten" rape of a child

Is there ANYTHING bureaucrats care about other than themselves? Don't answer. I know there's not. They need sanctions to hit them when they are neglectful but I cannot see it happening

Sexual abuse charges are expected to be laid and reforms introduced in Queensland's Child Safety Department over the mishandling of rape allegations involving a 12-year-old indigenous girl. Queensland Child Safety Minister Desley Boyle this month ordered an internal review after The Australian revealed that the rape allegations, made last August, had not been investigated by police and that the girl had not received abuse counselling. It has since emerged that the girl has been put on antidepressants after several suicide attempts.

The Beattie Government is refusing to release a report from the internal review into the failure of Queensland police and child safety officers to investigate the alleged rape. A spokesman for Ms Doyle said the report could not be made public because of "privacy provisions" under the Child Protection Act. Sources said the report confirmed that no investigation had been launched into the rape allegations and that police and department caseworkers were blaming each other for the inaction.

The report says a departmental caseworker had telephoned police with the abuse allegation in August, when the child was removed from her community and put into protective custody. But the department-appointed case-workers, who act as the girl's legal guardians, failed to follow up the complaint to police until this month, when The Australian began investigating, and despite repeated complaints by her day-to-day carers.

Police last night issued a statement saying the department did not notify them of any allegation. Police launched an investigation into the alleged rape after the case was made public. It has since been finalised and it is understood charges will be laid. "Given the sexual nature of the alleged offences and the fact a child is at the centre of this matter, it would be inappropriate to comment further," the statement said.

The department report dismissed claims by the girl, and contained in complaints to the department by her carers, that her general therapist was related to one of the alleged rapists. It is believed Ms Boyle is now proposing reforms over the handling of sexual abuse complaints made by children. Included in the proposals, yet to receive the backing of Police Minister Judy Spence, are that all child safety complaints to police will have to be in writing and logged. The girl has alleged she was raped by several men during "chroming" (chemical sniffing) sessions.

The above story by Michael McKenna appeared in "The Australian" on June 30, 2007

Wilful neglect by government "child welfare" agency kills another little kid

In August 1993, a little boy - John Ashfield, aged 6 - was beaten to death with a hammer to his head. His mother, Gunn-Britt Ashfield, then 25, led the assault; her boyfriend, Austin Allan Hughes, then 20, was a keen participant. According to evidence presented to court in December 1993, Ashfield became enraged when she heard that John, who was in Year 1 at East Nowra primary school on the NSW south coast, touched his three-year-old sister in an inappropriate way. Her boyfriend agreed the boy could not be allowed to "get away with it". He didn't. Less than 24 hours later he died in Shoalhaven Hospital, his tiny body covered in more than 100 bruises from his parents's savage beating -- a beating that ended with Hughes putting the Nowra telephone book against John's head, and hitting him with a hammer.

They were each sentenced to 21 years in jail, reduced to 19 years on appeal, with a minimum of 14 years. Next Thursday, 14 years since she beat John to death, his mother, who has changed her name in prison and now calls herself Anjelic Karstrom, will apply for parole. Hughes has also applied for parole. His case will also be heard next Thursday.

In 2004, the NSW Parliament passed laws that made it an offence for media outlets to publish the name of a dead child who had been the victim of a crime, no matter what the circumstances. This law prevented The Weekend Australian from printing this story, ostensibly to protect the victim, John. The newspaper's parent company, News Limited, backed by groups including the NSW Homicide Victims Support Group, and the Victims of Crime Assistance League, has lobbied against this law since it was enacted, believing that it protects only the killers from being identified.

On Thursday night, the NSW Parliament passed a bill amending the law, making publication permissible in some circumstances, such as if the next of kin agrees. The changes come into effect next Wednesday.

John's sister Melissa, 17, does not want her mother released. "I have not seen my mother since I was 11," she said. "The last time I saw her (in prison) I pulled her hair and slapped her. I have flashbacks to what happened. She tried to blame me. She tried to get us to help her bash John. She tried to say that John touched me. He never touched me."

Melissa says she remembers the day John was beaten, "clear as anything". When he swang in from school that day, August 5, Hughes confronted him in the kitchen. He told police he kicked John on the bottom with the side of his foot "the way you kick a soccer ball", slapped him around the head and sent him to his room. But that was not the end of it: Ashfield and Hughes decided John needed to be taught a lesson. They went into his bedroom and started beating him. A frenzy soon developed: they punched him with their fists, and beat him with the white aluminium rod that held up a curtain. John was sobbing: "I'm really sorry, don't do this to me, I'm sore, I'm sorry." Hughes mocked him, saying: "You scream like a little girl." When John continued to sob, Hughes took a girl's dress out of the cupboard and shoved it over the crying boy's head, forcing his arms through the sleeves. "He started crying and carrying on," Hughes would later say, in a statement to police. "He was crying: 'Get it off, get it off, I'm not a girl'."

Death came slowly: Ashfield would later tell police that Hughes had put the phone book against John's head, and repeatedly beat him with a hammer, until John was limp and dazed, unable to sit up on the bed. When it became apparent that John had lost consciousness, his mother dunked him under a cold shower, then a hot shower. Several hours passed before Ashfield took her son to Shoalhaven Hospital. In the meantime, she told her other children to tell police John had been beaten by a gang of teenagers while walking through a park. Her oldest boy, then aged eight, went on national television to back up the story. In a shaky voice, he said: "We were going to buy milk and bread when four boys said, 'Come here. We want to bash you up'."

The story was never going to stack up: John was cold and bleeding from the nostrils when he was airlifted to Westmead hospital in Sydney. Doctor Barry Wilkins would later tell the court he had more than 100 different coloured bruises, suggesting "repeated, non-accidental beating". His small hands were swollen and bruised, which suggested he had "attempted to fend off an assault". He had suffered a very serious brain injury. John died the next day, Friday, August 6, 1993. His mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder shortly afterwards.

On the day of John's funeral, his natural father, Brian Ashfield, wailed over the white coffin. Brian is now dead but he told reporters at the time of his son's murder that he had warned the NSW Department of Community Services that his wife was violent, and that she intended to hurt the children. In fact, DoCS had about 35 notifications that all was not well at Ashfield's home. Ashfield asked DoCS to take the kids away from her, saying she "felt violent" towards them.

Melissa's life since her brother was killed has been chaotic: she was fostered into the care of DoCS after her mother went to prison but ran away at 11. She bounced around foster homes, and was briefly placed in a nunnery in Grafton, until she fell pregnant at 16, and lost the baby. She admits to "drinking alcohol, doing crazy stuff" to deal with anger and grief but is trying to steady her path. She now lives with her boyfriend, Jason, 33, and is in counselling.

John's uncle, Andrew Ashfield, said the law banning publication of John's story had "protected the people who killed him, and the social workers who let it happen". "DoCS knew that she was violent, and knew that she was troubled," he said. "But they didn't take the kids until after she killed one of them." Wendy Campbell, who was Brian's fiance at the time of John's death, wants the case to get media attention because she "promised Brian, if they ever apply for parole, I will be there, and I will stop it".


Failure is an essential part of learning

The denial of failure in classrooms leads to lower expectations among teachers and reduces the intellectual challenge to students

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into academic standards of school education, the Council of Professional Teachers of Victoria argues that failure is part of the learning process, and claims it is missing in the 21st-century classroom. The council defends teachers against charges that the profession is the cause of any perceived decline in standards, saying the constant change in curriculum and pedagogies compromises the quality of teaching.

"Teach, from an early age, that some failure can be formative," the submission says. "Failure can help to develop resilience. Do not endorse inadequate effort. Encourage self-knowledge for the most effective teaching and learning strategies. This must be the very essence of community teaching."

The council is the peak body representing more than 40 professional teaching associations with more than 30,000 members in Victoria. After appearing before the Senate inquiry this week, the council's executive officer Olwyn Gray said students were being let down by the lack of intellectual challenge in their classrooms, and that the notion of intellectual risk was increasingly foreign to parents and students.

Ms Gray said students had an expectation they would always succeed, which was not how the real world worked. "Life isn't a level playing field. I don't want to condemn children to an underclass of underachievers but they need to strive, to say I did well this time and this is the next hurdle," she said. "If teachers work successfully with students who fail a particular task, you're helping these children develop resilience. "When a child fails, they go back and say, 'OK, I'll try another tack', and find they learn better a certain way. With a stronger degree of self-knowledge brought about by failure, you're not so depressed when you can't do something; you go back with resilience and it helps you take further intellectual risks."

Ms Gray said Australian students performed well on international assessments of competence in different subjects, but did less well in tests placing greater emphasis on rote learning, particularly compared with their counterparts in Asia.

So many reforms were imposed on teachers, she said, and these were often viewed as being change for change's sake and left no time for teachers to contemplate and refine what they did: "Teachers are just reeling from it -- you get used to the vocabulary and methodology of one thing and then you're on to the next. People get cynical."

Ms Gray said her belief was that the problem started in teacher training courses, which were too theoretical, emphasising different theories of learning rather than providing a range of strategies for different students. "Teachers need to learn a variety of methods for a variety of students because students learn in different ways," she said. "Rote learning is one way -- you need to learn phonic combinations of letters and sounds that way, and the times tables. "But they're the basics, just building blocks."


Public dentistry meltdown in NSW

THE true extent of the state's dental crisis can be revealed for the first time today, with figures showing a backlog of almost 200,000 people awaiting treatment. Of those, more than 45,000 are children living with tooth decay and oral disease so severe it could turn life-threatening. Exclusive waiting figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph show for the first time our decaying dental health industry. This is the first time in three years the data has been revealed and it shows on May 31 there were 178,876 waiting in NSW for dentistry, including 45,339 children. At one Sydney hospital, almost 60 patients were treated for dental infections so severe their airways were closed off.

The growing list reveals a country in crisis, with new Medicare data showing the federal dental scheme for people with chronic diseases has had poor uptake. Despite 650,000 Australians awaiting dental treatment, only 4027 in NSW have accessed the scheme in three years.

Federal Opposition health spokeswoman Nicola Roxon said: "This is more evidence that the Government is investing in the wrong area with dental health." A spokeswoman for federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said the project would pick up later in the year when new money from a Budget announcement of $378 million takes effect.

But Association for the Promotion of Oral Health chairman Hans Zoellner said the scheme was "a waste of money" and was flawed because it relied on a complicated referral system. "Government has increased funding but we think the medical barriers to getting to the funding are too high and that is a big mistake." Dr Zoellner said the high number in NSW awaiting treatment is creating a generation whose preventable dental decay is turning into chronic, life-threatening illness.

The Daily Telegraph understands up to 60 patients have been treated at Westmead Hospital this year with dental infections so severe their airways became closed. New research from The Australian Consumers Association released yesterday revealed 30 per cent of adults avoided dental care because of the cost, one quarter had untreated tooth decay and more than 20 per cent had moderate to severe gum disease.

And with recent medical studies showing poor oral health is a contributor to conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, families across the country are now turning to charities for help. Armidale toddler Mark Schumacher was unable to eat and was living in pain and discomfort because the three-year-old's tooth enamel had worn away. Faced with a wait of up to 15 months for surgery, his mother Tracy pleaded for help and a local dentist did the procedure for free. "His four top teeth had no enamel and he wasn't eating - now we can't stop him eating," his relieved father told The Daily Telegraph. "He's eating fruit and everything now -- he was barely eating at all before."


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