A magistrate has slammed government staffers for missing warning signs of neglect displayed by a little girl who was starved for months.
A magistrate has slammed government staffers for missing warning signs of neglect displayed by a little girl who was starved for months.

Neglect signs missed as little girl left to starve

A little girl was starved for months to the extent that she couldn't sit or stand up by herself, in a shocking case of ­neglect missed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The four-year-old weighed just 9.3kg when she was admitted to hospital in a "life-threatening" condition.

She had an emaciated face and limbs, "wasting" thighs and buttocks, swollen knees, dirty feet, head lice and other hallmark signs of malnutrition.

But the department missed a series of warning signs, including that she was ­allegedly starved over "many weeks to months" and only attended 15 out of a possible 100 days of kinder.

Her carer - her aunt - is due to stand trial next year accused of negligently causing serious injury.

A Victorian magistrate slammed the department, saying it shared "culpability" with the aunt for the "significant harm" done to the girl.

Now in foster care, it is understood that she has ongoing behavioural problems and feeding issues.

Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan. Picture: Nicole Garmston
Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan. Picture: Nicole Garmston

"In my opinion, the department was in breach of its duty of care," said magistrate Simon Garnett.

The case will ramp up pressure on the ­Andrews Government, as a damning ­report into Victoria's "out of home" care system is tabled to parliament today.

Child Protection Minister Luke ­Donnellan ordered an independent ­review of the case after questions were put to him by the Herald Sun yesterday.

Extra child protection workers have been hired in Gippsland since the incident. A department spokeswoman said: "This is a distressing case."

The aunt's committal hearing - held across three days in April, May and June this year - was told:

THE department failed to note any concern about the girl's health until two weeks before her admittance to hospital in February 2018, when her aunt claimed her weight loss was due to a bout of gastro.

A KINDER teacher failed to report that the girl missed dozens of kinder days and would "gorge" herself on food when she did appear.

THE girl's case worker conceded welfare reports were sometimes filed without physically sighting a child.

The girl gained 4kg in 21 days while on a "high-risk feeding" program in hospital, before adding an extra 4kg over the next month.

The committal hearing was also told that a case worker was assigned to the allegedly negligent aunt's young daughter, after her niece was hospitalised.

A home inspection in February last year found dog faeces inside, dirty sheets on the child's bed and "little amounts of food".

But the case worker found the woman had complied with "all recommendations made by the department" and there were no grounds to make a protection order on behalf of her daughter.

Magistrate Mr Garnett said in his committal decision that home visits with only a cursory check of a child were "meaningless" and a "clear breach of the duty of care owed by the department".

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"Notwithstanding the workload of Child Protection Practitioners, the regular monitoring of and supervision of carers needs to be thorough," he said.

The department has reviewed the child's case but refused to say whether the worker had been disciplined.

Mr Donnellan said the "extremely distressing case" required a "full and frank" investigation: "There's nothing more important than the safety of children, and if there are lessons here to be learnt, we will learn them."

Opposition spokesman for children and families, Nick Wakeling, said the case showed that vulnerable Victorian children were "falling through the cracks".

"It's clear that the department breached its duty of care to this vulnerable child, but the buck stops with Daniel Andrews and his minister," he said.

monique.hore@news.com.au