The Royal Commission’s report of Case Study 30 – The response of Turana, Winlaton and Baltara, Victoria Police and the Department of Health and Human Services to allegations of child sexual abuse – was released today.
The report follows a public hearing held in Melbourne in August 2015 which examined the response of the Turana Youth Training Centre, Winlaton Youth Training Centre for girls and young women and the Baltara Youth Training Centre to complaints of child sexual abuse.
The Royal Commission heard evidence from 13 former residents of Turana, Winlaton and Baltara, who described the sexual abuse they experienced at the hands of staff members, social workers and other residents. It also heard evidence from one witness who was subjected to sexual abuse by her father while a resident at Winlaton. When some survivors reported the sexual abuse at the time it was occurring, they were not believed or were punished for speaking out.
The Commissioners found that at the Turana, Winlaton and Baltara institutions:
There was an absence of checks to ensure staff members were qualified, experienced and equipped to care for children.
A lack of training left staff ill-equipped to recognise the risk of sexual abuse of residents or respond effectively to their complaints.
The culture among some mid-level staff prevented reports of sexual abuse of residents being passed on to senior management, and subsequently to police.
Social workers employed to visit and work with residents and their families did not prevent sexual abuse from occurring, or facilitate the reporting of sexual abuse.
In some cases children admitted as wards of the Department were placed with juvenile offenders, increasing the risk of sexual abuse among residents.
Supervision of residents was inadequate to keep them safe from sexual abuse, particularly at night.
Punishment, such as the placement of some residents in solitary confinement, and the methods of control used by some staff were cruel, dehumanising and degrading.
Department of Health and Human Services
The Royal Commission also investigated the response of the Department of Health and Human Services (and its relevant predecessors) which had oversight of the state-run Turana, Winlaton and Baltara institutions and the response by officers of the Victoria Police to complaints of child sexual abuse.
The Commissioners found that the Department of Health and Human Services (and its relevant predecessors) failed in its duty of care to protect vulnerable children who were placed in its institutions during the 1960s to early 1990s from sexual abuse.
At the public hearing, the Secretary of the Department apologised on behalf of the State of Victoria to former residents who experienced abuse at its institutions and acknowledged the failure of its institutions and policies led to, or compounded, the sexual abuse.
The Royal Commission heard that various child protection policy changes have since been implemented at youth justice centres in Victoria, including recruitment checks, increased supervision, specialised training for staff in recognising sexual abuse, and the separation of juvenile offenders from wards of the state.
The Commissioners also found that before 2004 members of the Victoria Police were not adequately trained to recognise, understand or respond to child sexual abuse and that many responses to such reports were entirely unsatisfactory.
The Royal Commission heard that in recent years efforts had been made to improve relations between Victoria Police and youth justice centres and to improve the police response to, and investigation of, sexual offences.
Read the full report.