DCP under fire over Aboriginal baby's death

Another kid dies because of the "stolen generation" myth. Welfare bodies are afraid to take black kids away from feral black families in case they are accused of "stealing" the kid

The [WA] Department of Child Protection has come under scrutiny over its handling of the case of a baby who died under her parents' care.

A coronial inquest has heard this week that while the DCP knew the little girl and her twin sister were at risk, it ignored requests from police and hospital staff for them to be taken into protective custody.

The seven-month-old died while sleeping next to her father at their home in Kalgoorlie in June 2008.

The cause of death was undetermined but was consistent with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The babies' father Shannon Benfield broke down in court today as he gave evidence to the inquest and said he had no idea of the risks of co-sleeping.

He said the DCP gave him no advice on caring for the babies and said co-sleeping was normal in Nyoongar culture.

Mr Benfield cared for the babies, and the couple's other young toddler, after their mother Terrilee Smith was involuntarily admitted to a mental ward after giving birth.

Mr Benfield admitted leaving the babies with two 11-year-old children on one occasion as he went to call his partner. He was arrested by police the same day and sent to jail for unpaid fines.

The DCP then facilitated an informal agreement with a relative to care for all three children.

But three months later, when Mr Benfield was released from jail and Ms Smith from hospital, a rift developed within the family and the couple took their children back.

The inquest heard that because no formal agreement had been reached, the couple were legally entitled to take the children from the temporary carers.

In his opening address on Monday, counsel assisting the coroner Sergeant Lyle Housiaux said the DPC ignored a request from police to take custody of the twins and the couple's other child.

He said the couple had a history of domestic violence and appeared unprepared to care for their children.

"It is unclear who held authority or responsibility over these children. It would appear that there was still a very real risk of harm to the children because Mr Benfield or Ms Smith could have taken the children at any time," he said.

Former DCP Kalgoorlie team leader Gabrielle Egan told the inquest this afternoon that while the department had concerns for the children, it was deemed in their best interests to leave them with family members rather than place them into care.

She said the department played a "supportive role, in the background."

Under questioning from coroner Dominic Mulligan, she admitted that formal assessment of neither the relatives nor the children's parents had been carried out.

But she said the relatives were deemed to be suitable short-term carers, and she had no idea that the couple had planned to take the children back.

Mr Benfield said he was often left confused by his interactions with the DPC, and said it would have benefited him if an Aboriginal staff member had worked with him.

"Why put my kids away when they just could have come and helped me and Terrilee," he said.


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