The New South Wales State Government Officials (Or: All O.K. Now, Again)


Image: Maree Walk, Chief Executive of the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services, who oversees an annual budget of $1.6 billion. (Source: News Limited

Maree Walk, head of the NSW government department of communities which was responsible for monitoring Larkins, came to the job in 2011 from the Benevolent Society (see previous posting). At present, the management of about 12,000 children in statutory (court-ordered) foster care, and all new entrants, is being moved in stages from Community Services to non-government agencies, such as the Benevolent Society.

Ms. Walk would do well as a church spokesperson on abuse. She followed all of the standard excuses and platitudes. There were the belated admissions, and statements of how things were so much better since then.

She deeply regretted the “inappropriate administrative error” concerning Larkins. Further, “Community Services deeply regrets the mistake and . . . wishes to express its deep regret for this action and understands that this error had very serious outcomes for children.”

Concerning the stuff-up of advising only Larkins, and not his management committee of concerns about him, Ms. Walk confirmed that,” It had been wrong to deal directly with him over the assessment and not with the management committee who oversaw the organisation.”

Following Larkins’ arrest, Ms. Walk assured the enquiry that “the six young people who had been placed in the care of Larkins by the Children’s Court had all been spoken to and their safety assured.” She emphasized that the system by which principal officers were given custody of children had been tightened in the past two years and would now “raise a flag on someone like Larkins.”

Ms. Walk is well aware of the value of the terms “in hindsight” and “attitudes at the time” in justifying past actions. She noted that the Larkins case “reflected the practice of the day in which principal officers of out-of-home care organisations, such as Larkins, would be allocated parental responsibility if they were deemed suitable. This was particularly the case for Aboriginal organisations.”

For the matter of Larkins being granted parental responsibility for the children, Ms. Walk told the enquiry that departmental officers were “following protocol” but that  they “did not do additional checks on that particular person to see if he was a suitable officer”.

Finally, she came to the core of her attitude when she declared that “In hindsight, even looking at the form, when you see the name of the person, name of the applicant and the name of the contact – and all three are the same name. It was clearly an error to only rely on one contact in an agency.”

When it was her turn to front the enquiry, the Commissioner for Young People, Kerryn Boland, took the lead from Ms. Walk. The issue was how the commissioner had removed Larkins “moderate risk” assessment giving him “effectively a clean slate”.

Ms. Boland reported that, “at the time”, there were no formal rules dictating how such reviews should be conducted. As a result, officers from her office simply spoke to the “highly articulate” Larkins directly, allowing him a significant and inappropriate degree of influence over the review process. He told them he was not in fact working closely with young people, providing them with a false statutory declaration and a forged letter to back up this claim.

The officers accepted these documents – which “appear not to have been checked” – and determined that Larkins did not need a working-with-children check. They then withdrew the medium-risk assessment.

It was admitted by Ms. Boland that all of this was contrary to policy at the time and she could not explain how it happened. In a statement to the commission, Ms Boland agreed with the Ombudsman’s findings that the process had been bungled. “I agree with the Ombudsman’s findings that allowing a person to be directly involved in their own working-with-children check . . . could enable a person to inappropriately influence their own check, which is what occurred with Mr Larkins,” the statement read.

Ms. Boland then said that the system of checks, which assess an individual’s history of reported inappropriate behaviour with children, recently had “been overhauled.” They are now really, really, really, really good and could be trusted. Scouts honour.

Read more here:

TOMORROW: The first week’s overview

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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