Sunday, 24 October 2010

SIDS: Australia: How to improve the statistics - fix the books

BUREAUCRATS have erased the deaths of 38 children from NSW's shameful reviewable death records by changing the definition of "known to DOCS".
The children all died last year and each of them, or their siblings, had been reported to the Department of Community Services in the three years leading up to their deaths. But their cases will no longer be reviewed by the NSW Ombudsman.
Community Services spokeswoman Linda Burney wrote in government documents released this week that, because the "definition was changed", the deaths of the 38 children "will not be classified as "known to Community Services".
For 33 of the children, DOCS workers had made only phone calls and requests for information before deciding the youngsters were not at risk of harm.
In the other five cases, DOCS said "no information was held which established any need for intervention".
A total of 147 children "known to DOCS" died last year - but, under the new definition, only 109 will be recorded. "They have, overnight and by definition, reduced the number of reportable deaths by a third," Opposition community services spokeswoman Pru Goward said.
"It makes the Government look better, they can say their reforms are working.
"The problem is if they had done an assessment and it has shown the child isn't at risk of harm and then not following up when the child is dead within 12 months of that assessment, they're not making sure their assessments are good enough."
Another 19 children died after Ms Burney said their "cases were closed without response even though it was not known whether intervention might have been required". Six died of illness, six were killed in car accidents, three babies died of sudden infant death syndrome and one young person suicided without receiving any help.
A spokeswoman for Ms Burney confirmed the definition change but said it was based on a recommendation by Justice James Wood in a Special Commission of Inquiry into child protection earlier this year.
"A child's death is no longer reviewed by the Ombudsman simply because they or their sibling was notified to Community Services at some point within the previous three years," she said

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