Abandoned children in a northern Goldfields town are left to fend for themselves and forced to beg for food and money, according to a leaked Government report.
The report, from the Goldfields-Esperance Development Commission and obtained by The Weekend West yesterday, claims “increasing incidences” of children being left for days in the town of Laverton, about 950km north-east of Perth, and exposed to “significant personal safety risk”.
“Abandoned children are brought to Laverton by their families from the Lands communities and are left behind when their families or relatives continue on to Kalgoorlie, to be collected, in most cases, on the journey back home,” the report said.
“The amount of time that these children are left unsupervised in Laverton varies from days to weeks. Many of the children display evidence of poor health and hygiene, with many infested with lice and have little or no clothing.”
The report also claimed that girls as young as 12 were selling themselves for sex, that there were extreme cases of domestic violence and of severe child neglect.
It also claimed a young boy and girl, believed to be aged between six and nine, lived at the local rubbish tip for several weeks last year.
A Department of Indigenous Affairs spokesman said the rubbish tip claim could not be verified.
Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls yesterday ordered an urgent briefing on the report, given to his office in January.
A Laverton resident who has acted as an unofficial foster carer, Regina Sullivan, said that while she believed the report over-stated the problem, she had cared for “a lot” of abandoned children, the most recent in April.
Ms Sullivan, who works for the local patrol and has lobbied for a children’s safe house in the town, said it was a seasonal problem that happened mainly between December and February.
“This is when people from those areas come to Laverton for a holiday and get involved in drinking and they leave their children, who have nowhere to go,” she said.
A Department of Child Protection spokesman questioned the credibility of the report, written by a senior project officer based in Leonora, saying it was not official.
“The department has been working on some of the issues as far back as 2010 and has many initiatives in Laverton, including joint operations with WA Police,” he said.
“The department has not received any reports of abandoned children in Laverton.
“At times children may be placed in the care of extended family when families travel to other locations for various reasons such as funerals or medical treatment.
“On occasion, the department has assisted to return children to their family when family arrangements breakdown or financial assistance is required.”
Upper House MP Helen Bullock, who attended an inter-agency meeting in the town last week, said the report was depressing.
“The fact that some parents can mistreat their children in such an appalling way saddened me a great deal,” she said. “But the fact that there was no action taken by the government shows that they acted no better than those parents.”
The report claimed that “in effect, there is no lead agency in the Laverton region that is able, or prepared, to accept responsibility for this issue”.
~ Natasha Boddy, Meera Nambiar and Rania Spooner, The West Australian June 4, 2011, 2:55 am