System and Practice Reviews - Child deaths

The death of any child about whom the department receives information under the Child Protection Act 1999 (the Act) in the one year prior to their death is subject to a review as required by the Act. Information received can range from concerns about a child being yelled at or smacked in public, left home alone or attending school without lunch to the most severe forms of child abuse and neglect.

A Systems and Practice Review is conducted in circumstances where:

  • the department was aware of alleged harm or risk of harm to the child
  • the department took action in relation to the child under the Act
  • the chief executive (Director-General) reasonably suspected the child would need protection once they were born, although they were not born at the time the suspicion arose.

Reviews are conducted by the department under Chapter 7A of the Act. The department conducts reviews internally.

The reviews do not investigate cause of death as this is the role of the Coroner, but consider the service delivery and practice that occurred in relation to the subject child under the Act with a focus on ensuring continuous improvement of service delivery, public accountability and improved outcomes for children. This includes exploring, where relevant, the department's engagement with other agencies in relation to the subject child.

Why this topic is important

Reviews are the key mechanism for in-depth analysis of the department's practice framework, systems and service delivery. The department takes its commitment seriously to ensuring openness, transparency and accountability. There is also a commitment to fostering a learning and development culture within the department in order to promote continuous improvement in practice quality. Reviews directly influence and provide important feedback into legislative reviews, development of operational policy, resources and the ongoing capability development of staff.

Amendments to the Act from 1 July 2014 changed the timeframe for a child being known to the department from three years to one year which resulted in a reduction of the numbers of deaths of children known to the department since this time.

It is important to note that the deaths of these children and young people stem from a wide range of causes, including:

  • diseases and morbid conditions
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • accidental deaths, including road fatalities and drownings
  • suicide
  • fatal assaults.

Across Queensland there has also been an increase in the general population of children aged zero to 17 years, the numbers of children becoming known to the child protection system has increased.

Key information and data regarding child deaths in Queensland, can be found in the Annual Report: Death of children and young people, Queensland published by the Queensland Family and Child Commission.

Serious physical injuries

The department also conducts a review when a serious physical injury occurs to a child that is known to the department.

The legislative definition of a serious physical injury is:

  • the loss of a distinct part or an organ of the body; or
  • serious disfigurement; or
  • any bodily injury of a nature that, if left untreated, would endanger or be likely to endanger life, or cause or be likely to cause permanent injury to health.

The term of reference for a serious physical injury review focuses on identifying whether there were any service delivery factors identified that may have helped to prevent the injury from occurring.