CHILD ABUSE FAIL
IT blunder leaves hundreds of kids at risk
DETECTIVES are racing to check on the safety of hundreds of children after a computer blunder meant more than 600 sexual abuse alerts from school principals never made it to police.
Furious Education Minister Kate Jones revealed the bungle yesterday, which occurred because a new computer system allowing principals to report directly to police was not tested before it went live in January.
Two Education Department staffers have been stood down over the scandal, which was only uncovered by chance on Thursday after a principal followed up to see how their report was handled.
“What we have seen is a failure by a departmental officer in testing the changes to the system, the system that passes on information from the Department of Education to police around suspected sexual abuse,” Ms Jones said yesterday.
Police scrambled to review more than 520 of the missing cases in just 24 hours, but declared it could be weeks before all were investigated thoroughly.
POLICE are racing to investigate more than 600 allegations of sexual abuse against Queensland children which have gone unreported for six months because of a horrific IT bungle.
The IT system, rolled out to allow principals to report abuse allegations directly to police, malfunctioned with 644 reports not received between January 22, when the system went live, and July 30 when it was picked up by a principal.
The system was implemented during the caretaker period before the January 31 poll following a recommendation from the Carmody child protection inquiry.
It allowed three levels of notification, one to police and child safety, one to child safety and one to police.
Education Minister Kate Jones said yesterday that while the first two categories worked, one category of notification – in which principals believe a child is safe and under the protection of an adult but want to ensure police are aware of the allegation – was never tested and had never worked from the start.
Principals were receiving an email informing them their complaint had been made despite it never being forwarded to police.
Ms Jones described the error as heartbreaking, with two public servants charged with implementing and testing the system already stood aside while an internal and external investigation was launched. More are expected as the investigation widens.
Police, meanwhile, are working with the department to sift through the complaints in an attempt to discover if the bungle has led to the harm of the hundreds of children involved.
“It is deeply concerning to me that this was not picked up earlier,” Ms Jones said. “More concerning to me is that you would implement changes to the One School system about the reporting of sexual abuse and then not test them.
“What we have seen is a failure by a departmental officer in testing the changes to the system, the system that passes on information from the department of education to police around suspected sexual abuse.”
Acting Assistant Commissioner Cameron Harsley said police had reviewed more than 520 reports since being made aware of their existence on Thursday afternoon.
He said it could be several weeks before all the reports were thoroughly investigated.
“I am confident that there is only a minimal amount of children that may have been placed at risk,” he said.
“The reports will range from a child that is exhibiting a sexualised behaviour, and the principal in his own mind will think or talk to the parent or make an assessment that the child is not at an immediate risk but it needs further investigation.
“That’s at the lower end, where the principal rightly makes a suspicion in his mind and thinks the police need to conduct an investigation.”
Mr Harsley said police had put in place a number of measures to help ensure any child found to have been placed at risk was identified and helped.
“Those that have been identified that are at risk or at immediate risk at the moment, there will be a safety plan that will be put in place with the police and other agencies that will ensure the safety of those children.”
Ms Jones could not explain why the error took six months to uncover, nor could she guarantee no child had been harmed as a result. But she said she hoped the investigations would reveal the facts.
Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said child protection was the number one issue for teachers and principals.
“If any child has been left in an unsafe situation because of that then it’s obviously something that would cause all teachers and principals and members of the community great concern,” he said.
“We would be hopeful that investigation will come up with a set of recommendations to make sure this significant failure by systems won’t happen again.”
The LNP was in government when the system was implemented. Opposition education spokesman Tim Mander questioned why the error was not picked up sooner. “For this IT failure to have gone undetected for six months is deeply concerning,” he said.
EDUCATION Minister Kate Jones yesterday described a malfunctioning database that left more than 600 reports of potential child abuse in limbo as a “system failure”.
Epic failure would have been a better choice of words.
This is not to sheet the blame home to a clearly angry and distressed Ms Jones, but rather reflects the disbelief most Queenslanders would feel to learn that such a sensitive system would apparently go live without first being tested.
It simply beggars belief that 644 reports to police from concerned state school principals – most of them relating to possible sexual abuse of children – basically slipped through the cracks. The “glitch” was only discovered after one concerned principal followed up an earlier complaint.
The bottom line is that hundreds of Queensland children have been left at risk, as allegations of abuse sat unnoticed in the ether gathering electronic dust.
Basic common sense would dictate that when you install new software or operating systems, the process is checked and rechecked to ensure everything is functioning properly before you go live. That common sense was clearly absent.
Such rudimentary reasoning should already be etched deeply into the minds of all Queensland senior bureaucrats in the wake of the Queensland Health payroll debacle, a bungled information technology upgrade that is now costing an estimated $1.2 billion to fix, and was itself the subject of a detailed and damning inquiry.
Right now, this is not about politics or playing the blame game. In fact, Ms Jones was not even a member of parliament, let alone the responsible minister, when the system went live on January 22 this year during the caretaker period preceding the Queensland election.
It is, however, all about getting to the bottom of the bungle; ascertaining just how so basic a process could be so badly stuffed up, and why it took six months to discover that the system was not working.
To cut to the core, the wellbeing of possibly hundreds of Queensland children has been endangered through monumental incompetence.
Firstly, the system – a key recommendation of the Carmody Inquiry into child protection – must be fixed.
Secondly, all the allegations that have been left unattended must be investigated, and investigated thoroughly, as a matter of priority. There are, quite literally, young lives at stake in this equation.
After the interests of those most vulnerable have been served, then we might think about recriminations for what is inexcusable mismanagement.
Just how many examples of administrative incompetence, neglect and waste – and how many inquiries into the mess such fiascos leave behind – does it take?
Education Minister Kate Jones (left) is demanding to know how the error occurred; child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnston