‘She did not get a chance’: Mother seeks answers on teen’s death after leaving care home

A Victorian mother who says she found out on social media that her daughter had died is pleading for answers from the state after it was revealed the teenager walked from a residential care home during coronavirus restrictions following a string of documented suicide attempts.

The 17-year-old Indigenous girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was in the care of the state when she was reported missing last month and a post was placed on a police social media account.

The teenager’s mother says it was a further three weeks until she was contacted by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, which was charged with caring for the Wemba Wemba girl.

“She did not belong in a group home, she belonged with her family, with her culture, where she fitted in. My daughter was very alone trying to survive as a young girl in this white world,” the mother said. “She just did not get a chance.”

The State Coroner’s office will investigate the teenager’s death after it was revealed she had made six previous attempts on her life before she died in an abandoned government building in July.

On Monday a directions hearing at the Coroners Court of Victoria heard that on the day the girl was reported missing, she left her residential care home during lockdown restrictions at 4.30pm before texting a carer at 5.37pm to say she couldn’t “do it any more”.

At 6.57pm a carer contacted the local police station to report the teen missing. The girl was found dead at 10.30pm.

Coroner Simon McGregor said he planned to investigate what care and mental health support was provided to the girl, in the hope of identifying avenues for change.

“I’d like to understand the care background for [the girl], her medical treatment background and of course what happened on the night in question,” he said.

“We all know we can’t bring [the girl] back, but we can look to improve conditions [for other children] in similar positions.”

Outside the hearing, the teenager’s mother said her daughter had been in state care for a number of years but kept in regular contact with her family. She said Monday’s hearing was the first time she had learnt of her daughter’s previous suicide attempts, and she questioned why her family wasn’t consulted by carers as part of the teenager’s treatment.

Adding to the trauma, she said, was that she learnt about her daughter’s death from a missing persons post on a police page when it was later updated to say the teen had died.

She said she hoped the coroner would examine what, if any, more culturally appropriate care exists for young Indigenous people to prevent further deaths.

“They took a young girl and took her culture and everything that she was away. She did not know who she was,” the mother said.

The girl’s death comes just weeks after a Victorian inquiry found vulnerable children in state care were going missing from their residential units at alarming rates.

An inquiry by the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People found those who went missing from state care were often stigmatised as “rotten” or “streetwise” rather than vulnerable.

Residential units house the state’s most traumatised and vulnerable children who cannot live with their parents or find a place in foster or kinship care. There are about 450 children in residential care on any given night, the Out of Sight report found.

The report made 18 recommendations including increased monitoring of young people frequently absent or missing from care.

The death of the 17-year-old girl will return to the Coroners Court of Victoria later this year.

Crisis support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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