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NSW DoCS inquiry will be thorough says retired Justice James Wood

A commission set up to investigate the troubled NSW child protection system will not "tinker at the edges" and may be the only chance to make real changes, the man heading the inquiry says.

A spate of shocking child deaths has plagued the Department of Community Services (DoCS) in recent months, prompting NSW Premier Morris Iemma to set up the special commission.

The death in October last year of two-year-old Dean Shillingsworth, whose body was stuffed in a suitcase and dumped in a western Sydney park, shocked the nation.

A woman was later charged with his killing, and it was revealed the infant had been known to DoCS.

The pressure for an inquiry intensified in November last when seven-year-old Shellay Ward, also known to DoCS, was found starved to death in her Hawks Nest home, north of Newcastle.

A couple have been charged with her murder.

At the commission's first public hearing on Monday, retired Justice James Wood said
The inquiry may be the only opportunity to address problems within the troubled system.

The commission would not just examine the current system, but if necessary would consider alternative approaches to child welfare.

Our inquiry is not necessarily limited by an assumption as to the appropriateness of the current model, Its validity, and that of any alternative approach to child protection, is open for consideration, and we would not want submissions to be constrained to tinkering at the edges of the current system.

This may be the one and only chance to do something in this critical area.
Under what he called the "extremely wide" terms of reference, Mr Wood will examine systems for reporting child abuse, case management, staff competency, inter-agency cooperation and out-of-home care.

Justice James Wood said
The commission would not make findings on individual cases.

It is not the purpose of the inquiry to conduct a minute analysis of a single catastrophic event, or series of events, with an eye to determining a cause, and then allocating individual blame.

What we are about is examining management practices and possible strategies that could achieve a coordinated, compassionate and effective system that brings together the combined skills of the several agencies and individuals that potentially play a part in the child protection system.

The inquiry would not just be confined to DoCS, with the role of other state and federal bodies, the courts, non-government bodies and private organisations to be examined.
Counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness said
Support for indigenous families, in particular, would be placed under the microscope.

Four per cent of children in NSW are indigenous, however, indigenous children are the subject of 16 per cent of all reports to the Department of Community Services.

Identifying programs and strategies that will more effectively engage with Aboriginal communities to support and strengthen indigenous families will be a priority of the inquiry.

The NSW system of mandatory reporting would also be of major concern
Mr Wood adjourned the hearings until February, when the first public forums will be held.

Justice Wood said
The commission would then travel to NSW regional areas in March, before reporting on June 30
WOOD INQUIRY into "CHILD PROTECTION" duty of care & due diligence ~ NSW Department of Community Services (DOCS)

Newcastle Herald, N.S.W. Jan 22, 2008.  p. 16

HUNTER residents will be able to tell the Wood Inquiry into the Department of Community Services (DOCS) what they think of the department, during a public forum at Newcastle on March 31.

The Hunter was at the centre of two high-profile deaths of children involving families known to DOCS in recent months.

A seven-year-old girl was found dead in November last year, having allegedly starved to death in her Hawks Nest home. Her parents have been charged with murder.

In December, a body of a newborn baby was found in a green shopping bag in a vacant block on the Pacific Highway at Belmont North on December 4.

A woman, 33, faced court this week, charged with concealing the birth of a child.

The State Government called the Wood Inquiry in response to pressure after a string of child deaths last year, including the discovery of a toddler's body in a suitcase floating in a pond at Ambarvale, in Sydney's south-west, in October.

Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann said
The inquiry would hold forums around the state and urged Hunter residents to take part.

We need all the assistance we can get from the public if this inquiry is to get to the bottom of failures in our child protection system.

The success of the Wood Inquiry depends on the quality of evidence it hears.
Residents interested in attending the forum should call 1800 442 819 by February 11.

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