Chloe Valentine inquest: SA child protection system broken, massive overhaul needed, coroner says.

The death of four-year-old Chloe Valentine occurred after the agency tasked with her protection, Families SA, took the “path of least resistance” and proves the state’s child protection system is “broken and fundamentally flawed”, a coroner has found.

Chloe died from horrific injuries after repeatedly crashing a motorbike she was forced to ride over several days at a home in Ingle Farm in Adelaide’s north in January 2012.

Chloe Valentine died in 2012 after being repeatedly forced to ride a motorbike by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Pic: ABC.

Her mother, Ashlee Polkinghorne, and Polkinghorne’s partner at the time, Benjamin McPartland, were jailed for manslaughter by criminal neglect.

South Australian coroner Mark Johns, handing down his findings into Chloe’s death today, recommended sweeping changes to the state’s child protection services.

“Nothing less than a massive overhaul of Families SA and its culture and training of its staff will be sufficient,” he said, adding that the government agency “took the path of least resistance and the whole history of its dealing with Ashlee is a history of drifting, irresolution and aimlessness”.

More than 20 notifications were made to Families SA before Chloe’s death from family and friends who were concerned for her welfare.

Many of those concerns were largely ignored by the agency.

Mr Johns described Families SA as “broken and fundamentally flawed” and recommended that laws were changed so that anyone convicted of manslaughter or murder of a child would automatically have any future children removed from their care at birth.

He said a child should only be returned to their parent’s care if they could prove to a court that they were fit to be a parent.

Mr Johns also called for a social workers registrar and recommended that all social workers with less than 12 months experience be supervised by senior workers when having contact with clients.


Polkinghorne ‘fooled’ social workers

Mr Johns said Polkinghorne fooled social workers and used Chloe as a bargaining chip to manipulate friends and Families SA.

He said she had a selfish lifestyle that prioritised her own interests above Chloe’s and, had the child been removed from Polkinghorne’s care, she would probably be alive today.

Mr Johns said Families SA should have used all the legislative tools available to help the child and called it “preposterous, frightening and concerning” that two social workers did not tell Polkinghorne that her previous partner was a convicted paedophile.

He also recommended that Families SA “urgently re-educate” all staff to rectify widespread misunderstanding in the organisation that a parent has to be consulted about any care decisions about their child.

Beginning in September 2014, the inquest into Chloe’s death has heard from 39 witnesses, including Families SA social workers and supervisors, those that made notifications to the agency before her death, and Chloe’s grandmother, Belinda Valentine.

Ms Valentine gave evidence that she wanted to take her granddaughter into her care but was not supported by Families SA.

During the inquest, Families SA chief executive officer Tony Harrison conceded that Chloe could have been removed from her mother’s care as early as 2008.

He said he was confident recommendations made by the coroner would lead to a better child protection system and the agency had being trying to implement changes since Chloe’s case came to light.

The agency is also the subject of a royal commission into SA’s child protection system after allegations surfaced last year that a Families SA carer sexually abused seven toddlers in his care

This story originally appeared at ABC online.

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