In 2014 a 13-year-old girl from the Illawarra area died of asthma. She weighed 112 kilograms, had ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. Her family had been reported 19 times to the Family and Community Services Helpline – these calls had occurred since she was a one-year-old.
The recent inquest findings detail the squalid conditions she lived in, every single day. When police were notified of her death the “foul odour” from the house caused them to retreat to their vehicles for protective masks. Her home was infested with mice and their droppings, she had worn the same clothes for months.
Her mother had mental health issues, her father had a hearing disability and they struggled with this young woman’s behavioural problems.
“All of these factors paint a picture of a family struggling to cope with day-to-day life,” Coroner Geraldine Beattie said. “This has been a very sad case.”
When I read about this girl and her “clearly preventable death” I cried and I’m not a big crier. Why? Her family had failed her, the system had failed her and the community had failed her – we had all failed her.
I could picture her getting on the school bus in the morning, her seriously overweight body in soiled clothes wheezing away with her chronic asthma and puffers, sitting by herself. An odd girl who smelled bad and whose behaviour was unpredictable. There would have been whispers about her, about her family, she would have been noticed – there’s no way she couldn’t have been.