Squalor and illness lead to her death, but we all failed this 13-year-old girl.

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.

A baby.

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.

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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.


We should all feel the burden of this young woman’s death. Isn’t it our duty to protect those who are unable to protect themselves, especially a child?

Image via iStock.

Education around the girls chronic asthma condition were unsuccessful as was her poor hygiene and Coroner Beattie explained that the family’s case was closed by Family and Community Services in 2013 because of “limited resources being stretched to the limit”.

“While [the girl] was undoubtedly loved and is mourned by her family,” said the Coroner. “It is clear that they had limited personal resources to look after her physically and emotionally particularly as her complex needs increased and her behaviour deteriorated.”

Yes, the levels of failure in this case are extraordinary – not just by the authorities, but by the people who had contact with her and her family every day. Let us all look into the mirror of this heartbreaking incident and stop it from happening again. Instead of ignoring a hunch that a child or family isn’t coping we must take steps out of our comfort zone.

We need to ask questions. Follow up on those questions. We need to alert the correct government departments, schools and teachers, and follow up with them. We need to show empathy and sympathy, instead of whispers and a cold shoulder. We need to rally together, we need to be human because this 13-year-old was human too. She was a little girl, who should have had the opportunity to see in her lifetime and experience first hand that people are good and that people cared.