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Authorities 'missed chances to save Chloe'


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The head of Families SA says social workers missed opportunities to save Chloe Valentine in the years leading to her death.

Department for Education and Child Development chief executive Tony Harrison said Chloe’s case workers had placed too much weight on preserving family unity at the expense of ensuring the girl’s safety.

“There was a very, very strong emphasis to, at all costs, keep the family together,” he told the inquest into Chloe’s death today.

“With the benefit of hindsight, we would have to wonder whether we persisted with that approach for too long.

“We have to be prepared, at the right time as we determine it, to take a strong intervention because that’s needed to keep children alive.”

The inquest has heard Chloe was forced to endure chronic neglect at the hands of her drug-using teenage mother but was never removed by Families SA.

Chloe was four when she died of massive head injuries after being forced to ride a motorbike that repeatedly crashed over a three-day period in the backyard of her Adelaide home in January 2012.

Her mother, Ashlee Polkinghorne, and Polkinghorne’s then-partner are in jail after pleading guilty to Chloe’s manslaughter through criminal neglect.

Mr Harrison, a former SA Police assistant commissioner who became head of the DECD in July 2013, said he strongly supported keeping families together and building the capability of parents within the child protection system.

But a comprehensive review of Chloe’s case had made clear that a “circuit-breaker” was needed to save the girl from the chaos in her life.

“The question should have been asked as early as 2008 as to whether the removal of Chloe was appropriate,” he said.

“It seemed like we missed opportunities to consider the option of removing the child from the environment.”

Families SA received 20 child abuse notifications during Chloe’s short life from witnesses concerned about the girl’s filthy, transient and unsafe living conditions, her mother’s drug use and her exposure to domestic violence in the family home.

State Coroner Mark Johns has questioned why Polkinghorne was often given the benefit of the doubt by social workers, who helped clean her house and avoided confronting her about her drug use.

Mr Harrison admitted there was potential for social workers to be compromised by their intimate involvement in a case.

“There can be some blurring of objectivity as social workers build relationships with families,” he said.

The inquest continues.

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