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Top level executives out the door at new child protection agency

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An executive-level clean-out of the new Department for Child Protection is underway, with the former head of Families SA Etienne Scheepers shown the door and his former offsider unexpectedly taking retirement.

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InDaily understands the departures were announced in emails circulated to department staff and stakeholders in recent days, with insiders predicting the pair will be “the first of many” to leave the child protection agency as it seeks to rebuild its culture and public image.

Scheepers was appointed Deputy Chief Executive of the former Department of Education and Child Development in 2014, replacing David Waterford at the helm of Families SA after his resignation in the wake of pedophile carer Shannon McCoole’s arrest.

Former Families SA boss Etienne Scheepers. Photo: via Vimeo

Former Families SA boss Etienne Scheepers. Photo: via Vimeo

But Premier Jay Weatherill hired Queensland bureaucrat Cathy Taylor to oversee the rebadged Child Protection agency from late last year, after the Nyland Royal Commission demanded “a refreshed leadership in the new department”.

Scheepers has served as Taylor’s deputy since then, however it’s understood he was told more than a week ago that he would not be retained.

The department has in recent days advertised for a new deputy chief executive, InDaily has been told.

His departure comes as long-serving senior bureaucrat Rosemary Whitten, who was Families SA’s executive director under Scheepers, also leaves the new agency, with staff being told she was taking extended leave before retiring.

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Former executive director Rosemary Whitten. Photo: via 9 News Adelaide

In response to inquiries from InDaily, Taylor said in a statement: “The Department for Child Protection thanks both Etienne and Rosemary for their service and commitment to the difficult and demanding work of child protection, and we wish them well for the future.”

However, InDaily has been told Scheepers’ continued tenure was considered inconsistent with the push to publicly present a refreshed culture and leadership within child protection.

Whitten served as executive director of the department under both Waterford and Scheepers, with several job vacancies advertised online in that time quoted as subject to her approval.

She was named in the Nyland Royal Commission as having taken responsibility, “as the most senior executive involved”, for a stalled plan to independently house a youth with “complex needs” –  a process that the commission noted demonstrated “deficiencies in the manner in which Families SA makes planning decisions for children in care”.

After Waterford’s resignation she stood in for him at a charged public meeting with foster carers in August 2014:

Nyland’s Child Protection Systems Royal Commission called for a refreshed leadership in the new department “with emphasis on the attraction and retention of leaders who have recognised credibility in child protection work, and who have the capacity to lead a major reform of organisational culture”.

Despite the impetus for change, insiders say Scheepers’ redundancy was a shock, given he had been charged with helping establish the new Child Protection agency.

He had previously headed Workforce Innovation and Reform at Health Workforce Australia and the served as the executive director of SA Health’s workforce division.

He was appointed by then-Education and Child Development CEO Tony Harrison – who has himself since been moved to oversee Communities and Social Inclusion.

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The new agency is still housed within the Education Department building. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Child Protection Minister Susan Close told InDaily “staffing is a matter for the Chief Executive of the department”.

“I have full confidence in Cathy Taylor’s ability to carry out the reforms recommended in the Nyland Royal Commission,” she said in a statement.

News of the departures follows yesterday’s sacking by SA Health of the Central Adelaide Local Health Network’s chief executive Julia Squire.

It also follows yesterday’s court appearance by a Families SA carer accused of sexually abusing young children in his care, who told media outside court he was a “scapegoat” for the department’s problems.

“Unfortunately I might be a pawn in a bigger game,” the 33-year-old told reporters outside the Adelaide Magistrates Court in an extraordinary impromptu media conference.

“Due to recent incidents that have happened in this department there’s basically a need to eliminate any potential risk… there are a lot of loose ends in this department and unfortunately I’m a bottom feeder so it’s very easy to put everything on me.”

The man, who can’t be named for legal reasons, said he knew “of many male carers who I’ve worked with who have had similar allegations… why mine has escalated to this point I have no idea.”

It’s understood the man is one of 25 carers who were red flagged and suspended after a 2014 inquiry into Families SA, but he was later cleared to return to work.

However, he was arrested in November and charged with the persistent sexual exploitation of two children in Elizabeth South between January 2013 and August 2016.

-Additional reporting: AAP

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