The Western Australian parents of twins born to a surrogate Thai mother have made contact with the state’s Department for Child Protection.
WA Minister for Child Protection Helen Morton told Fairfax Radio this morning that child protection officers had spoken to Bunbury couple David and Wendy Farnell by phone.
The whereabouts of the couple has been the subject of intense speculation since Pattaramon Chanbua, a woman they reportedly paid to bear their children, accused them of abandoning their baby son Gammy.
Gammy has Down syndrome and a congenital heart condition.
The couple brought Gammy’s healthy twin sister home from Thailand.
It later emerged that in the 1990s Mr Farnell had been convicted of 22 child sexual abuse charges involving girls as young as seven.
Sex abuse convictions revealed
Ms Morton did not give any details about the nature the discussion between the Farnells and the Department, or the location of the parents and their child.
She said the department was conducting an assessment to ensure the Farnells’ daughter was safe.
Ms Morton said the department did not have “major” concerns at the moment, but would consider a full range of measures to ensure the child’s safety.
“Options would include everything from putting a really well-developed safety plan around the child, if necessary, in the home situation,” she said.
“Or it could range up to anything to do with the child living away from the home.
“So there’s everything and all of the potential options in between those things that would be considered.”
Mr Farnell was sentenced to more than four years jail after his conviction.
Family deserve privacy: Minister
Ms Morton declined to comment on the child abuse revelations, but said the department remained committed to ensuring the child’s safety.
She said the assessment process has just begun and could take weeks.
“We think the family deserves the opportunity for privacy and confidentiality and the issues around the safety and well being of the child are our major issue,” she said.
Are surrogacy laws to blame?
“It’s not a major concern, it’s just that this is our focus.”
The Minister said her department sought advice from the state solicitor about the legality of the surrogacy arrangement entered into by the Farnells.
She said the advice, at this stage, was that there was nothing illegal about what has taken place.
Mr Farnell and his wife previously said they did not know of the existence of Gammy and were only told about the baby girl.
But Ms Chanbua, who carried the twins, said the Australian couple knew about both babies.
When first told of Mr Farnell’s child sex convictions on Tuesday, Ms Chanbua said she was shocked by the news.
“I was startled and worried,” she said. “Right now I am still worried.”
The case has sparked a review of surrogacy laws in Thailand, and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has said she is in contact with authorities in Thailand about the issue.