More than 20 notifications were made to child services about the Tennant Creek household where a two-year-old girl was allegedly raped, but Territory Families maintains there were “no specific concerns”.
The toddler was allegedly raped in the outback town, about 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs, last week.
Territory Families has confirmed the department received 21 notifications about the household dating back to August 2015, but only six had been substantiated.
The child’s uncle, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said eight notifications had been made to child services in the two months leading up to the incident.
Territory Families Chief Executive Ken Davies said reports made about the household related to domestic violence and alcohol.
“In terms of the notifications we received, there were no specific concerns that came to Territory Families about particular harm to this child of a sexual nature,” he said.
They were not substantial enough to take the child out of this household and away from the mother.”
“What we did was where these issues were substantiated, we responded and we put in family support services to support the family and the mother in that household.”
The NT Government has since ordered an immediate investigation into its handling of the case and a review of all cases where children had been subject to multiple notifications.
The Acting Chief Minister Nicole Manison conceded the government had “failed” the child.
Dozens of letters have been sent to government ministers in recent months outlining concerns for safety, but locals say they went unanswered until reports of the alleged rape surfaced on Tuesday.
The girl’s uncle said his family was distressed by what had happened and called for less Top End-based decision-making on local issues.
“There were concerns about this little girl and nothing really happened,” he said.
“Eight notifications in the last two months and they haven’t sent one to this office here because they assessed it as not high risk. How do they know? They don’t live here.
“Failure after failure after failure, how much longer can we put up with this?”
Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation chair Ross Jakamarra Williams, who is also a traditional owner of Tennant Creek, said local police and government agencies had failed the community for years.
“The Department (of Territory Families) employees do not work in the interest of this community because they themselves are totally disconnected from Aboriginal families and the real issues they face,” he said.
“What I have lived and witnesses in the past two weeks is intolerant and unacceptable for any community in this country.”
‘For God’s sake, think of the children’
Federal Minister for Indigenous Health Ken Wyatt said the incident was unacceptable, but warned against finger-pointing.
“It’s easy to say an agency hasn’t responded, or a government hasn’t responded,” he told ABC Radio Darwin.
“But on a broader front, as Indigenous Australians, we’ve been asking for a reduction in the number of aboriginal children in out-of-home care.”
Mr Wyatt said he would rather see wrap-around services for families “having challenges”, but conceded there should have been discussions with extended family to take the child “out of harms way”.
Former chairman of the Federal Government’s Indigenous Advisory Council Warren Mundine said action should have been taken once the notifications to child services were received.
“Next time an Aboriginal leader stands up worried about the child, worried about a stolen generation, for God’s sake, think about the child,” he said.
“We are condemning children in these communities to a life of misery.”
The attack is alleged to have happened in the same week a man died after a fatal assault.
Last Thursday night, the evening of the assault, Tennant Creek police received almost twice as many callouts as usual during a 12-hour period overnight and believe alcohol was a major factor behind the spike.
NT Police have responded to the spike in crime by bolstering resources in the town and ramping up operation of Strikeforce Haven.