News State SA News Authorities defend handling of girl’s case

Authorities defend handling of girl’s case

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South Australian authorities have defended how social workers handled the case of a four-year-old girl who died after being repeatedly forced to ride a motorbike.

Families SA will review its involvement with Chloe Valentine and her mother Ashlee Polkinghorne in the years leading up to the girl’s death in January, 2012.

Deputy chief executive for child safety David Waterford said the department appreciated the stress on the wider family, and described Chloe’s death as a dreadful tragedy.

“I do appreciate the stress of the family and the soul searching that’s going on,” he told reporters on Thursday.

He said the department was looking at things that “we could have done differently if we’d known more”.

“But, at this point in time, based on all of the information that I’ve seen, the social workers involved made the right decisions.”

Mr Waterford has also rejected claims from family members that up to 200 reports were made to Families SA in relation the young girl and her mother.

He said the department received 22 notifications over a three-year period and none in the six months leading up to the Chloe’s death.

Those reports were all investigated but the complaints could not be substantiated.

On Wednesday, in the South Australian Supreme Court, Polkinghorne, 22, and her former partner, Benjamin McPartland, 28, were jailed for at least four years for the manslaughter of Chloe through criminal neglect.

The couple made the 17kg girl get back on a 50kg motorbike over a three-day period, despite her suffering massive injuries from repeatedly crashing and falling off.

When Chloe was eventually unconscious in a semi-vegetative state, the couple waited eight-and-a-half hours before calling an ambulance.

During that time, they went on Facebook, accessed internet banking, googled what to do with an unconscious person and smoked cannabis.

In jailing the couple, Justice Trish Kelly said that, unfortunately for Chloe, “your place was a dangerous place for that child”.

Mr Waterford said in the last visits to the home by Families SA staff, Ms Polkinghorne had been found to be “interacting very appropriately and positively” with her daughter.

As well as the review by Families SA, Chloe’s death will also be referred to the independent Child Death and Serious Injury Committee.

The South Australian opposition said the case highlighted the need for an independent commissioner for children who would have the necessary investigative powers to help prevent such deaths.