An 11-year-old ward of the State was kept in a police cell for two days in WA’s North because no other suitable accommodation was available, Child Protection Minister Helen Morton said today.
The girl was detained at Karratha Police Station from June 28-30 after committing a string of violent attacks against staff at a Government-run hostel in Roebourne.
The girl, who has a pre-existing medical condition, was released back into State care last week before pleading guilty to assault charges. No conviction was recorded.
Shadow child protection minister Stephen Dawson has demanded an explanation from Mrs Morton, saying it was “completely unacceptable” and “traumatic” for a child to be placed in an adult cell for 48 hours.
“Surely, at the very least, the child should have been transported from Karratha to Perth where suitable facilities are available,” Mr Dawson said.
“Why aren’t proper processes in place to deal with such situations?”
Mrs Morton said keeping the girl in a police cell was “not a resourcing issue”.
She said the Department for Child Protection and Family Services only supported bail applications where sufficient planning had occurred, and safe and appropriate placements had been identified.
“Such options in the community are limited and are not always readily available,” Mrs Morton said.
“The department continues to support this girl and her family, and is working closely with police and youth justice to provide safety and the most appropriate placement options.”
A police spokeswoman said DCPFS staff had access to the child throughout her time in the lock-up.
Karratha Acting Sgt Ian Hollins told ABC Radio the girl breached her bail conditions when she attacked hostel staff on June 28. It followed a similar attack on June 26.
“Unfortunately, being a Saturday night, the next possible court date is Monday morning and without actually going to court, and the magistrate remanding her to a juvenile detention centre, we can’t send her anywhere,” Acting Sgt Hollins said.
“Between the department, and everybody else that’s got an interest in her, (we were not) able to come up with anywhere else that she (could) stay.”
State Attorney-General Michael Mischin said children should not be detained in police lock-ups if it could be avoided.
Mr Mischin said recently introduced Sunday magistrate court sittings in Perth would eventually allow video-conferencing of legal matters in remote areas.
Acting Sgt Hollins said the situation was not ideal for police.
“We don’t like it, we don’t want it, we never want it,” he said.
“Unfortunately it’s our role with the custodial care that once all avenues have been exhausted, and it happens on the weekend, then all of a sudden we’re the people who have to look after her, and we do.”