The girl’s tragic spiral into drug addiction, violence and prostitution became what a judge has described as a “life and death” matter as her father fought to regain custody from the Department of Family and Community Services.
Justice Richard White criticised the department for not adequately helping the girl’s father and has ordered the case be brought to the personal attention of the department head, Michael Coutts-Trotter, as well as Family and Community Services minister Gabrielle Upton.
The judge has overruled the department, ordering the girl to live with her father, and said caseworkers were wrong for encouraging her to think she could move into a refuge just because she did not like the constraints her dad placed on her.
She has been given the pseudonym Madison by the court.
“Having regard to the record of Madison’s circumstances when in the sole care of the minister, I think that the father, rather than the minister, is…the proper person to have her care on a permanent basis,” Justice White said in a judgment handed down last week after a series of hearings.
The father took the department to the Supreme Court on October 23 last year — three months after the Children’s Court placed Madison in the department’s care.
At the time, Madison had gone missing from a refuge, was using ice and the department was getting her back together with her drug-fuelled mother. On October 24, Justice White made an order that Madison be returned to the care of her father.
“I was satisfied there were such exceptional circumstances. Madison was at serious risk of imminent harm,” the judge said.
“It was no exaggeration I think to say at that time the application involved matters of life and death.”
The court was told that Madison had been doing well academically and was a promising athlete until the age of 12 when her mother started to give her marijuana. She was suspended from two schools.
Then her mother gave her an ice pipe “in order to get back at her father and her mother continued to give her ice.”
Her mother took out an AVO against her daughter after she was attacked and accused by her daughter or “ruining” her life, the court was told.
Madison ended up in hospital in a psychotic state after a 10-day drug binge and then went to a refuge where she could not be forced to remain. She ran away, living on the streets as a full-time drug user.
Her father lives on $457 a fortnight and is so poor that the court waived the costs of the filing fees to hear the case but Judge White said the man had brought up Madison’s half-sister with “outstanding success”.
He ordered that the department must pay for Madison to continue to see a psychologist – which it had initially refused to do – and that the minister be asked to look favourably on helping with costs of Madison taking part in sport and other recreational activities to “keep her away from her drug-dealing associates.”