Thursday, 26 June 2008

Fury as DOCS 'lose' girl

Missing ... Lauren Ryall, 13.Unfortunately she did not go to the agreed destination and in hindsight there may have been a more appropriate response for this child

The Department of Community Services says it will review its procedures after a 13-year-old girl it placed on a train alone from Parramatta to Dunmore, near Wollongong, vanished.

Lauren Maree Ryall was reported missing on Monday afternoon after she failed to arrive at her destination. Police today said she had still not been found.

DOCS caseworkers had dropped the girl off at Parramatta station about 1.40pm on Monday. She was given a train ticket and lunch money, said Helen Freeland, DOCS executive director for operations.

"Lots of 13-year-olds travel on their own on the train," she said.

But her mother, Judith, said Lauren should not have been left to travel alone.

"It should never have happened it should never happen to any child," she said.

"Now my child is missing and DOCS have since told me that they can't do anything to help look for her because it's now in the hands of the child protection agency and police."

DOCS director general Jenny Mason said it was working with police to find Lauren as soon as possible.

"Unfortunately she did not go to the agreed destination and in hindsight there may have been a more appropriate response for this child," Ms Mason said.

"We are looking at our procedures and policy to minimise the chances of this happening again."

Judith said Lauren had called her on Tuesday night to say she was with a friend in Wyong. But Lauren hung up after less than two minutes when she found out police were looking for her, Judith said.

Lauren had travelled to Wyong with a girl, who had also been placed on the train at Parramatta by DOCS on Monday.

She had been placed in DOCS' care at the weekend after returning to her Wollongong home from a friend's house and finding her mother missing.

"She had gone out on Friday, I'd given her permission to go to a friend's place [and] I'd come to my cousin's house," said here mother.

"Lauren didn't realise I was at my cousin's place and gave herself to police on Sunday night."

Police were duty-bound to report the matter to DOCS, Judith said.

Lauren's parents were separated, and her father lives in Queensland.

Lauren's mother said she had previously contacted DOCS to help "straighten my family out".

But she was upset DOCS had placed her daughter on the train alone.

"If I can just save one child or one parent what I've been through in the last 48 hours, all of this would be worth it," she said.

The furious father of the 13-year-old girl says the organisation has not even contacted him.

Lauren's father, John Ryall, said police had told him they knew "roughly'' where Lauren was.

"It's a matter of time before they get her,'' he said.

However, he remained furious at what had happened.

"They (DOCS) neglected to tell us for two days that [Lauren] was with a known runaway 15-year-old girl, I had to find that out through the police,'' Mr Ryall said from Mackay, where he lives with his 14-year-old son.

"I'm not really comforted with the company she's in. Every night I go to sleep and I don't know if these people are into drugs or sex.''


Mr Ryall struggled to contain his anger when asked how he felt about DOCS letting his daughter board a train alone.

"I'm a crane driver and we've got a duty of care to people at work. If I put someone in that much danger I could lose my job.

"I want her safe and then I'm going to take these people apart. I'm going to write representations against DOCS, I'll need some legal help here.

"They're not getting away with this crap. She could be dead. I know Sydney.

"At one stage I thought I'd never see her again. It's sheer luck for DOCS people she's still living and breathing.''

Mr Ryall said it had been agreed some weeks ago that Lauren would move to Mackay to live with him.

DOCS contacted Mr Ryall on the weekend after Lauren entered its care, he said.

"They were going to arrange for her to be kept until she could be sent up here to North Queensland to be with me,'' he said.

"Next thing I hear [from Lauren's mother, Judith] DOCS had put her on a train.

Haven't heard a word

"I haven't heard a word from DOCS [since Lauren went missing], I haven't even gotten a courtesy phone call.''

He said he would resist any moves by DOCS to place Lauren in foster care after she is found.

"Once she's checked out medically, I don't want her anywhere near DOCS. I don't trust DOCS.

"Every minute she's missing, that's a minute of my life when my heart stops, I'm crying myself at night, dreaming about her when she was a little girl.

"She's still a little girl.''

Ms Freeland said: " The choice that our caseworkers have to make is do they spend a whole day either driving her home or taking her by train or do they go out and respond to the urgent cases that have come over the weekend, and these are very difficult choices that we make every day."

Updated 6:14pm (AEST)

Police say she was found at about 11:30am AEST today on a train heading to Cronulla.

They say she is safe and well.


DOCS insiders blow whistle on tragedy
DOCS workers have detailed a catalogue of failures that have left at-risk children in unsafe families and put staff in danger, as officers struggle with crippling vacancies in a department top-heavy with managers and with a dysfunctional records system.

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