Family push back on claim 10-year-old Indigenous boy took his own life in foster care


Family members of a 10-year-old Indigenous boy who died while in state care last week have cast doubt on claims that he took his own life.

The boy, who was living in foster care with relatives and cannot be identified for legal reasons, died in Perth last Friday.

He was one of six children, the four youngest of whom had been removed by the WA Department of Communities in late 2020 after child protection were concerned the parents may have been struggling with substance abuse issues.

Reports that he had taken his own life sparked renewed debate over the contentious issue of child removals and disturbingly high rate of suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

One source said WA Police were initially of the belief it was a suicide due to the nature of the incident, which is still under investigation.

But family members told news.com.au on Friday that “everyone around the family is leaning towards a tragic accident”, while criticising the “incorrect and unfair” media coverage.

“Nobody saw it happen,” one said. But he added the “kid was happy” and there was “no indication prior that he was any more upset” than usual.

Another family member said the boy had put his school uniform in the washing machine that day. “The little boy had a lot of issues from all he’s been through,” she said.

“It wasn’t abnormal for him to be doing what he was doing [at the time of his death].”

The National Suicide Prevention Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP), which broke the news of the boy’s death to the media this week with the permission of his parents, described it as a “catastrophic failure” by the state government

“There is much tragedy and devastation with the family,” NSPTRP director Megan Krakouer told news.com.au on Thursday.

“For this to occur, it stains our state, stains our nation. He was a little bubbly bright boy, so much energy, loved by his family, and his family tried so hard for their reunification but they were failed. The mother and father, through their challenges, through their adversities in life they have remained strong. They’ve been together for 26 years, they are loving, they are kind.”

Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe on Thursday slammed the federal government over the boy’s death, calling it a “national shame” and labelling the removal of First Nations children an “an ongoing genocidal project”.

Ms Krakouer said the children were removed “due to homelessness – it is a poverty narrative”, and that while she was “not blind to the fact that in some instances children need to be removed” more could have been done in this case.

But family members have pushed back on that characterisation, saying the children were “removed due to many issues” relating to their home life.

“It took him weeks to be able to talk when they were removed, from the trauma they’ve been through.”

The male relative said, “He wouldn’t let anyone touch his hair or cut his hair, he was hiding behind his fringe. He would hide in a corner, he was really troubled.”

Other sources have separately corroborated the family’s characterisation of the issues that resulted in the children’s removal from the parents.

News.com.au understands that when the children were first removed, the youngest, then aged six months old, was rushed to hospital and placed in the burns unit as she had developed extreme sunburn from being left outside.

A disturbing photo, seen by news.com.au, shows the infant in hospital with deep red burns and blisters covering her face.

The male relative also slammed the “one-sided” news stories painting it as an Indigenous issue. The boy’s father is not Indigenous.

“Honestly I don’t know what being Indigenous has to do with it,” he said. “We’re all Australians aren’t we? We’re all supposed to be working together. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an Indigenous 10-year-old or not.”

The female relative said the children living in foster care were in a “loving home surrounded by family who provided them normality and so much love” and that it was “beyond heartbreaking” that “false stories” were being spread while they tried to grieve.

“I just want him to have a voice,” she said.

“This wasn’t what he would have wanted. He didn’t want to go back. Part of the reason the kids haven’t gone back is [the parents] haven’t passed a drug test.”

The WA Department of Communities said in a statement on Thursday that it “acts in accordance with the Children and Community Services Act 2004”.

“In keeping with its legal and ethical obligations, Communities does not comment on individual cases, particularly where there is potential or evident risk of identifying one or more children in care,” a spokesman said.

“The safety and wellbeing of children is always Communities’ highest priority. The death of any child or young person is a tragedy, which has a devastating impact on the families, friends and communities involved. Any death of a child in care automatically triggers a Coronial Inquest and we support all matters of this nature being investigated.”

A WA Police spokeswoman said, “The death of the 10-year-old boy is not being treated as suspicious and a report will be prepared for the Coroner.”

frank.chung@news.com.au