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Parafield Gardens 'House of Horrors' kids 'virtually unknown' to authorities
Six children subjected to starvation and torture in Adelaide's so-called House of Horrors case were "virtually unknown'' to state authorities, it has emerged.
When police uncovered the Housing Trust home - where six adults and 21 children lived - they said it was infested with swarms of cockroaches, flies and maggots, and faeces was found on the floor.
Today - five years after the shocking discovery of the abuse at the Parafield Gardens home - the government released its response to 32 recommendations by the Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee into the shocking case.
It received the recommendations in October last year.
Committee chairwoman Deej Eszenyi this morning said there was "almost no information known about the children to state authorities'' until their condition was revealed in 2008.
Neither the committee's recommendations nor the government's response identify any of the systematic failings by authorities to intervene in the child abuse.
However, at a press conference this morning, both Ms Eszenyi and Child Development Minister Jennifer Rankine identified poor information-sharing practices between government agencies as a major contributor.
Ms Rankine said no one government staff member or agency "had the full picture of information or knew that the six children were in the house''.
Ms Eszenyi confirmed that no report was collated which brought together details of the case or how those involved acted.
"Our job is not to look for 'did anybody do anything wrong?','' she said.
"Something went very wrong for these children. The question is how do state authorities know that that is happening?''
Child protection expert Freda Briggs said better inter-agency and cross-state communication would be key to improving child protection in future.
She criticised the lack of a report into the circumstances of the case.
"We are being deprived of information about what went wrong despite different agencies being responsible for the children's situation,'' she said.
"The bottom line seems to be the claim that no-one did anything wrong ... rather than providing an identification of what went wrong.''
The committee reviewed more than 200 documents, such as child truancy alerts and Housing SA and health records, relating to all those who lived in the house but said there was scarce evidence of the existence of the six children, who moved to Adelaide from Victoria not long before the case was exposed.
Ms Rankine said no government worker had been sacked following the case.
She said the government had delayed the release of the recommendations because the media would have criticised it for releasing them without a response.
Opposition child development spokesman David Pisoni said the government had spent the seven months since it received the recommendations "preparing a political response''.
"The government has focused on covering up rather than fixing up,'' he said.
"The government must explain why it took seven months to release these recommendations and what the recommendations were based on.''
When the government received the recommendations in October, a "high-level'' meeting of Health, Education, Housing and Police ministers was convened, although Ms Rankine - who was then Police Minister - had to pull out at the last minute and sent her chief of staff.
It was revealed in The Advertiser a welfare worker saw the conditions inside the house but did not raise the alarm .
However, Ms Rankine this morning said the worker did not sight the children and remained out the front of the house.
She said no disciplinary action was taken against the worker because she did not visit the house in the course of her work.
This is despite Ms Rankine stating everyone had a "moral" obligation to report child abuse if they witnessed it.
The government says legal considerations prevent it from revealing who was responsible, or specifically how the system failed the five children (read their story here) who were starved, bashed and tortured at the Casuarina Drv home.
It was also not revealed if any public servant from any agency has been counselled, reprimanded or sacked as a result of the committee's inquiry.
Five adults were convicted and jailed for the abuse and all the children were placed under the guardianship of the Minister of Child Development.
In the government response, Ms Rankine said "the law requires that information disclosed to the committee about individual cases be kept confidential''.
"In the five years since the case was discovered, the government has put in place many measures to prevent this type of tragedy from occurring again,'' Ms Rankine wrote.
The committee recommendations include that:
HOUSING SA staff receive additional training "about indicators of poor living conditions''
WHEN Housing SA receives complaints about poor living conditions it investigates whether children are living in these houses
THE education department "strengthen'' the reporting of children who fail to attend school once enrolled.
WHEN Families SA is notified of child neglect it "sights the children to confirm their well-being''.
ALL staff in hospitals and community health services complete Child Safe Environment training.
The government said it accepted these recommendations.
HOW THE HOUSE OF HORRORS TRAGEDY UNFOLDED
POLICE were alerted to the shocking neglect on June 22, 2008, when one of the children was taken to hospital, starved and badly bruised.
THEY uncovered the "House of Horrors'' on Casuarina Drv at Parafield Gardens, where six adults and 21 children were living.
POLICE described the house as abhorrent and the smell as putrid. It was infested with swarms of cockroaches, flies and maggots, and faeces was found on the floor.
THE court heard shocking details of children being starved and abused while police described the home as a prisoner of war camp.
FIVE people, including the children's mother, were found guilty of abuse and neglect and given custodial sentences ranging from six to 10 years. A sixth person was found not guilty by reason of mental incompetence.
Court reveals the names of child abusers
A court has revealed the identities of four people who abused five young children in Adelaide, refusing the siblings food and forcing them to stand in line all day.
Luke Andrew Armistead, Robert Armistead and Michael Benjamin Quinlivan were found guilty by a jury last week while Tania Marie Staker pleaded guilty to the allegations before the start of their trial.
All four will be sentenced in the South Australian Supreme Court in relation to five charges, two counts of aggravated acts endangering life and three counts of acts creating risk of serious harm.
At the start of the sentencing process on Wednesday, Justice Kevin Duggan said publication of their names would not contravene any suppression orders imposed in relation to the case.
He also ruled that such publication would not risk identifying the victims who were siblings aged between four and seven.
The children had lived in squalor for about four months in 2008 with six adults and 16 other children, many of them related to each other, in one house.
Their plight was discovered when a five-year-old boy collapsed.
He was admitted to hospital suffering malnutrition and hypothermia. His body temperature so low that he was almost unconscious and needing help to breathe.
His siblings were also significantly underweight, had open sores on their legs or ulcers on the feet, were infected with scabies and had suffered impaired growth.
Examinations revealed that their brains had shrunk due to a lack of proper nutrition.
During the three-week trial, the prosecution said the children had been forced to stand in line, sometimes all day, with their hands on their head.
They had been fed just enough food to keep them alive and risked being slapped and choked if they tried to get more.
They sometimes resorted to hiding scraps between their toes.
Their mother has already been jailed for her part in the abuse.
On Wednesday, the court was told a number of psychological reports would be prepared ahead of sentencing submissions on November 16.
‘House of horrors' adults named by Supreme Court of South Australia
The identities of three men and a woman who bound, starved, punished and neglected five innocent children in an Adelaide home can finally be revealed.
Supreme Court Justice Kevin Duggan today said there was no longer any reason the names of Luke Andrew Armistead, Robert Armistead, Michael Benjamin Quinlivan and Tania Marie Staker should be obscured.
Armistead, Armistead and Quinlivan were last week found guilty, by a jury, of two counts each of aggravated acts to endanger life, and three counts each of aggravated acts creating a risk of serious harm.
Staker - the mastermind of the cruel regime - pleaded guilty to the same charges prior to trial.
Although no suppression orders had been placed on the group's identities, AdelaideNow chose not to name them so as to ensure the trial proceeded without impediment.
Today, Justice Duggan commended the media on their approach to the difficult case.
"The media have, quite properly, taken a careful attitude towards this matter," he said.
"But I think the court should now say something to indicate that publication of the names of these prisoners will not identify the victims."
Staker and the men committed their crimes in a northern suburbs home between February and June 2008.
They were among 20 adults and children who lived in the house.
During the trial, the jury heard Staker masterminded "a cruel regime" to punish the children.
They had been fathered by her then-partner, Luke Armistead, and another woman - whose identity is suppressed to protect the children.
That woman subsequently had a relationship with Michael Quinlivan, who also lived in the house.
Staker and Quinlivan are siblings, while Robert Armistead is Luke Armistead's former step-father.
The children suffered starvation, malnutrition, emaciation and scabies.
Authorities became aware of the situation when one child was taken to hospital with a head injury and severe hypothermia.
During the trial, jurors heard the children survived on chips and noodles when they were permitted to eat.
One day, they were given dog food and told "if you're hungry, eat this".
The children's mother - who also pleaded guilty to criminal neglect - said she lived in fear of Staker, claiming to be "numb" because of her own dysfunctional childhood.
One of the five children, who gave evidence before the jury, said they were fed enough to keep them alive "but not that much".
House of Horror mastermind Tania Staker jailed for 10 years
A woman who masterminded a cruel regime of starvation "beyond comprehension" and fuelled by jealousy has been jailed for 10 years.
Today, the Supreme Court jailed Tania Marie Staker, 36, for her role in the neglect of five children at a northern suburbs house between February and June 2008.
Three men - the children's father Luke Armistead, 38, Michael Quinlivan, 27, and Robert Armistead, 41 - were each sentenced to nine years in prison.
In sentencing, Justice Kevin Duggan said each of the adults had inflicted a daily routine of punishment "beyond comprehension" on the five siblings.
"It reached a point where the children were made to stand against a wall without moving ... they were made to stand in the same position from morning until night."
Each of the children were beaten, starved, choked and fed only the scraps left over after the other 21 children in the house had eaten a share of hot chips or noodles.
"The adults were vigilant to ensure that they were prevented from eating more."
Justice Duggan said the cruelty came unstuck only because a crisis arose.
The squalid house was investigated when a five-year-old boy collapsed and was taken to the Lyell McEwin Hospital suffering severe hypothermia.
Each of the children had other injuries, scabies and suffered malnutrition.
Justice Duggan said Staker played a more significant role in the regime because of her jealousy of Luke Armistead's former relationship with the children's mother.
"You said that you came to hate (the children's mother) and the children while they were living with you," he said.
Justice Duggan told Staker children's mother "was not far behind your culpability".
"For some reason she was prepared to inflict suffering on her own children."
He said Luke Armistead had not been seen to be as active in the treatment of the children, compared to other members of the northern suburbs household.
He said it would not be difficult to imagine the children - who were at the time aged between 4 and 7 - would suffer psychological harm into the future.
The children had come to SA from Geelong, Victoria, where local media had dubbed their home the "house of horrors".
Staker, who pleaded guilty on the first day of the trial to two counts of endangering life and three counts of creating a risk of serious harm prior to trial, will be eligible for parole after serving six years and eight months.
Each of the men, who were found guilty of the same offences, will be eligible for parole after serving six years.
Prior to trial, the children's mother pleaded guilty to the same charges. She gave evidence against the other adults and was jailed for six years with a non-parole period of three years and three months.
by Jordanna Schriever
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