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Broaden inquiry, says advocate

Date

Noel Towell

Public Advocate Anita Phillips.

Public Advocate Anita Phillips. Photo: Melissa Adams

Government-run institutions are still failing in their duties to protect the youngsters in their care from abuse and neglect, according to the Public Advocate. And the advocate says the royal commission on institutional sex abuse should be broadened to examine other forms of neglect and abuse of children in care.

Public Advocate Anita Phillips, whose office acts as legal guardian for many of Canberra's most vulnerable children, said on Wednesday that many of her adult clients are ''lost souls'' as a result of abuse they suffered as children.

She welcomed the news of the national inquiry announced by the Prime Minister on Monday, but says the most important role of the commission should be to correct mistakes still being made today.

''In my role as Public Advocate, I am constantly disturbed when appointed as guardian for adults with devastating disabilities resulting from the effects suffered in childhood trauma,'' Ms Phillips said.

''Far too many of these have occurred while these children and young people were supposedly being protected by the very institution that perpetrated or 'condoned' the abuse.''

The advocate has often been a vocal critic of government services to vulnerable children and adults in Canberra and she said she believed some of the territory institutions were still letting young people down.

''Part of my legislated functions is to monitor the services provided to such vulnerable people as children in the Care of the Territory, and I believe the institutions established to provide protection are still letting down these and other young people,'' Ms Phillips said.

She said government-run institutions should be thoroughly investigated. ''These institutions, children's homes, disability accommodation, single mother's homes, schools and similar facilities were run not only by Catholic but by many other denominational organisations, and by government authorities as well,'' Ms Phillips said.

''And the abuse was not only sexual, but physical and emotional leaving life-long scars. Many of these people have been broken and destroyed beyond help even though the abuse was some years ago.

''Sadly this royal commission, while it may provide an opportunity for people to tell their story, will do little to heal these lost souls.''

The advocate said she wanted the royal commission to investigate institutional cultures that allowed ''atrocities'' to occur.

''From my position the most critical purpose of the Royal Commission is in exposing the institutional and systemic culture that harboured these atrocities in the past, to use this information to critically appraise today's organisations,'' Ms Phillips said.

''While the abuse may be more subtle, it is still ongoing, as much through unprofessional operations and a readiness to 'turn a blind eye' as to actual malpractice.''

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