The ACT's Public Advocate has backed away from comments that there may be ''many more'' unreported cases of systemic deficiencies and practice failures in the territory's child protection system.
The Canberra Times reported yesterday that advocate Anita Phillips had made the comments in response to the case of a baby boy, born two-months premature, who was taken from the hospital into care, allegedly against medical advice. In a letter to the baby's family, Ms Phillips expressed concerned there could be ''more cases of systemic deficiencies and practice failures than I dare to think''.
But Ms Phillips said yesterday she had been ''most impressed'' with improvements in the child protection system since her letter to the baby's family in October, which followed the release of her scathing report on Care and Protection.
Ms Phillips said she was ''very disappointed'' that her correspondence with the boy's family had been supplied to the media.
''I am very disappointed that a confidential email that I wrote in October last year, in response to a complaint I received from a distressed family member, has now been placed in the public arena,'' she said. ''The complainant had referred to me a statement that he had forwarded to the appropriate authorities and which I believe was investigated at the time.''
The case was one of several complaints raised with Ms Phillips in the wake of her report last year into the treatment of 24 children inappropriately placed in the care of the non-government agency, which had not been qualified for such work.
The advocate is also conducting a review of 100 cases dealt with by Care and Protection, with the results due next month. Ms Phillips said yesterday that her comments in an email to the family had been taken out of context and were ''not current''.
''Since that time, over the past six months, I have been most impressed with the improvements to the system that have been put in place by the Community Services Directorate - largely in response to the recommendations that I made in the Interim Report last year,'' she said.
Improvement included abandoning the practice of leaving children, newly taken into care, waiting in an office while they were processed. The advocate said she was pleased that a house had been acquired to accommodate the children in those circumstances and that other practices and procedures had been improved.
But Ms Phillips also foreshadowed more findings and recommendations in her second report, due to be delivered in May.
The premature male child known as Baby R was taken into care in September last year after being judged to be at-risk because of his parents' mental illness problems.
The move marked a bitter dispute between the boy's extended family and Care and Protection with the family alleging Baby R, who is now back in their care, had been removed from Calvary Hospital against medical advice.
A spokesman for Community Service Minister Joy Burch said the department had no knowledge of any child being taken against medical advice.