September 21, 2005
OFFICIALS were warned 23 times that a six-year-old girl was at risk before she was found dead at the foot of the bed shared by her mother and her mother's de facto partner.
Rose Villanueva-Austin was found in her home at Cattai in Sydney's northwest at 9am on Sunday. An autopsy has so far given no cause of death, and police officers are awaiting a toxicology report.
The NSW Department of Community Services admitted last night they had been notified about Rose's circumstances, which a departmental statement described as "complicated".
But the department said it had been told only twice about the girl, and Community Services Minister Reba Meagher denied there were 23 notifications.
Sources told The Australian that Rose's 10-year-old half-brother was admitted to hospital after a vomiting episode on Sunday, and was still there last night.
Rose's biological father, Tony Villanueva, told the Seven Network: "Something should have been done. Rose did not have to die." Mr Villanueva said he had visited his daughter's body and wanted to see her again to bring her some clothes.
"I'm just going to take a pair of jammies, a blanket and a scarf, gloves, because I went there yesterday and she was so cold."
In state parliament yesterday, Opposition community services spokesman Andrew Humpherson asked why the department had not "changed its culture" after ALP pledges, "given that a six-year-old girl Rose tragically died on the weekend despite 23 notifications to DOCS".
The question came after a woman claiming to be a DOCS foster carer told Macquarie Radio she knew of Rose's case and said there had been 23 notifications the child was at risk.
The woman said older siblings in the house had been removed from the mother, but when Rose was born DOCS allowed the mother to keep her.
The department's statement said: "The young child was in a complex family situation, involving multiple parents, partners, siblings and step-siblings.
"DOCS's records indicate the child herself was the subject of two reports, the most recent being in October last year."
The department said the circumstances of the girl's death were under police investigation.
"The department will also conduct a thorough review of the case," the statement said.
Mr Humpherson said the department was "just splitting hairs". "Rose was the subject of 23 notifications but only two actual reports were written about her," he said.
A spokeswoman for Ms Meagher denied this.
"We are speaking the same language. There were only two notifications," she said, adding that the minister had asked for a full report on the case.