The Queensland Government should consider compensating two young men with autism found in a locked room at their Brisbane home severely malnourished and naked, the disability royal commission has recommended.
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In a 222-page report into the brothers' case, handed down today, the commission also recommended the State of Queensland apologise to the siblings, known by the pseudonyms Kaleb and Jonathon, for "omissions in preventing violence, abuse, neglect and deprivation of their human rights".
After a triple-0 call from a family friend, the siblings, then aged 19 and 17, were found unclothed in a room with the door handles removed in May 2020.
Their father, who had a terminal illness, was found dead at the home.
At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Child Safety Minister Craig Crawford apologised to the brothers on behalf of the government.
"I want to sincerely apologise to Jonathon and Kaleb for what occurred to them over the 20 years as disclosed by the royal commission," he said.
"This should never have happened.
"This should not happen in our country, and it should not happen in our state.
"We must do better, we can do better, and we will do better."
He said the government would consider the report's findings and release its response in "due course," but wanted to deliver an apology to the family first.
The commission recommended an independent review be ordered into the brothers' case "at the earliest opportunity".
It said the review should probe the "powers and responsibilities or all the departments and agencies that engaged" with Kaleb, Jonathon and their father.
The damning report by the disability royal commission into the boys' case found the State of Queensland could have, and should have, done more to prevent Kaleb and Jonathon from experiencing violence, abuse, neglect, and the deprivation of their human rights.
"When Queensland police attended the home, they observed faeces on the floor of the spare bedroom and main bedroom, Kaleb and Jonathon's bedroom was completely bare with door handles removed and Kaleb and Jonathon were naked," the commission found.
"Kaleb and Jonathon were admitted to hospital and treated for severe malnutrition. They remained in hospital for two weeks."
The commission recommended the State "should acknowledge and apologise" for the brothers' suffering.
During hearings into the young men's plight, the commission was told government agencies had extensive involvement with the family, in one case for up to 20 years.
Dozens of complaints were made to at least half a dozen Queensland government departments including child safety, education, housing, health, police, and disability.
The commission was told that in February 2019, Kaleb, then 18, was seen by child safety officers eating a dog's bone.
But Department of Children chief practitioner Meegan Crawford, who reviewed the teenagers' files, said that because Kaleb was an adult at the time, the department was not legally mandated to intervene.
As children, Kaleb and Jonathon were removed from their father's care in 2010 for a week but later returned to him.
Dr Crawford told the inquiry, for the boys to be removed, child safety would have had to take the case before a magistrate, but she believed that would have resulted in the magistrate telling them to work with the father rather than remove them.
The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability heard the brothers' school often bathed them and gave them fresh clothes, that they were observed smelling of faeces, and several times needed haircuts because their hair smelled so strongly of urine it could not be washed out.
Jonathan was also observed by teachers to be "smelling of a strong dog odour", and "passing rocks and pebbles" in bowel movements.
In its findings on the siblings' case, the commission made five recommendations including calls for better staff training:
- Better training for relevant frontline staff to understand unconscious and conscious bias and how discrimination occurs
- Giving people with disability, particularly children and young people, a greater say in the development and review of child protection practices and policies
- Expanding the child advocate scheme
- The State of Queensland should acknowledge and apologise for the suffering experienced by Kaleb and Jonathon
The teenagers' case was the 33rd and final public hearing of the royal commission, examining the nature and extent of violence, abuse, and neglect experienced by people with a disability, and the failure of natural safeguards and government departments and agencies to prevent such events.
The commission is due to hand its final report to Governor-General David Hurley by September 29.
Opposition encourages apology
Opposition leader David Crisafulli said the case had "rocked the state" and "it was clear those teenagers were failed".
He backed calls for the state to apologise to the brothers.
Asked if he would also apologise for any failures or inaction relating to the brothers on the former Newman government's watch, he replied: "yes".
"Any child who was failed deserves an apology," he said.
"Any family that was let down deserves to know that their leaders commit to doing better and it doesn't matter how far that stretches back, those families and those kids are owed it.
"We have to make sure these failings never happen again and we have to make sure our child safety system is properly resourced, that children don't continue to fall through the cracks, and we have to make sure that the spotlight is put on it — no matter how far back it goes — we have to do better."
*Not their real names