A coronial inquest has raised concerns about the level of training and information given to the foster carers of a young morbidly obese girl from WA’s Kimberley, who was taken into state care because of fears for her life.
- The girl’s weight reached 41kg at one point before she went into foster care
- The foster parents allegedly received “incomplete” information and education
- A doctor told the inquest caring for the girl would have been “challenging”
The child, identified only as AM, was aged three years and 11 months when she died in September 2015 weighing 34 kilograms, more than double the usual weight for a child of that age.
The foster parents had been caring for her for two months following her release from Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH), where she was being treated for a range of medical conditions including obstructive sleep apnoea, asthma and high blood pressure.
AM, who was also developmentally delayed, was first taken into care in May 2014 because of concerns her family was not able to provide her with appropriate nutrition.
At one point, she was returned to the Kimberley to live with her relatives, but eight months later she was readmitted to PMH after becoming unresponsive, and was found to have head lice, scabies and worms.
It was also recorded that during that time, her weight had reached up to 41 kilograms.
She remained in hospital for two months and lost 10 per cent of her body weight before being placed with her foster parents.
Foster mother seemed overwhelmed, inquest hears
The inquest was told her care included her wearing non-invasive respiratory devices on her face at night, to keep her airways open.
But when the devices were analysed after AM’s death, the data showed what was described by Counsel Assisting the Coroner, William Stops, as “suboptimal” use, which suggested they were used for fewer than two hours a night on average, instead of the recommended four hours.
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One of the paediatricians who treated AM at PMH, Helen Wright, said a review of the case had found that there was “incomplete” information and education provided to the foster parents before AM was discharged into their care.
The inquest also heard that about a month before AM’s death, a social worker had noted that the foster mother seemed overwhelmed and raised concerns about her ability to cope with the child.
But Dr Wright said AM’s case was a complex one because of her developmental delays and medical conditions.
She also noted that “even with the best of intentions” it was often difficult for children to use the devices, and there were notes that said when AM became restless at night, the devices would become dislodged.
The inquest, which is mandatory because AM was in state care, is examining the level of care provided to her by the multiple agencies that were involved in her case.
Department says care ‘of a high standard’
Andrew Geddes from the Department of Child Protection and Family Services, the agency responsible for AM, said after reviewing the case, he believed the quality of care provided by the foster carers was “of a high standard”.
He added there was no information to indicate otherwise.
But Mr Geddes said it was “unfortunate” that the department was not able to provide some sort of placement “on country” for the child and that she had to stay in the metropolitan area.
When asked by Coroner Philip Urquhart if the level of care required by AM was at the very top scale for foster parents, Mr Geddes replied “no, unfortunately not”.
He said given AM’s young age, she needed the family type of environment provided by the foster carers, who the inquest heard had experience in caring for Aboriginal children.