How many physically and sexually abused Western Australian children suffer chemical abuse in state care?

Anecdotal evidence indicates that too many Western Australian children in the care of the state that are managed rather than cared for.  Managed with a range of psychotropic drugs including, antidepressants, anti-psychotics, amphetamines and anti-anxiety ‘medications’ as a cheap substitute for the intensive support they so desperately need.

This blog was originally published without references on

When parents severely abuse or neglect Western Australian children it is the responsibility of the State Government, specifically the Minister for Child Protection Robyn McSweeney, to step in and protect them.  Regardless of whether Minister McSweeney delegates their care to foster parents or provides care in an institution it is her job to make sure their often complex needs are met.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that too many Western Australian children in the care of the state that are managed rather than cared for.  Managed with a range of psychotropic drugs including, antidepressants, anti-psychotics, amphetamines and anti-anxiety ‘medications’ as a cheap substitute for the intensive support they so desperately need.

On the numerous occasions I have requested hard data about the issue, Minister McSweeney and others in the Barnett Government, including the Premier[1. Barnett, Hon. Colin, Premier of Western Australia. (letter to Martin Whitely MLA) 14 July, 2009. Also Whitely, Martin. Western Australian Parliamentary Debates, Hansard 7 May 2009, pp3586d-3604a.$FILE/A38%20S1%2020090507%20p3586d-3604a.pdf ], have refused to provide it. They have consistently argued that, providing this information “would be a significant drain on the Department’s resources”.[2. Whitely, Martin Western Australian Parliamentary Debates, Hansard: Questions on Notice 5 May 2009, p3378b-3378b ]  This is the oldest political trick in the book.  Refuse to do the research needed to confirm a problem exists and then you never have to accept responsibility for solving the problem.

Other state governments however, at least know the extent of the problem.  In 2008 the New South Wales Government found out a staggering 50% of children twelve years of age and younger in state government residential care were taking psychotropic medication.  This compared to 2% of their peers.[3. ‘Children in care drugged’, The Australian, 2008   ] Similarly, recent Queensland[4. ‘Foster children doped in care’ (Brisbane) Sunday Mail 12 February 2011 ] and US[5. ‘Financial and societal costs of medicating America’s foster children’, Government Accountability Office presented to Senate subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security 1 December 2011 ]research indicate that psychotropic medications are the dominant first world method of governments managing damaged children.

Obviously given their tormented history these children are far more likely to have significant mental health issues.  But we treat the causes of these behaviours as if they are biological, i.e. biochemical brain imbalances, rather than being an inevitable result of abuse and neglect.  Surely having been abused and neglected by their carers of first resort, their parents; these blameless, voiceless, victims deserve the very best from their carer of last resort.

Minister McSweeney has no excuse. She is a former child protection worker who in opposition expressed outrage about the number of children ‘medicated’ to control their behaviour.[6. James, Amanda ‘ADHD drug linked to poverty: report’, The West Australian 25 September 2002 pg 2.  Also McSweeney, Hon Robyn Western Australian Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Council, Hansard 5 June 2007, pp2648c-2658a ] But now she is in charge, it appears likely that many of these children, having been physically and yes, sometimes sexually abused, are now being chemically abused in the care of Minister McSweeney.

If we continue to turn a blind eye, we doom too many of these children and eventually their children to a perpetual cycle of abuse, neglect, misery and medication.  Let Western Australia at least take a first step by researching the extent of the problem.


Tags: , , , ,

  1. Dr Joe Kosterich’s avatar

    Medicating these children will add to not reduce their problems even though in the short term it”numbs ” their pain. Drugging them with psych-tropic medication for symptom relief is no better than drugging them with alcohol or cannabis which would have the same effect!


  2. bjcirceleb’s avatar

    Could not agree more with what you are saying. A number of years ago the Victorian government introduced a statewide therapy service for children in the care of the state who have suffered profound trauma, called Take Two. It is run by Berry Street Victoria in conjunction with other providers and utilies the work of Bruce Perry and the Child Trauma Acadameny in the US who has done some brilliant work.

    While there is no doubt that Take Two is a step in the right direction there are many limitations. First and foremost the child must be referred by there case manager, many of whom put all the child’s behavioural problems down to brain based diseases. Take Two is also not able to work with children who are placed in permanent care, and so there is a limit to what they can provide. Children either end up languishing in the system for decades when they have a foster family who is more than willing to take on permanent care of them, and that order alone can elimate half the problems the child displays or they are placed on permanent care orders and the permanent care parents and not able to access the therapy the child requires. Even if they paid for it themselves, the chances of finding it in the community is next to impossible. Take Two focuses on attachment and trauma based therapies and most of the community only uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and thinking positively or simply telling the child they think wrongly is not going to fix the problems they face.

    Of course none of this takes away from the fact that we remove children from parents on the belief that we can do a better job and that the parents have done a bad job and then all we do is to drug the child up to zoombie status!! I also agree with your first commenter that the same effect would be achieved with alcohol or cannabis. Children are removed from parents who supposedly use these substances too much and yet we then provide the exact same symptoms in there own children.


  3. watchingonthesidelines’s avatar

    It’s not only children in care who are being drugged. It’s also given to children, who are left in the care of abusive neglectfull parents, in an effort NOT to remove them. I worked in a household for several years and was shocked at DCP’s allowing the children to stay. Huge amounts of money are directed at this family to keep it together by disablities and other sources. But very little of the resources are given to the actual care of the children. Apart from the drugs given to the children to behave. The middle child has been on ritalin for many years, including sleeping tablets at night to get down from the ritalin. I thought there was a time limit of sorts? He has been on them for many years
    What breaks my heart is that there is no way of knowing if the childs behaviour is true adhd or a result of a neglectfull alcoholic mother, very bad nutrition(the mother has aspergers and eats all the best food for herself. or there often simply isn’t enough money for food because it’s spent on alcohol and cigs, or he is given the ritalin before breakfast so he is not hungry the rest of the day. He often sneaks food at night to eat and hides it under his bed. But he falls asleep from the sleeping tablet before he can eat it.)
    He may have adhd, he may have autism. But how do you untangle this from his horrific childhood? He is bright and intelligent and needs challenges and stimulation, when i take care of him i do something i would get in trouble for if it was known.I don’t give him the ritilin. And yes he is exhausting, but he is exploring and questioning and eager about the world around him. When i give him the ritilin he plays computer games and zones out for hours till someone reminds him to eat or move, something that doesn’t happen at home.
    (I’m not making a judgement, i had a very difficult child who made life extremely hard for our family. There weretimes when i used to fantasize about having a magic wand that would put him to sleep for a few hours so the other kids could take a breather. I know how hard itis.)

    I think of what could be done if all the money and resources directed at his mother could be directed at his care.
    I am very concerned about the physical and mental damage years of medication might do to a child already damaged by neglect and lack of loving care. He needs love and direction not chemicals.


  4. watchingonthesidelines’s avatar

    Postscript-This child was originaly refused a diagnosis of adhd, and consequently a prescription for ritilin, by two other doctors before Dcp’s doctors diagnosed him.

    And recently,despite the many dangers the children live with daily because of the mothers poor decision making, welfare has decided there is no longer any need to monitor this family. So, the only person keepin an eye on this childs welfare is the doctor who was given the task of prescribing his medication. I believe this is not enough to monitor his health. Somebody else needs to be watching.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *