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Lawyer of disabled, homeless teenager charged with stealing bottle of water says she was let down by child protection

Dechlan Brennan -

A lawyer for a homeless Western Australian Indigenous girl has slammed child protection services for failing to offer them meaningful and adequate support.

It comes as the child protection system in the state has come under significant pressure after the suicide of an Indigenous ten-year-old child in state care last month, which led to calls from Indigenous and welfare groups for governments to reform child protection systems nationwide.

Last week, the homeless child, who is living with a disability, and had suffered emotional and physical abuse as well as neglect from her family, faced Broome Magistrates court on sixteen charges, mostly related to theft and burglary.

One was for stealing a bottle of water, and others - her lawyer argued - were for attempting to access food.

Magistrate Deen Potter didn't administer any penalty or punishment, arguing the child was a victim of crime themselves.

The ABC reported the girl's representative, Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) lawyer Kalvin Rajmano, was scathing of the Department of Communities' (DoC) child protection division (DCP).

He told the court the child had been known to the DCP since she was an infant, but that no sustainable help had been implemented, observing that the DCP had "completely failed" his client.

"[My client] has been fundamentally let down by services," he said, as reported by the ABC, noting that the teenage girl "didn't choose to be homeless."

Mr Rajmano said the blame wasn't towards DCP staff, but rather at the policy framework, which takes a one-size-fits-all approach to care which was ill equipped to support Kimberley families.

Official figures from the last financial year show 387 children and young people were in the care of the DoC across the Kimberley — all of them Aboriginal.

In the Pilbara, only two of the 199 children in care were not Indigenous.

Magistrate Potter agreed with Mr Rajmano, arguing: "Child protection services are not geared up for the trauma these young people are facing."

He said calls to lock up children as simply "uninformed dialogue or discussion".

The ABC reported the court was told the young girl had begun to engage in education and counselling after the assistance and encouragement of Mr Rajmano.

"If [they] can realise what potential [they have, they] could become a productive part of the community," Magistrate Potter said, but accepted there were no easy answers.

The Department has argued the safety and wellbeing of a child are paramount, and their highest priority.

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