Bungle allowed paedophile to take care of children
Rory Callinan, Louise Hall
Sydney Morning Herald
29th September 2012
Updated 2nd October 2012
A PAEDOPHILE was given parental responsibility for 19 vulnerable Aboriginal children and his organisation handed $5 million in taxpayer funding by the same government department which had classified him as a risk to juveniles years earlier.
The chief executive of the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Services, Steven Andrew Larkins, was convicted last month of child sexual assault and fraud charges after he was caught with child pornography.
But the Department of Family and Community Services had known that Larkins was a risk to children as he was suspected of sexually abusing a boy in the 1990s when he was a scout leader.
Larkins applied for a ''working with children check'' with the department's screening unit in 2003. The allegations meant Larkins was deemed to be ''medium risk'' and was not cleared to work unsupervised with children.
Yet he was still able to obtain the powerful position of parental responsibility for 19 children whose care had been given to HACS by the department over nine years.
Parental responsibility gave Larkins complete control over the children, including allowing him to take them into his home alone.
Larkins was also able to play a prominent role in child protection, including presiding over HACS being given a $5 million boost in taxpayer funding in 2007 to expand the number of children it had care of.
This week the department admitted it failed to follow standard procedure and tell the board or any other managers at the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Services (HACS) of its findings.
Instead, Larkins alone was informed of his classification, which allowed him to forge a document showing he had obtained clearance to work with unsupervised with children, and which was placed in his personnel file.
A spokeswoman for the department said: ''Standard procedure was to send correspondence on the working with children check to the employer and, where the chief executive officer was the applicant, to the board. This was not done in this case. Community Services acknowledges and regrets this error.''
The department also admitted the practice of awarding parental responsibility to an executive of a non-government organisations ''was not usual practice'' and was banned following the Wood special commission of inquiry into the child protection system in 2009.
The new chief executive of HACS, Terry Chenery, said Larkins had had access to the children alone and outside of work as a result of being awarded parental responsibility.
Mr Chenery said there had been no ''substantiated evidence'' to say that Larkins had inappropriately dealt with children under HACS care.
Larkins was exposed last year by a chance incident when a fellow employee found a USB stick containing dozens of child abuse images belonging to Larkins in one of the organisation's cars.
A police search of his home found cartoons depicting child pornography on his mobile phone, tablet and computer.
An investigation was launched, and Larkins was charged with the aggravated indecent assault of an 11-year-old boy in 1992 and a 12-year-old boy in 1997.
Last month Larkins, 46, was convicted and sentenced to at least nine months in jail for four counts of possessing child abuse material. He was given a further 12-month minimum sentence for forging the working with children documents to obtain his $86,000-a-year position and for lying in a statutory declaration, amounting to a total non-parole period of 19 months. The sentence has been stayed pending an appeal, although Larkins is not contesting the three-year good behaviour bond handed down for the assaults on the two boys. The appeal will be mentioned in the Newcastle District Court on November 15.