4th July, 2017
For the personal attention of Hon. Pru Goward
Minister for Family and Community Services
I write on a matter of extreme importance concerning the lives and welfare of children in our community.
On 19th May I was present at the Church of Ubuntu, a community outreach centre in Newcastle, in the company of Jacinda and Marc Walker-Steven, their four year old son Chase and several other people. The tranquility of our community was disturbed by the forced entry of several police officers, under the direction of an Inspector Lawson, informing us that they intended to remove Chase from his parent’s care and control on the basis of a protection order signed by Amanda Hill, a delegate of the secretary of Community Services Michael Coutts-Trotter, a public servant under your portfolio responsibility.
Chase is a severely afflicted child, suffering spastic quadraparesis as a result of hypoxic brain injury following an allergic reaction to perinatally administered konakion. For three years he was under the supervision of doctors at the Lady Cilento Hospital but was faring poorly with dozens of seizures daily, despite a raft of allopathic anticonvulsant medicine, with their attendant adverse side effects.
In November 2016 Chase’s parents, concerned for his long term well-being, decided to transit from a predominantly hospital based treatment with powdered formula feeding and heavy drug sedation, instead applying a largely organic diet and utilising cannabidiol dominant cannabis extracts to control the seizures. Despite the fact that Chase was significantly improved on this more natural treatment plan, showing a generally more relaxed appearance and increased responsiveness towards his carers, Lady Cilento Hospital made complaints to the Queensland Department of Protective Services, who applied for a care order from the local court. After hearing the allegations the magistrate made a finding that the child’s best interests would be served by remaining with the parents, who she described as capable and caring. Notwithstanding this initial finding and clearances being issued by doctors at Gold Coast Hospital and Logan Hospital, the department made two subsequent applications, both being refused by the court on the same grounds.
Despite the court three times finding no basis for the hospital or the department’s concerns an amber alert was issued. Police were called and the parents were treated as kidnappers, with saturation news and billboard publicity. The family sought refuge in Newcastle but were apprehended by NSW police, who initially treated the parents as criminals. After lengthy discussion they realised that they were not in possession of all the facts and they subsequently agreed that if an independent doctor was to examine Chase and find no cause for immediate concern he would be released to the care of his parents.
Chase was conveyed to John Hunter Hospital under police escort where he was carefully examined by an experienced paediatrician, who found no basis for any immediate threat to his health and deemed him suitable for outpatient care. The paediatrician also noted that the parents were caring and capable and were, in fact, dealing with an extremely difficult set of problems in an admirable manner. The police were dismissed and Chase returned to his much relieved family and supporters.
The 19th May seizure order which led to the police raid was issued by department officers under your control and is now a matter of the public record. You would do well to examine this document and decide for yourself whether the information contained could possibly justify the egregious actions that subsequently took place.
Initially, concerned for Chase’s well-being if he was surrendered to police, we resisted handing Chase over to their custody, but faced with an overwhelming show of force by a large number of police brandishing tasers and other offensive weaponry, it was agreed that no resistance would be offered, so long as Jacinda could stay with the child. This was agreed to by Lawson but on arriving at John Hunter Hospital the parents were separated from their supporters, Marc was forcibly locked in a room, while physical force was used to prise Chase from his mother’s arms. When she resisted she was roughly handcuffed, sprayed with capsicum spray and bundled into a paddy wagon and subsequently locked up. Concerned supporters were also attacked with capsicum spray.
The order under which police acted was Section 43 of the Child Protection Act, an article created to protect at risk children from exploitation and abuse such as child prostitution and in no way applicable to the current circumstances. In a brief and scientifically incoherent statement in support of their draconian actions your department claims the action was motivated as a result of critically low potassium levels which indicated malnutrition based on parental neglect. The lowest potassium level recorded for Chase was 2.9, which any competent physician would be aware is low but not critical. Further, we were aware of this hypokalaemia and in co-operation with the John Hunter paediatrician had already taken remedial steps. A repeat potassium level taken on 18th May showed these steps to have been effective with Chase’s potassium returning to the normal level. Alarmingly, the hospital and department were both aware of this information but took steps to prevent the family obtaining the results of that blood test.
I will repeat this so it is clearly understood. Your department persisted in its claim that Chase was at critical risk due to hypokalaemia, even though they had in their possession a recent pathology test which showed there was no problem whatsoever. Children are the basis of a society’s future and responsibility for their care must always be a priority. Currently, you are the responsible minister and this situation demands prompt and effective intervention, so we expect you as minister to conduct a thorough and prompt review and take whatever steps are necessary to reunite the family and deal appropriately with department’s demonstrably erroneous behaviour.
Further investigation deepened the situation. The secretary of the Department of Child and Family Services Michael Coutts-Trotter is a convicted commercial heroin dealer who served 3 of a 9 year prison sentence. He has only a basic degree in journalism from the University of Technology and no relevant academic or practical qualifications in child care. Who is responsible for the hiring of this individual to a position in which he is so demonstrably unqualified? Further, his delegate who signed the order, Amanda Hill, may be operating under a pseudonym to avoid responsibility for past disreputable behaviour.
As of the date of writing Chase has been removed from his parents now for 46 days and as far as we are aware, access is severely restricted. The rationale for these restrictions appears to have more to do with the neurosis of the department than the well being of the child purportedly in their care.
Australia has become a somewhat apathetic country recently but there is one issue that stirs the conscience of people and that is the care of children. The mistreatment of Chase and his family has attracted much public interest and support. Being the responsible minister you carry responsibility both for the people working within your portfolio and the Australian citizens that are impacted by their actions.
As a sign of good faith we expect you to arrange a meeting with Chase’s parents and supporters at a time and place convenient to your office, but no longer than two weeks after receipt of this letter. If you decide to ignore this appeal and not assist in correcting the terrible situation your department has created you will be targeted by a multi-pronged direct action campaign that will demonstrate to the NSW public the shortcomings of those who should be responsible for the proper care and protection of our children. I trust that in this brief outline I have conveyed to you the depth of our feelings for the wrong that has been perpetuated by department employees lacking the necessary academic and moral stature to be trusted with the care and well being of other people’s children.
We await your response. If you require any additional information I can be contacted at [email protected]
Dr Andrew Katelaris MD
cc Hon Berejiklian, NSW Premier
cc Mick Fuller, NSW Police Commissioner