In what has been described as one of the worst instances of child abuse seen in Australia, 12 children ranging in age from five to 16 years old have been permanently removed from an extended family in New South Wales, where they were living on a farm in primitive conditions in what appears to be an incestuous community.
In the children's court in September, Judge Peter Johnstone ruled that the children, known by pseudonyms to protect their identity, should be permanently removed from the four mothers involved.
He said there was evidence of "intergenerational incest" and that the mothers' refusal to acknowledge their own traumatic past meant they could not protect their children from continuing sexual abuse.
A few weeks ago, two more children were removed from a fifth mother from the same family in Victoria after she admitted to social workers that her brother was the father of her children.
One mother will face court soon, charged with procuring the removal of a child from care and recruiting a child for a crime. More charges are expected.
The case has raised questions about how child protection authorities and the broader community failed to intervene to protect not just this generation of children but also the previous one.
The family has moved states several times and child protection services, which are state-based, did not keep up, even though some family members were receiving federal benefits.
The children were discovered living in a group of about 40 people on a scrubby lot in mid-2012 in circumstances that shocked childcare workers and police.
Several of the children were undernourished and most were unable to speak intelligibly and had rarely attended school. They had been deprived of dental and medical care, with the result that they had severe cavities, fungal infections and other health complications.
A number of them appeared to have hearing and sight issues and cognitive impairment, or were severely developmentally delayed.
Some were reported to be unable to use a toothbrush, wash their hair, use toilet paper or bathe themselves.
But the most shocking revelation came after the removal: of the 12 children removed, only one has parents who are not related.
Genetic evidence demanded by Australia's Children's Court suggests their incestuous lifestyle may have been repeated over generations.
The incest may be one of the reasons for the family's move to their secluded farm home. There are four mothers involved, three of whom are sisters: Rhonda, 47; Betty, 46; and Martha, 33. The fourth mother, Raylene, 30, is the oldest child of Betty, who has had 13 children.
Genetic testing showed that five children had parents who were closely related.
Since being brought into care, several of the children have exhibited sexualised behaviours, and female children as young as eight have told their carers of harrowing sexual abuse often at the hands of their siblings and cousins, who are also underage. Despite reporting it to their mothers, no action was taken.
A spokesperson for the Department of Family and Community Services said the children were now safe and living with foster parents.
The department declined to explain why it had taken two years and seven risk-of-harm reports before the children were removed.
- Sydney Morning Herald